PERIOD WEEK: Green Choices

Sarah Fenton concludes Period Week with a look at some sustainable sanitary options

This article is part of That’s What She Said’s ‘Period Week’. To read the introduction to ‘Period Week’ check out Maya Jones’ article:

During last week’s Talk.Period event we were informed that the waste produced by a single sanitary pad is the equivalent of 4 plastic bags. Personally, I’d never really considered the environmental waste caused by tampons and pads.

Yet after some research I discovered that the average menstruating person will use the staggering amount of 12,000 to 16,000 disposable pads, pantyliners, and tampons in their lifetime. These pads and tampons usually end up in landfills, where tampons can take hundreds of years to degrade. They contain harmful chemicals, like dioxides and pesticides, which are released into soil and are harmful to both people and the environment.

Many people mistakenly flush tampons down the toilet, yet they don’t break down like toilet paper; although they are partly made of cotton, they take a significantly long time to break down and cause plumbing blockages. Often, they get stuck in sewers and cause a backlog of debris. Blockages are also caused when tampons expand and get caught up in sewer lines. If a tampon ends up at a treatment plant, the plumbing stations deal with them by putting them through a plumbing system. Chemicals, grinders or physical filter systems then break them down along with other waste from sewers. They are dumped in a bin and shipped off to a landfill.

Ultimately if it had been put in a bin, this intensive process would not have occurred. Although it may be more inconvenient, it is actually always better to simply throw a tampon away.

But in addition to this, for every pad and tampon used, there are also boxes, wrappers and applicators that need to be disposed of. Tampon applicators, for example, usually end up in the ocean, taking at least 25 years to be broken down. They are then ingested by marine life and the consequences are deadly.

Furthermore, tampons can be harmful to the user, as well as when they are disposed of. Tampons are usually made of cotton, rayon or a blend of both. Rayon is made from cellulose fibres derived from bleached wood pulp and cotton involves extensive farming and requires a lot of water, pesticides and fertiliser. As tampons are not pure cotton they often leave tiny fibres inside their users, which can cause dryness, irritation and yeast infections. The rayon in tampons is bleached with chlorine dioxide which produces trace amounts of dioxin. This has been found to have links to immune system repression, reproductive issues and cancer. Tampax UK however, ensure that there is no dioxin in their products.

And so, considering all of this, it is worth considering the many other options there are, instead of using tampons and sanitary towels. Here are a few suggestions of more environmentally sustainable and healthier options:

  1. One way to stop applicators ending up in the ocean is to buy tampons without an applicator:
  1. Another option is the Mooncup Menstural cup. Mooncups are made from soft medical grade silicone, are latex-free and contain no dyes, BPA, toxins or bleaches. They are an initial investment but overall they save money as they are reusable for several years. This means limiting waste produced whilst being on your period, as well as saving money because you never have to buy tampons or sanitary towels again. See their website here:
  1. Reusable pads are another great way to stop the environmental waste associated with pads and tampons.
  1. There are also ‘period pants’; Thinx period panties are absorbent, leak-resistant pants that you can wear whilst on your period. Thinx are releasing a boy short brief this year and are currently working on their gendered marketing.
  1. Finally, Grace & Green make environmentally sustainable, biodegradable pads and tampons as well as reusable ones. Their pads and tampons are 100% organic and made with the purest form of cotton.

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