Sanitary items are essential products for anyone who menstruates. As with any essential product, consumers tend to pick up the most convenient option for them. However, many conventional sanitary pads and tampons contain a high level of plastic. How do we fix this? And, more to the point, who is responsible for doing so?
First, let’s take a look at some period plastic facts:
The plastic footprint of a sanitary product goes beyond its packaging. An estimate from Natracare suggests that 1 pack of sanitary pads contains the same amount of plastic as 4 shopping bags. That’s up to 90% plastic materials in a single pad. And it’s not just sanitary pads. Tampons contain polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) to absorb liquid. PP and PE can also be found in tampon strings and applicators. So, it’s not just the packaging which causes a problem, the make up of the products themselves isn’t great either.
What happens to a single-use sanitary product after use?
As with all single-use products, they’re disposed. Some are sent straight to landfill, which although not ideal, is the best place for them. If the products are disposed of carelessly, this can lead to them littering our natural environment.
On average, the U.K flushes 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels down the toilet EVERY DAY. A study from the Great British Beach Clean had litter pickers discovering 4.8 pieces of period waste for every 100 meters of beach. Like any other plastics, these products can take hundreds of years to break down. If they’re not removed from our natural environment, they will act like any other plastic and slowly break down into impossible-to-reach microplastics that are so damaging to the health of species and ecosystems around the world.
In short, period plastic is a problem.
What can we do to make periods more sustainable?
As ever, there are alternative products that individuals can buy to ensure their period is practically plastic-free. There are so many brands that now offer organic, plastic-free tampons or reusable applicators for customers who don’t want to stray too far from the standard products.
If you want to try the reusable market, there are countless options of reusable pads, tampon applicators, period pants, menstrual cups and more. If you can manage to make the swap, that’s a sure-fire way to reduce the plastic in your period.
But what about the periods of other menstruators who don’t have the money, education or resources to help manage a transition to plastic-free menstruation? There are a huge number of reasons why people may be unable to swap to access alternative products. That’s not their fault.
My advice would be, to anyone who is able, fight for better on their behalf. Support local charities to end period poverty. Seek out national campaigns and organisation that are trying to eradicate period plastic where you live. Don’t forget to ask for accountability from period product companies and mainstream retailers – they are far more responsible for this problem than any individual. Individuals shouldn’t be blamed for consuming within the mainstream system.
As with many other issues, change won’t come if everyone is expected to seek out better alternatives for themselves. That’s unattainable and unfair. We have to work hard to ensure everyone has the ability to access safe, clean, comfortable and (hopefully) plastic-free period products.
If any UK-based readers would like to be pointed in the direction of campaigns and charities who’re currently doing the leg-work on this, please feel free to DM me on Instagram.
|If this topic was of interest to you, check out the article [A Zero Waste Period Guide] by Laura Busquets.|