Sometimes the disposal of sanitary products is taken for granted by many. But the truth is that they are a huge contributor to environmental damage. The Women’s Environmental Network has found that, on average, a woman will use more than 11,000 disposable menstrual products over her lifetime. This produces a staggering amount of waste. While periods are a reality that we cannot avoid, we could be managing the waste they are associated with in a cleaner, eco-friendlier way. Join Lil-Lets and explore this idea further.
The effects that human activity has on the environment have been made clearer in recent years. Narratives such as climate change have become harder to dismiss. This gradual surge in awareness has targeted aspects of life with an amplified call for a change in behaviours. Even the smallest aspects of our daily routines can be associated with causing harm to the environment.
Environmental impacts of periods
Using all our favourite essential products can help deal with the burden of periods. However, the plastic content of many of the sanitary products that we rely on is having a detrimental effect on the environment.
So, what does the carbon footprint in a women’s menstrual cycle involve? A carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities. The idea of a ‘menstrual carbon footprint’ might seem strange, but the way we manage our monthly cycle can actually have this kind of direct impact on our climate. Various studies have deciphered the scale of this impact. Friends of the Earth established that one year’s worth of single use sanitary products amounted to the equivalent of 5.3kg of carbon dioxide produced. This is due to the fact that many cotton tampons contain small amounts of dioxin, a by-product from the creation of the synthetic carbon fibre rayon. They also contain a whole host of pesticides from the cotton harvesting process.
It’s revealed that some sanitary towels have up to 90% plastic content in them, according to recent Research. Meanwhile, 6% of the average tampon is made up of plastic. Non-applicator tampons contain 97% less plastic than their plastic applicator alternatives, and are an easy way to make a greener choice. Organic tampons are also a popular choice!
It’s relatively easy being green when choosing what to buy, for example buying 97% less plastic non-applicator tampons is no challenge. But what about recycling? While emphasis has always been placed on recycling, sanitary products do not fall under this practice as they are used to collect human waste. But plastic applicator tampons can last up to 500 years in the environment. How do we deal with this issue when recycling isn’t possible?
It’s been brought to attention by the public that the likes of cotton buds, one-use straws and drink stirrers have damaging effects on the environment. However, sanitary towels have not had the same response, especially considering they too have damaging qualities about them. These other items are all set to be banned in 2020 in a bid to clean up our oceans. But findings from the Marine Conservation Society revealed that for every 100m of beach cleaned, there are an average of 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste found. This amounts to four panty-liners, pads, backing strips, plus at least one tampon and an applicator.
Becoming ‘binners’ is a starting point. Not flushing tampons down the toilet might seem like an unspoken rule, but it seems as though we do need to speak about this more in light of the consequences that being a ‘flusher’ rather than a ‘binner’ can have.
Sewer systems can become blocked by tampons being flushed down the toilet. It also contributes to the ‘fatberg’ epidemic which is growing in our sub-street level waterways. This is where fat, oil, and single use products such as sanitary items and face wipes have accumulated to form huge masses. One was recently discovered which equalled the length of six double decker buses in Sidmouth, Devon.
Becoming a ‘binner’ can have a huge impact on the state of the environment, especially binning the likes of non-applicator tampons rather than flushing. The Journal of The Institution of Environmental Sciences found that around 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million sanitary liners, and 700,000 panty liners are flushed down UK toilets every day.
An eco-friendly alternative to switch to is the likes of organic tampons that have not been washed in harmful chemicals such as chlorine, bleach or other chemicals. The cotton used is free from pesticides, omitting any potential ecological effects. In turn, the growth of organic cotton can also help to lessen the development of climate change as the farming practices lock carbon dioxide into the soil. If you are committed to becoming more environmentally conscious, then consider changing your conventional tampon for an organic alternative. Alternatively, if you are still using applicator tampons, you should swap to non-applicator or cardboard applicator products. Lil-Lets range of non-applicator tampons includes an absorbent core made using viscose, ensuring that it is entirely plastic free.
A key facilitator to encourage consumers to change their choices to align with environmental concerns is a sense of openness from sanitary brands. This narrative certainly needs to be communicated on an even larger scale to provoke change. Groups such as The Women’s Environmental Network are leading the way in promoting their #PeriodsWithoutPlastic movement, to educate and share ideas on how we can tackle the issue of the sanitary sector’s role in ecological damage.
To encourage the disposing of sanitary products, more action is required. We must all commit to making small changes and substitutions to our own cycle routine. This could be by stocking up on non-applicator or organic products or by binning rather than flushing our pads and tampons!