Menstruation: periods, Aunt Flo, “that time of the month,” or insert your favourite euphemism here. It’s something many of us experience, whether we like it or not. The monthly shedding of uterine lining is often discussed in a development, medical or feminist context – but is it also a waste issue? Picture an adult female grizzly bear, weighing in at 150 kg. That’s the amount of disposable menstrual products an average menstruating person uses in their lifetime!
Menstrual Products Through Time
Before commercial products for menstruation were introduced (just 100 years ago!), someone who was menstruating may have used cotton or cloth, animal skin, feathers, or even, in ancient Egypt and Greece, early versions of tampons.
From the 1850’s on, you could choose bloomers with extra padding, rubber shields or early tampons. Back then, menstrual cups were used but were made of rubber – natural, of course, but certainly not comfortable. The advent of plastic manufacturing in the 1950’s and 60’s improved the convenience, availability and comfort of menstrual products.
The Problem With Modern Menstrual Products
Now, you can buy tampons with plastic applicators, pantyliners with plastic adhesive, and pads, which are almost entirely made of plastic. However, many of the health and environmental implications of these products are just becoming known. For instance, the potentially fatal Toxic Shock Syndrome is a blood infection associated with the use of high-absorbency, synthetic tampons. Fragrances in products contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Pesticides, fertilizer and herbicides are used in the production of cotton, which tampons are made of.
Now For the Good News
If all that made your pelvic floor tighten, there is some good news. Some companies have heard people’s concerns in recent years and developed safe and sustainable products in response. Now you can now choose from a variety of low-waste products, including:
And many users of hormonal IUDs, which can last up to five years, don’t get their period at all.
Even better, there are some great side benefits to using these products:
- These waste-free options CAN save you money, big time: a Chatelaine study found people spend on average $65 a year on disposable menstrual products when a reusable cup could cost just $3.79 annually, and silicone cups can last up to 10 years!
- Life gets a little less messy because.. there is less garbage to take out. Simply wash your liners or underwear!
- Some makers of period underwear give back to help people all over the world have access to menstrual products, and, in short, having these products means young people can get back to school or work, breaking free from poverty!
- Reduce the stress that comes with forgetting a tampon or pad.
- Feel the freedom of not having to rely on costly, uncomfortable, plastic products!
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for which products to use when you’re menstruating, but if you are looking to reduce your plastic footprint, we are lucky to live in a time when we have so many comfortable and plastic-free options.