I will start this post with a promise that one day soon I’ll stop writing posts with “too much information” and maybe also ones with less opinionated titles but for today that’s not gonna happen…
Periods… I know many people don’t really like talking about them but I’ve lived in enough all girls flats and hostels rooms over the years that it’s totally normal to me to talk candidly about periods. Let’s face it 50% of the population have them for a huge chunk of their lives.
When I first started thinking zero waste a friend told me about her Moon cup and another about the cloth pads she was using but I didn’t quite feel ready for either of these, I’m not sure why, maybe just didn’t think about it enough but instead came across and started using a company called TOTM (they now sell these in Tesco). They are an organic brand, that doesn’t use harsh chemicals or practices that are harmful to us or the environment in their tampons and pads. But this made me ponder… what on earth was the impact of our monthly cycle?
When I started thinking about that question and this post I thought, like most of my other posts, it would be based around the environmental impact of our periods and the waste that goes with them but I very quickly realised it needs to also be a post on the effect sanitary products, that most of us don’t think twice about using, have on us!
Of course I won’t leave until I’ve given you a little insight into the environmental impact. The production of these products also includes wood pulp, which contributes massively to deforestation and cotton, which is extremely water intensive and uses pesticide. Sanitary products along with their packaging, applicators and individual wrapping create more than 200,000 tons of waste PER YEAR in the UK and of course all contain plastic. In fact pads are made up of 90% plastic. In 2010 a UK beach clean found an average of 23 sanitary pads and 9 tampon applicators per kilometre of British coastline. This grossed me out so much (for environmental reasons too) but imagine one of your old pads just hanging out of the beach where kids play. ( I’m really sorry if your reading this over your lunch.)
And so what effects could these products have on us? Starting with the fact that there is roughly 4 plastic bags in the average sanitary towel, when heavily used in period care plastics can trap heat and bacteria which can lead to infection. Then they use polyethylene plastic to make them stick to your underwear, this is a harmful pollutant to the environment which doesn’t sit well with me especially considering it’s been sitting near my sensitive region. Most pads also contain dioxin, chlorine and rayon, more things I don’t feel comfortable with “down there”. These chemicals when sent to landfill seep into the Earth and are released as pollutants in our air and waterworks.
On to Tampons which are made of cotton, the cotton industry uses 11% of the worlds pesticides. Chemical residue and additives from these pesticides can contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which can disrupt hormonal balance. Tampons are also made to adsorb but absorb all your vaginal fluid along with the blood, which may disturb the delicate pH and bacterial balance in your vagina.
So here’s where it gets kinda controversial. Since my period returned post baby I started using a Menstrual Cup, and seriously its CHANGED my life. It’s so much comfier, I feel cleaner, there’s no gross bathroom bin to contend with, it’s seriously money saving, there no risk of toxic shock syndrome and the controversial bit being my periods are shorter and I no longer get cramps. It’s controversial because there’s very little science at the moment to prove the positive effects of using a cups but when searching the web and reading through forums a high percentage of women reported the same. I’m not saying this isn’t a placebo effect, or that its factually true, my experience is also tainted by the fact that things could just have changed since I had a baby, but what I AM saying is I was defiantly effected previously by having my period every month. Everything about it was uncomfortable and annoying and now the only annoyance is remembering that I’m on so I don’t forgot to empty my cup which actually only needs doing every 12 hours depending of how heavy your period is of course.
I also wrote previously about how uncomfortable regular pads made me post birth in “My New Mamma Essentials” until I started using cloth pads, and this has stayed the same for my period too. I tend just to use them at the end of my period and pop them in a little wet bag until I’m putting a wash on. I’m also super keen to try out some period pants which are definitely not as Granny like as they sound. Check some out here.
Before I wrap this up I would also like to touch upon one more thing that I think is incredibly important when it comes to period care and that is “Period Poverty”. The fact that I’m talking about different options we have to choose from and the fact that I can choose a more ethical product shows that I was born into privilege. 1 in 10 girls cannot afford to buy menstrual products according to Plan International UK, over 137,700 children in the UK have missed school because of period poverty and in developing countries women often resort to using alternative materials including leaves, toilet paper, socks and rags. The use of unsanitary materials often has health implications, including reproductive tract infections and cervical cancer. Every woman around the world deserves the right to be able to go to school, work or just carry on with everyday life without having to hide away or risk their health. Reusable products can help end this. I’m not naive in thinking it will solve everything. I understand that teenage girls may struggle with a cup or may be embarrassed to have cloth pads in their school bag but by normalising these products, talking about them and making them as widely used we can will make the process a lot easier. I also think that pretty patterned pads and gorgeous wet bags could make teenagers much more excited about their period than a yucky old tampon.
A few tips : when buying a menstrual cup make sure you get the right one. Start off by taking the quiz. I’ve tried two out just because they came in a pack of two. One fit perfectly (the size recommended for post birth), I tried the small one just because it was there and it was super uncomfortable so that proves the importance of the right cup. Also give it time to get used to it. Changing it was a bit weird at first, but now I could do it in my sleep.
If you also decide to try out cloth pads Earthwise Girls do a “buy 3 give 1” scheme where they donate pads to orphans teens in Kenya.
If it’s all a bit to much give TOTM a try.
Always so much to think about but hopefully it’s food for thought for you.