Whether you are someone who menstruates, used to menstruate or is yet to menstruate, or know someones who menstruates, (so essentially, pretty much everyone!), the environmental impacts of menstrual products may not be something you’re aware of.
Environmenstrual week in the UK (19-25th Oct) hopes to change that by raising the issues involved, promoting alternatives to the most environmentally harmful products, as well as linking to other important campaign issues such as period poverty and menstrual hygiene.
One of the most frequently visited blog posts on my blog is the one about practising yoga (and particularly inversions) if you are menstruating. But, I rarely see much discussion in yoga circles on things like the plastic in many conventional period products, the impact on the environment of disposable period products, and social issues of period poverty. Periods are still a taboo subject – indeed, writing this post makes me feel nervous as to how it will be received!
In the UK, WEN are leading Environmenstrual Week and I encourage you to look at their page, read the resources, watch the videos and learn about the issues. Some of the main points they are highlighting are:
- 48% of girls in the UK are embarrassed by their period
- 10% of girls can’t afford menstrual products
- menstrual products are the fifth most common item found on European beaches
- 2 billion menstrual items are flushed down Britain’s toilets each year
WEN and others are campaigning for #PlasticFreePeriods to raise awareness about the environmental issues of plastic in such products which then end up as plastic pollution, and also to promote businesses (generally small and independent) who are working to provide more sustainable menstrual products.
So, what are the alternatives to traditional tampons and pads? There are:
- washable reusable pads made from a variety of materials like cotton
- reusable ‘cups’ made from various substances such as natural rubber or silicon
- organic cotton and plastic free pads and tampons
- period pants (knickers that have special layers of material in the gusset of material that absorbs the blood)
- washable reusable tampons
A good place to start is the Ethical Consumer magazine article about menstrual products and all the alternatives and what to look out for. There are loads of good companies in the score table who sell the alternatives in the UK. The Green Shopper also has a great beginners guide to the various alternatives available, links, info and more, including the amount of money that could be saved over 5 years depending on the option chosen. If you are interested in the ‘moon cups’ there are many brands and different sizes so read up first and try the quiz to judge what might be best for you
Unfortunately the cheapest menstrual products are often those with the most potential to damage our health (non-organic cotton, synthetic fragrances etc) and the planet. WEN argue this is a social justice issue as people with the least resources have the greatest exposure to harmful products. The UK has begun tackling period poverty by more public organisations like schools and colleges (and some good independent places like cafes) leaving free menstrual products in toilets. Whilst the reusable versions do cost more initially, as they can be reused for years they work out cheaper, although some people may not be able to afford the initial outlay.
In the UK and globally, embarrassment, taboos and poor education can lead to poor menstrual hygiene. For many women across the world access to safe clean water is a major issue, something Menstrual Hygiene day on 28th May is trying to address. Read this post about the issues and new initiatives in underprivileged countries and five projects features in Positive News.
But taboos are slowly breaking down and in recent years elite sports women have publicly refered to their period and the impact on their performance (for example Fu Yuanhui in the 2016 Olympics and British tennis star Heather Watson). Some sports teams are tracking their periods to adjust their training regime, even reducing injuries as a result!
Periods and the impact of dealing with them every month are also making news items such as on the BBC (with the article covering the environmental, social and taboo isuses) and the Guardian (which covers the recent changes in attitudes, cups, period pants, period poverty and many other issues – it’s a good read). Plus, a film about periods in India won best short documentary at the Oscars in 2019. There’s now even a period emoji!I
If it’s relevant to you, consider switching some of your products, and look out online for #plasticfreeperiods #periodpoverty #environmenstrualweek and #endperiodplastic on social media.