Did you know that one pack of single-use menstrual pads contains the same amount of plastic as 5 carrier bags? When we consider that, on average, a person who menstruates uses up to 11,000 menstrual products in their lifetime, that is a lot of plastic. But what does this really mean?
Although single-use period products such as pads, tampons and panty liners have become an unquestionable staple for most menstruators, for their ease of use and undeniable convenience, they are a ‘significant contributor to single-use plastic waste globally’. Perhaps now is the time to question how convenient they really are, for our bodies and for our planet.
Impacts on Our Environment
During the entire lifecycle of a single-use period product, from production to disposal, environmental impacts are grave. The manufacturing of these products is water and energy intensive. For example, LDPE found in tampon applicators and period pads requires large amounts of energy generated by fossil fuels. This process is the largest contributor to global warming.
Furthermore, through the harvesting of wood pulp (a component found in period pads), natural resources are depleted, soil impoverishment occurs and it is a cause of deforestation.
According to a report by the Life Cycle Initiative ‘in Europe approximately 87% of menstrual products end up in landfills where the plastic components can take up to 500 years to break down'. They are either left to degrade or are incinerated, both of which release toxic chemicals and microplastics into the environment, polluting our land, air and waters, impacting public health and food production.
A lot of period products are also carelessly disposed of – in the UK 1.4 million period pads and 2.5 million tampons are flushed down the toilet every day. Once flushed, they leach chemicals, block sewers causing potential overflows into rivers, polluting our freshwater and marine environments. Unsurprisingly period products are the 5th most common item found along European beaches.
Impacts on Our Health
Single-use commercially available menstrual products, such as pads, can contain up to 90% plastic and tampons 6%. Plasticisers, additives and preservatives, such as phthalates, bisphenol-A, parabens and petrochemical additives, are also added. These substances are known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s) which disrupt the normal functioning of our hormones. They have been linked to health issues, such as heart diseases, infertility, cancer and endometriosis.
Synthetic fragrances are also added to some period products and can be made of a cocktail of up to 3,900 chemicals, of which, several are known carcinogens, irritants, neurotoxins etc. Dioxins and chlorine have also been found within the products, likely from the bleaching of the wood pulp, rayon and cotton in order to achieve a white colour. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals, of which, there is no safe level. Even traces of pesticides have been found.
What’s more, the skin surrounding the vulvar and vagina are sensitive and highly absorbent, meaning that toxins are readily absorbed. In fact, research suggests that ‘exposure to EDC’s from menstrual products is at least 10 times higher than the estimated absorption rates through skin elsewhere on the body’.
Profit Over Health
If these chemicals and plastics are known to be extremely harmful to humans, why are they being used in the manufacturing of menstrual products? Quite simply, there is no specific European regulation of menstrual products and manufacturers are not obliged to label or disclose the ingredients in their products. The menstrual product industry generates billions of pounds and is controlled by a select few, such as Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Johnson & Johnson. These materials are cheap to produce and their interest lies in economic gain, not with human and environmental safety.
So, what can we do to claim back our right to a healthier and safer period?
Try using reusable menstrual products, such as period pads, a menstrual cup or period pants. If these options are not viable for you, why not try using single-use products that are made using organic cotton and are plastic-free? These options are much healthier for us and for the planet. In fact, the menstrual cup has ‘less than 1% of the impacts of the single-use options over a year of use’. If using single-use products, remember to dispose of them correctly – in the bin, not down the toilet.
And, of course, we need to come together and campaign for our rights to a healthier future.
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