The Intersection of Menstruation and Sustainability
In the United States alone, menstruation results in twelve billion pads and seven million tampons in landfills each year. Shocking, but that number only worsens when you realize it doesn’t account for the tampons Channing Tatum uses to stop up his nosebleeds. Look at how you handle your own period.
If you’re using the plastic standard, each tampon you use has a non-biodegradable plastic casing and a plastic applicator. If you use 2-3 tampons a day for a week, you have now added 21 applicators, 21 plastic tampon wrappers and 21 bloody tampons to a landfill nearby (that is if you never, ever flush ‘em down the toilet… do you want to ruin your plumbing). In a year, you’ve dumped more than 755 pieces of garbage in a landfill. At the age of 23- an individual has probably contributed around 7,560 pieces of garbage to the landfill just from the products used to handle menstruation. And that’s not including pads, panty-liners, their accompanying plastic and outer packaging. Some statistics estimate that pads decompose at a startlingly slow rate– 500 to 8,000 years.
During 6th and 7th grade health classes, us girls (those who were lucky enough to receive adequate sex education) sighed and came to terms with the fact that we would spend one fourth of our adult lives routinely substituting bullets of bleached cotton for more bullets of bleached cotton in our vaginas. But we are living in a new era. If free bleeding isn’t for you, you have alternatives to pads and tampons at your disposal. They’ve been advertised for lazy gals, for simplicity, for health benefits–, all of which are substantial reasons to look into alternate solutions for menstruation.
Diva cups are essentially rubber cups that you fold and then insert into your vaginal canal. They act as a reservoir for period blood. After 8 hours, you remove it and empty it, wash it, and can reinsert it or tuck it away in its travel case when you no longer need it. Is it too weird for the mainstream? Maybe 5 years ago. But tampons were weird at first when they were invented in 1929. You aren’t risking TSS with the diva cup, you aren’t polluting the earth with the diva cup, but best of all, it’s kind of cute and can double as a thimble in a pinch.
Another alternative is underwear specifically designed to soak up menstruation. Thinx is probably the most well-known, thanks to their undeniably sleek marketing. But just Thinx about it- if you have a few pairs of Thinx underwear, you cut out about $25 from your monthly budget on something you throw away. The Huffington Post calculated that a woman spends $18,171 on her period over her lifetime (that’s $18,171 more than I currently have). They estimated $1,773 is spent on just tampons.
While Thinx underwear aren’t cheap, they are made to be functional and reusable. And you could save yourself $1,773 (if you never buy a tampon again). A pair of Thinx underwear goes for $30-40, but essentially pays for itself in 2-3 months. And what’s more appealing than not having to worry about staining your intimissimis? They are available in thongs, boyshorts, high waisted styles- sizes XS-3XL.
Reusable pads are another viable option if you want to reduce your monthly menstruation waste. Reusable pads are exactly as you imagine- you merely wash them. No, it's not unhygienic, and before single use pads and tampons were invented, this was the norm. It's completely feasible to make reusable pads on your own, (check out some DIY videos here,) but if you’re interested in buying them pre-made, Luna Pads are a popular go- to.
Tampons pose a risk to your health- most tampons are made of bleached cotton and contain chemicals that we would normally shy away from. But tampon companies aren’t obligated to list the ingredients on tampons, deliberately leaving consumers in the dark. Did you know… tampons may contain BPA (the ingredient we avoid in plastic water bottles, a hormone disruptor that is potentially linked to cancer and heart disease) chlorine, fragrance (which is an umbrella term for chemicals that companies don’t have to disclose) and more! While the jury is out on the risk that these chemicals pose to your body by being absorbed through your vaginal walls, I’m not willing to take the risk. If your main concern is the plastic you produce, then consider purchasing tampons without applicators, but pay special attention to the ingredients in cotton.
If you want to eliminate your need to use period protection/worry about menstruation for the next 3-5 years, get an IUD. And better yet, you can be pregnancy worry-free. But please still use protection because sexually transmitted infections won’t care about your IUD.
Open a dialogue with your friends or female family members about their feminine hygiene products, and the changes they could make. The stigma that exists about the female body and its natural mechanisms can be broken down through conversation. If you hear negative things thrown around about say, free bleeding, engage that individual in a friendly conversation. When I hear that kind of talk, I propose that however someone wishes to live and handle their monthly menstruation is their prerogative.
So be best- think twice about your monthly period waste and be conscious about the eco-friendly alternatives that exist that don’t threaten your personal health. We would love to hear from you on how you keep your menstruation habits from impacting the earth, or if you tried out an new alternative after reading this article.
Editor: Erika Lewy