While periods are a reality that we cannot avoid, could we be managing the associated waste in a cleaner, eco-friendlier way? With this in mind, we must educate children from the beginning of their first period and beyond…
With climate change being an important topic in the media as of the last few years, a lot of us are taking more interest in the effects we have on the environment. This increase in interest is trickling down into many parts of our lives, with demand for changes in behaviour. Even mundane parts of our lives that you perhaps didn’t think of, can be damaging towards the environment.
Sanitation is certainly not excused, especially with the production and disposal of sanitary products. These products can be a huge contributor to environmental damage. The Women’s Environmental Network has found that, on average, a woman will use more than 11,000 disposable menstrual products over her lifetime, which produces a staggering amount of waste.
Periods and the environment
The majority of us will be prepared for our periods with our trusted sanitary products. However, the plastic content in many of the sanitary products that we rely on is having a detrimental effect on the environment.
Firstly, plastic pollution. Research has revealed that some sanitary towels have up to 90% plastic content. Despite society recognising the harmful qualities of single-use plastics, sanitary towels haven’t received the same scale of public attention as single-use straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds. These other items are all set to be banned in 2020 in a bid to clean up our oceans but findings from the Marine Conservation Society revealed that for every 100m of beach cleaned, there is an average of 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste found. This amounts to four panty-liners, pads, backing strips, plus at least one tampon and an applicator.
Secondly, let’s look at the carbon footprint of a period. A carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities. The idea of a ‘menstrual carbon footprint’ might seem strange but the way we manage our monthly cycle can directly impact our climate. Friends of the Earth established that one year’s worth of single-use sanitary products amounted to the equivalent of 5.3kg of carbon dioxide produced. This is because some tampons contain small amounts of dioxin, a by-product from the creation of the synthetic carbon fibre rayon.
6% of a tampon is made of plastic. Non-applicator tampons can be an easy way to make a greener choice as they contain 97% less plastic than their plastic applicator alternatives. So, if buying green is accessible enough, what about disposal through recycling? While emphasis has always been placed on recycling, unfortunately sanitary products cannot fall under this practice as they are used to collect human waste.
How can we improve our sanitary waste management habits?
Not flushing tampons down the toilet might seem like an unspoken rule but the consequences of being a ‘flusher’ rather than a ‘binner’ aren’t as widely known as you might think.
Unsurprisingly, you can cause blockages somewhere in sewer systems by flushing a tampon down the toilet. It also contributes to the ‘fatberg’ epidemic which is growing in our sub-street level waterways. This is where fat, oil and single-use products such as sanitary items and face wipes have accumulated to form huge masses. One was recently discovered in Sidmouth, Devon, which equalled the length of six double decker buses. So, becoming a ‘binner’ is one of smallest yet most significant steps that we can take to reduce the environmental impact of sanitary products such as tampons for heavy periods or even maternity pads.
The Journal of The Institution of Environmental Sciences found that around 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million sanitary liners, and 700,000 panty liners are flushed down UK toilets every day.
You can contribute to a greener environment by only purchasing organic tampons where the cotton is pesticide free. In turn, the growth of organic cotton can also help to lessen the development of climate change as the farming practices lock carbon dioxide into the soil. If you are committed to becoming more environmentally conscious, then consider changing your conventional tampon for an organic alternative.
Lil-Lets range of non-applicator tampons have an absorbent core made using viscose, which means no unnecessary plastic. If you don’t feel comfortable using non-applicator tampons, consider buying tampons with cardboard applicators.
Brands being open about their products helps consumers make informed decisions to reduce their carbon footprints. Groups such as The Women’s Environmental Network are leading the way in promoting their #PeriodsWithoutPlastic movement, educating and sharing ideas on how we can tackle the issue of the sanitary sector’s role in ecological damage.
We certainly need to change the way we are disposing our sanitary products — small changes can have big impacts.