April 5, 2022
Why You Should Try A Plastic Free Period
As the world wakes up to the impact of plastic pollution caused by single-use bottles and packaging, another, potentially bigger issue is lurking around our coasts. Plastic pollution from period products. Here we will highlight three main reasons why we should all shift towards a plastic-free period.
Menstrual health is incredibly important to learn about and understand in order to take care of your body (and planet!) Yes, periods and the environment are connected, though many may not realize. The use of plastic during our period can be harming both our body and the ecosystem.
- WASTE REDUCTION
Pads, the menstrual product favored around the world, can in some cases be made up of about 90% plastic – containing as much as four supermarket bags. Tampons are predominantly cotton and rayon but have components made up of polyester materials. Many come individually wrapped with plastic applicators. The average woman is estimated to use and throw away an excess of 10,000 period products in her menstrual lifetime.
Once thrown in the trash, the menstrual products make their way to the landfill where they will take 500 years to degrade. This is not a realistic time to wait, so they will inevitably be incinerated or buried. As a reminder, incineration and landfill are two methods of treating waste which are sources of air pollution, soil pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Tampons and pads are not recyclable and represent 13% of residual household waste.
- ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
Globally over 12 billion disposable menstrual products are annually disposed of. Those not thrown directly into the trash are flushed, blocking the sewers and creating overflow that escapes into the rivers and seas. When this happens, because these products are made from plastic, they don’t disintegrate and can clog pipes and cause damage. If that isn’t enough, the trash comes into contact with marine life…and we know for sure that oceans and plastics do not mix. Since the microparticles of plastics and other chemical substances are not all treated by treatment plants, they can permanently pollute soils and rivers and damage biodiversity.
Flushing has led to period products now being the 5th most common item found on beaches – more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery or straws. But flushing behavior isn’t the only problem; disposable period products are also piling up in landfill. And if we look at the bigger picture, plastic is made from fossil fuels, so period plastic contributes to the climate crisis in the same way as all other single-use plastics.
- TOXIC CHEMICALS
How many women actually know their tampons and pads may have plastic in them? Unlike food products, there is no legal compulsion to list ingredients on their packaging, although most of this information is available online. Many products contain pesticide residues, fragrances, and plasticizers. All of these chemicals are known to disrupt the endocrine system, which is instrumental in regulating mood, growth, development, and reproduction. Therefore, the use of these products can be harmful near a highly absorbent area of our body. Here is a breakdown of what these harmful additives are:
Pesticide residues originate from non-organic cotton (and other non-organic plants) where chemicals are sprayed on crops to kill any creatures that may interfere with farming. These chemicals can be harmful to our bodies and could be absorbed through skin. You can learn more about the harmful effects of cotton cultivation in our Cotton Fabric Care Guide.
Plasticizers are materials that are added to other materials to make them more soft and flexible. Bisphenol A (BPA), parabens and Phthalates are common plasticisers that are known to mimic hormones, especially estrogen. With one pack of pads containing the same amount of plastic as 5 carrier bags, and even a tampon being 6% plastic, that is a lot of plasticizer being used next to, or inside our bodies.
Fragrances are perfumes added to period products to make them ‘smell nice’, but often have the opposite effect. Chemical fragrances can interfere with the pH balance in the vagina, as well as the balance between good and bad bacteria which help the vagina to stay clean. This can lead to irritation and infection, which in turn may produce more odor! Often the ‘smell’ we associate with periods is actually due to the mixture of oxidized blood (blood out of the body) mixing with these perfumes.
ZERO WASTE & PLASTIC FREE = SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES
In recent years, more and more brands have developed healthy and sustainable alternatives to disposable menstrual products. Menstrual cups and washable pads are gaining popularity for both environmental and health benefits. With a lifespan of 5 to 10 years, reusable menstrual products represent a real solution to reduce the waste related to menstruation and single-use plastics. Designed to last a long time, they reduce resource use and are less likely to be flushed down the toilet or left in the wild.
Due to their composition, reusable alternatives are generally healthier as well. Washable pads and underwear that are made from natural fibers (cotton, hemp, silk), and are certified organic (GOTS or OEKO-TEX certification), guarantees the absence of undesirable substances for health and for the skin and reduces the risks of contamination for users.
It is important to promote good menstrual hygiene management at a global level, and to de-stigmatize the natural bodily functions of menstruating women. And, practicing a plastic-free period can help both body and planet! Try using a menstrual cup, washable pads, reusable applicators, or menstrual underwear during your cycle.