We’re all busy re-thinking plastic bags and cotton buds in the wake of David Attenborough’s Planet II. But there’s one serious single-use plastic offender that’s received much less attention, and that’s periods. Women have been having periods since the start of time, so why are we only just starting to talk about it?
Just take a minute to consider the magnitude of waste the period category currently contributes: every year 100 billion period products are thrown away globally, most of which are single-use and cannot be recycled. That’s enough waste to circle our planet 250 times.
Did you know that the average sanitary pad contains up to 90% plastic - the equivalent of 4 plastic bags?
Then there’s tampons. Most contain 5% plastic and that doesn’t even include the applicator. In the UK alone we get through 1.3 billion single-use applicators every year, most of which are pure plastic. Even cardboard applicators are often coated in plastic and cannot be recycled.
The average woman uses 12,000 disposable period products in her lifetime. This vast amount of plastic waste is accompanied by a myriad of health risks from using plastic products in such intimate areas. To make matters worse, it’s estimated that every day in the UK 700,000 pantyliners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million period pads are flushed down British loos. These end up in our oceans and are the 5th most common plastic to wash up on UK beaches. The impact spreads well beyond the bathroom, and for once being 5th is not something to be proud of.
Major brands use the language of shame and discretion and we’re made to feel embarrassed about our periods. As a consequence, we’re discouraged from opening up, even among friends or family. So, many of us default to the same product month on month without question. A lack of industry transparency doesn’t help.
Period brands aren’t required to disclose their ingredients, leaving us in the dark about what we’re really using.
These mainstream products that we’re candidly throwing away without much thought are manufactured from synthetic materials often treated with harsh chemicals - like bleach, dyes, glues & fragrance. Is ignorance really bliss when it comes to putting chemicals into one of the most absorbent parts of our bodies? There are many of us assuming that the pads and tampons we devote ourselves to are made from pure, natural cotton. Sadly, that’s not the case.
The good news is that after centuries of being shrouded in shame and fear, the discourse around periods is slowly starting to change too. Combined with our growing environmental consciousness, we’re starting to demand more of our period product choices. According to Mintel, half of women are now concerned about the environmental impact of their period products (a 7 fold increase from 2016) and the impact of this is strong.
Last year, #plasticfreeperiods trended on Twitter and various plastic-free period petitions have attracted over 100,000 signatures. Recently, Sainsbury’s announced the cessation of both sales and production of their own brand plastic-applicator tampons. Not to mention period literature such as Maisie Hill’s Period Power and Emma Barnett’s Period appearing on mainstream bookshelves for the first time. A step in the right direction, but is it enough?
Fortunately, innovation is popping up in the period space for the first time in decades. There is now an array of different sustainable products meaning women finally having growing choice. And let’s face it, given every body, and every period, is unique, this sense of choice is so crucial.
For example, tampons: in contrast to the synthetic tampons pushed by major brands, you can now find 100% organic tampons. At DAME we offer nothing but natural cotton. Our tampons are toxin free, hypoallergenic, and biodegradable. For applicator fans, we’ve also created the world's first reusable tampon applicator, called D. Built to last for decades, and easy to clean due to self-sanitising technology, D sets you up for a confident, convenient switch to a sustainable period.
Other options include: Menstrual Cups, Reusable Cloth Pads or Period Pants.
If we talk more openly about our periods, interrogate our period product choices and demand more from big brands, we can turn the tide on period plastic. Embrace the freedom of a more sustainable, healthier period because at the end of the day, while we can choose to decline that plastic straw, or say no to that disposable coffee cup, we can’t choose whether or not to deal with our period each month. We need to act now - there’s no time to waste.