Aah the crimson tide. That thing fundamental to all women that you either love or you hate. Okay, maybe no-one loves their period, but hear me out for a second. The menstrual cycle is actually an incredible thing.
Unlike guys, women have a unique opportunity every month, to cleanse. As Donna Gates (love her) of Body Ecology explains, "Like the moon, a woman’s hormones move through peaks and valleys. Besides triggering the release of your uterine lining, these hormones also work in partnership with your immune system. As you menstruate, your entire body enters into a period of cleansing."
Interestingly, many health practitioners believe that this monthly cleansing and rejuvenation opportunity is part of the reason women tend to live longer than men.
At a very young age we start doing all kinds of things to 'manage' [or more aptly, mess with] our periods. Painkillers for cramps, oral contraceptives for acne, antidepressants for PMS, even hormones to reduce or cease the flow. In usual 21st century fashion, we revert to conventional drugs to mask and even cease the symptoms of cleansing.
But just as every action has an opposite and equal reaction, interfering with your body's natural cycle can send you way out of balance.
Woaa. This blog post is actually meant to be about Tampons. Back to the task at hand:
how green is your period
Not very. If you're like me you probably started using either tampons or disposable pads at a young age and haven’t given it a thought since. Each month, you buy a pack or two, and the consumer purchasing process goes something like this: "Animal print? Or polkadots?"
Well, I did some maths, and there's a lot, a lot more to this consumer purchasing decision than animal prints.
On average a woman will have her period once a month, for about 5 days, for around 40 years of her life. That's around 521 cycles per woman, multiplied by 3.5 billion women around the globe.
Now there's a multi-billion dollar repeat customer market if ever I saw one.
Over the course of a lifetime, every tampon-using woman will leave behind 45 cubic feet of waste, and the figure is higher for all the pad-users out there. Multiply that by 3.5 billion ladies on the planet and we're dumping some seriously massive long-lasting waste for future generations. That's not even counting the packaging, which is over the top at the best of times (applicators, plastic casing, box, plastic around boxes).
It's a big business
Tampons and pads are mass-produced, heavily marketed and cheaply made, out of bleached rayon, non-organic cotton and plastics. It amuses me how garishly the tampon commercials attempt to glamorise the little white sticks. There's a reason you'll never see the safe, reusable alternatives in big supermarket chains or in mainstream advertising: they loose repeat customers.
Let’s pick on the #1 ingredient in conventional tampons and pads: rayon. Rayon is a fiber that is made from cellulose, which is natural. But to produce Rayon, chemical procedures are needed, including carbon disulphide, sulfuric acid and caustic soda. They are usually bleached using chlorine, a pointless and purely cosmetic process which results in the production of dioxin. You can read all about the potential health effects here.
The environmental impacts
So what's a girl to do
Now for the good bit. What can you do for your health, and the environment? There are a few options:
They provide the convenience of tampons without the waste. You insert them like a tampon, empty out as needed, and clean with soapy water. They are reusable, contain no dioxin, no rayon, and are easy to maintain. A word of precaution - it takes some time to get the hang of it, but please persevere! I promise, it becomes second nature.
Plus, I reckon using a mooncup makes you far less grossed out about periods, helping you to embrace your cycle and become more connected to what’s going on with your body. Which all relates to what I touched on at the beginning of this post - periods are a beautiful thing!
For those who prefer external-use products, there are greener options for you too. Reusable cloth pads, such as Luna Pads, and Glad Rags, are machine-washable fabric maxi pads. They require some energy and water to clean, but they do save on overall resource use, protect you from toxins, avoid plastic production, and create minimal waste.
Ditch the pads and go for applicator-free, organic cotton tampons
If the idea of a 'cup' freaks you out but you still want to green your routine, you can cut back on a significant amount of trash by not using plastic applicators. Going organic doesn't really reduce your environmental impact, but it is better for your health. Check out Natracare.
So there you have it. Changing habits like these can be difficult - Feminine Hygiene brands invest fortunes in building consumer loyalty - you probably buy the same brand of tampons you watched your mother buy. But waste from periods is a big, silent issue with surprisingly simple, healthy solution.
Give it a shot! Have you tried eco-alternatives to tampons and pads? What's been your experience? Share in the comments below, we'd love to hear from you.
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