It’s that time of the month again. The regular evil has announced its arrival, your body turns bloated and you instantly find yourself reaching towards the chocolate drawer in search of comfort. The fewest of us enjoy being on our periods and most of us are far too concerned about getting through the week without a code red to worry about the materials in the products we use to manage it. But maybe we should worry. According to NatraCare conventional menstrual products contain up to 90 per cent plastic. Non-biodegradable plastic that is, hence the tampon you just flushed away forever is most likely to outlive both you and generations to follow. In fact, it is estimated that one in every hundred piece of plastic in the ocean is either an applicator, pad or wipe. Fancy a swim?
This year has seen a world waking up to the consequences the excessive waste of disposable plastic is causing. The prospect of oceans filled with more plastic than fish by 2050 has made the UK government aiming towards a complete ban of all single-use plastic as early as next year. And with plastic found in most one time-use products, the ban will include everything from cotton buds to straws to food packaging and disposable coffee cups. However, consistently overlooked, is the menstrual products which contributes more than 200,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year.
“The plastic issue in period products is a quite unknown problem,” says Natasha Piette-Basheer, coordinator at the Environmenstrual campaign issued by Women’s Environmental Network in April this year. The campaign is a revamp of WEN’s very first campaign for more transparency on the packaging of sanitary products back when the organisation was started in the late 1980s. “This issue has kind of been in the DNA of WEN since the organisation started,” she adds.
“With the Environmenstrual campaign we’re aiming to amplify the environmental issues around menstruation which are normally overlooked,” Piette-Basheer goes on. The campaign is, along with topics of health and transparency concerning menstruation, raising awareness about the issues around plastics in disposable non-organic period products. The campaign is working closely with activists, organisations and sustainable manufacturers with the hope of culminating it all in a week of action in October to raise awareness about the message. “We hope to do a period themed fashion show with the idea of breaking the taboo around menstruation while also raising awareness about more sustainable menstrual products,” she says.
And more awareness is needed as the issues surrounding plastics in sanitary products are more pressing than acknowledged. Women on average use over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in a lifetime and almost 50 per cent of British women flush their disposable tampons and pads down the loo, which according to WEN equals around 2 billion menstrual products pouring down the sewers and straight out into seas or landfills.
“We’re now getting that periods should be normalised and that the environmental side of it should be addressed as well. Because both these topics have arisen at the same time WEN is able to marry the two and act as a convening network for other organisations activism so we can final smash all the shame around menstruation,” Piette-Basheer explains.
But sustainable options such as menstrual cups, reusable pads or periods panties do already exist they are just not broadly advertised.
“The main challenge is to integrate this into menstrual education so it’s where we need to start,” Piette-Basheer points out. “But I think once people have access to the information it makes a difference. Many of the participants in our workshops start thinking differently about the lifecycle of the products they’re consuming and not just that it’s out of sight out of mind after they’re used.”
“The more people talk about the issue with plastic in period products the more likely it is that we will have plastic free periods in the future and I think we can all be agents to make that change,“ she encouragingly ends. So, while you’re committing to end plastic waste by switching to reusable coffee cups and paper straws why not throw sustainable menstrual products on the list as well – after all menstrual products are a necessity but they shouldn’t harm us nor the planet.