It’s estimated that the average person will have 450 periods in their lifetime. This equates to around 10 years. Depending on what menstrual hygiene products you choose to use, this can also cause a lot of waste. You may not automatically think of tampons and menstrual pads when you hear about landfills but some feminine hygiene products take over 500 years to decompose. So, how environmentally friendly is your period? One activist is working to break the link between menstruation and the plastic crisis.
“From a young age we don’t really talk about periods and when you do get educated about menstruation you’re given samples of products. That starts the consumer cycle. You just keep going back to the same brands without questioning what you’re using because they were given to you by adults,” says campaigner and environmentalist Ella Daish.
Since 2018 Daish has been raising awareness for the amount of plastic that’s in many period products, in some cases up to 90%. Shestarted the #EndPeriodPlastic campaign and has met with manufacturers and governments to highlight the harm that single-use menstruation products are having.
Currently, pads are the most popular menstrual hygiene products used by people around the world. They’re closely followed by tampons. Depending on the brand you buy both products are wrapped in plastic. Pads have a leak-proof base and wings made of plastic. Many tampons have plastic applicators. It’s been estimated that an individual goes through 11,000 menstrual products in their lifetime. They can be used forsix to eight hoursand then must be thrown away where they can take centuries to decompose.
“If you don’t consider what’s in your products it’s unlikely that you’d think of alternative options. But we shouldn’t have to search to find alternative options and information,” says Daish, “it should be on shelves and be the mainstream.”
Since she started campaigning three years ago Daish has worked withthree major UK retailers, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Superdrug. They’ve pledged to stop the production of their plastic tampon applicators which has saved over 17 tonnes of plastic waste annually. Similarly, Superdrug, Morrisons and Lil-Lets have developed their own eco-friendly ranges. She says, “these are the brands that people buy. By making their products eco-friendly it makes plastic alternatives more accessible to even more people. It shows that it can be done too.”
As well as working with brands Daish has called for governments to spend their period poverty funding on eco-friendly products. Four local authoritiesin Wales have committed to 100% of their funding to be spent on sustainable products and the Welsh government has stipulated that 50% of their funding must be spent in this way.
In Nov. 2020 Scotland passed pioneering legislation that would make period products free at the point of need. Daish explains that as governments seek to crack down on period poverty they might as well do it in a way that would help the environment rather than adding to the plastic crisis.
“We can tackle period poverty, the plastic crisis and protect the environment all at the same time. It makes sense. We already know the impacts of plastic but we need to consider how we spend our money and the kind of future we want,” she says.
Over the last decade, there have been many plastic-free and eco-friendly menstrual products developed. Period cups such asthe Moon Cup or Intimina’s Ziggy Cupcan be used repeatedly. They’re easy and come in a range of colors. Similarly, Ohne and DAME have developed organic tampons with single-use plastic-free applicators. Another alternative is washable, reusable menstrual underwear such as Thinx or Modibodi.
While they may not be the mainstream yet, making a small change to the menstrual hygiene product you use could have a big impact on how environmentally friendly your period is. “We need collective action on all levels. At the moment there’s a lot of the right things being said. Brands are pledging to make changes by 2040 but that’s not soon enough,” says Daish, “we need steps to be taken now. Change takes time but proper action needs to happen sooner rather than later.”