A plastic free period
Updated: Apr 13
Let's talk about something that we don't really like talking about. Periods are a taboo subject, often even between friends. But it's important to talk about them. It is something that happens to around half of the adult population. And it's a hot topic when it comes to environmental impact. But before we get into that any more, any women reading this should try get hold of the book Period Power. I heard a podcast interview with the author recently and it's fascinating - and it felt really empowering to understand what happens to our bodies and why we feel and experience the things we do throughout our cycles.
Now any men reading: this post isn't for you (duh), but if you got this far and are willing to learn a bit more then stick around!
Why talk about periods and plastic?
The average woman will use around 240 pads/tampons per year. For an average cycle lifespan of 40 years, this equates to 9,600 products during one woman's lifetime (1millionwomen). In fact, other studies show women can use up to 16,800 tampons in their lives (The Guardian). Now if you multiply that by all the menstruating women in the world, thats a lot of waste...
This topic is important because what most of us don't know is that the products we use contain plastic and chemicals that are not only harmful for our bodies but really bad for the earth.
The Guardian reported, "What many of those women don’t know is that there is no research that unequivocally declares these feminine hygiene products safe, and independent studies by women’s health organisations have found chemicals of concern like dioxin, carcinogens and reproductive toxins present in tampons and pads." The issue is that women's health has been under-represented and under-researched for years (no surprises there).
According to OrganiCup, "most pads contain polyethylene plastic (the adhesive that’s used to make the pad stick to your underwear), which is an environmentally harmful pollutant." Now I'm thinking if it's harmful for the environment, it can't be too great for me?
But brands are waking up to the fact that our current options aren't good enough. They are acknowledging that research telling us that 1 tampon is safe, does not mean that the accumulative effect of 11,000 tampons is safe.
The environmental cost
Now if the health aspect of pads and tampons doesn't put you off (and to be honest it wasn't the reason I switched), then let's take a look at the effect our periods have on the earth.
Did you know that "it takes a tampon longer to degrade than the lifespan of the women who wears it" (Glamour). And that is just one tampon. Imagine 11,000 of them, lasting longer on this earth than you do... 😬 In fact, tampons, pads and panty liners, including the packaging they come with, create more than "200,000 tonnes of waste per year, and they all contain plastic – in fact, pads are around 90% plastic!" (OrganiCup).
Waste is sexist.
Okay that might be a bit of a stretch - but waste is definitely gendered. As women we produce more harmful waste than men, and the paradox is that the cause of it is something natural. The bottom line is that the products that millions of women use every month are damaging the earth, disrupting natural ecosystems, and polluting our rivers and seas.
Now I can hear what you're thinking. Periods are natural, what do you expect us to do?
A plastic free period
It is possible to have a plastic free period. There are a lot of brands out there who are making this a reality, and it's totally accessible as well. In this section I'll give a run down of some of the options available out there.
The great thing about so many of these options is that they actually save you money. According to the BBC's calculator, I could spend up to £1,500 on period products in my lifetime. I recently bought the OrganiCup, for about £20. It will last me 10 years. Do the maths on that one...
So those options:
Period proof underwear: Yes, it's a thing. Brand Thinx have designed underwear that is period proof. Their knickers are absorbent and reusable, simply wear and wash. They have different options for light, medium and heavy cycles. So check them out and go with the flow (pun intended 😉).
Menstrual cups: This is probably the most famous plastic free period option. There are lots of brands out there. There's the Moon Cup, OrganiCup, and loads of others. I have the OrganiCup and I love it. It takes a little getting used to, but it really works and you get a lot more acquainted with your body and what's happening during your cycle. Now that isn't for everyone and that is totally okay. That's why there are so many other great alternatives.
Biodegradable products: Subscription service Freda sends biodegradable pads, tampons, and panty liners to your door each month. Their products are 100% organic, use renewable materials, are made using renewable energy, send zero waste to landfill, and their packaging is recyclable. Sounds great to me!
Reusable applicators: Dame have made a reusable tampon applicator. Billions of plastic applicators get thrown away each year and cannot be recycled - Dame are changing that. They also offer an organic tampon subscription 🙌🏻.
Reusable pads: Does what it says on the tin. Pads that you use, wash, and use again. LunaPads is one brand, they also have guidance on washing and taking care of your pads once you've bought them. But there are loads of Etsy stores selling these too (here is one recommended by an old friend). So check out the options if you are interested!
So ladies let's take care of ourselves, each other and the earth. Our periods are an important part of being a woman, they help create life, and we're badass for going through them every month 🙌🏻. But let's do what we can to take care of our bodies and let's not let them wreck our home.
P.S. If you want to find out a bit more and see some other options out there, check out these posts:
These are all the incredible ways period brands are reducing their impact on the oceans - and we salute them! - Glamour
5 Healthy Ways To Reduce Plastic In Your Everyday Life - The Good Trade
Periods without plastic - Women's Environmental Network
6 of the best eco-friendly sanitary brands you need to know about - Stylist
When It Comes To Your Period, There's Way More Sustainable Options Than Your Go-To Pads And Tampons - Vogue