By Grace and Diana Duren
Menstruation is a natural part of life, yet traditional products many people use for their periods are anything but natural. They are loaded with chemicals and plastic and have a serious impact on our planet, as well as our bodies.
Most of us think about straws and plastic bottles when we think about “single-use” plastic, but traditional menstrual products create an enormous amount of plastic waste. Most pads are made of over 90% plastic, specifically polyethylene plastic, which is an extremely harmful environmental pollutant. One person will use approximately 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime, and it takes some of those products 500 years to decompose. In the United States alone there are 12 billion pads and seven million tampons discarded into landfills yearly, and waste from a menstruation cycle is labeled as “medical waste” which is not required to be recorded. Therefore, these numbers are all estimates, and it’s possible the numbers are even higher and all of this waste contributes to the pollution of our environment’s air and water systems.
But it’s not only the plastics in these products that are bad for the environment. Most single-use period products use conventional cotton, which is “one of the world’s thirstiest crops,” needing over six pints of water to grow one bud. Then there are the chemicals to consider, such as dioxin, chlorine, and rayon, that are often found in tampons. The FDA requires almost every other product sold in the U.S. to list its ingredients, however up until recently menstrual products have not had to follow these rules, even though they come in contact with one of the most absorbent and sensitive parts of the body. New York recently became the first state to pass a bill to mandate ingredient lists for tampons, which is a positive step towards educating the public about these harmful ingredients. Not only should these toxins be nowhere near our bodies, especially our sensitive parts, but once discarded, the earth absorbs those pollutants and then releases them into the water and air.
Now that we know about the environmental impact of single-use period products, what can we do? Here are some more sustainable switches to consider making:
Made from medical-grade silicone, menstrual cups are designed to collect menstrual blood during a period and can last for 10 years, which saves you money and is much less waste. As they can be worn for up to 12 hours, you can go all day without worrying about leakage or needing to change a pad or tampon. Most menstrual cups come in various sizes, often based on whether you have had a vaginal birth or not. It takes a little bit of a learning curve to learn how to use them, but there are lots of good tutorials out there to walk you through it (here’s one). And once you get the hang of it, there is zero discomfort – you don’t even know it’s there!
Reusable cloth pads
Reusable cloth pads and pantyliners are made of soft comfortable fabric, and are free from nasty chemicals or artificial scents. They attach to underwear by snapping “wings” in place – no adhesives, which means never having to worry about a pad sticking to your leg! Because they are made of breathable cotton, they don’t chafe or irritate your skin like disposables, and they can last up to 5 years. Cleaning is easy — rinse in cold water and just throw them in the wash, and lay flat to dry.
Reusable period underwear can be used as either a back-up with a menstrual cup or tampon, or in place of a tampon or pad, and are specially designed to be leak-free. They come in different absorbencies, some for light flow and some for heavier, and have moisture-wicking and antimicrobial qualities. They are incredibly soft and comfortable, and easy to clean — just rinse in cold water and throw in the wash.
If none of these sustainable options work for you, at the very least make sure to purchase products that are created with natural and toxic-free fibers and without plastic applicators. This will help to cut down on the waste and environmental impact of these more conventional products. Sage Refill Market carries OrganiCup menstrual cups, GladRags pads and panty liners, and Proof Leakproof Underwear. Start your journey to a more sustainable period and feel better about your period.
Diana Duren is the founder of Sage Refill Market, located at 1214 Wedgewood Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212