Some of you may want to close your eyes and cover your ears, because this month I am writing about feminine hygiene products.
There are number of reasons why this topic is important. Stigma aside, feminine hygiene products produce a lot of waste.
Women use upwards of 11,000 pads and tampons throughout their life, amounting to about 200,000 tons of waste (including packaging) in the US alone. Surprisingly, pads are 90 per cent plastic, which takes lifetimes to break down.
Besides the huge amount of waste and other environmental consequences resulting from their use, creating the products also comes with substantial environmental costs. By using cotton, which has a significant impact including pesticide and fertilizer use, as well as water, we end up with environmental destruction or degradation, as a result.
What hygiene products you use is a deeply personal decision, and since our society has already added pressure and opinions of what is right and wrong in this context, I don’t want to add any extra guilt or stigma to the decisions you make about how you approach your periods. But, I will share some more options if you do want to make some changes.
The easiest change for you to make might be just to switch to organic products with biodegradable packaging — although they still often contain some plastic. While the issue of disposal isn’t altogether dealt with, and there are still environmental costs in producing them, at least the process will add fewer dyes, harsh chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides to the environment.
Alternatively, you could try one of the reusable options available such as a silicone cup. These cups can be used to replace (and improve upon) tampons. This zero waste reusable option is worn internally for up to 12 hours with no known associated risks and can be used for any flow levels. This is probably the most cost effective solution available too, since they can last for years.
Another great option is reusable cloth. Believe me, these are not your grandmother’s cloth rags! Despite their reputation, the modern iteration has truly improved. They’re made with soft fabrics, absorbent inner materials and are leak resistant. There are so many options, including more sustainable materials, a variety of shapes, sizes and patterns. There are some commercially available brands, but you can also find them on Etsy and other sites, where they are often made locally, so you are also supporting the local economy.
Even if you consider the water used to wash them, they are far more sustainable, in addition to being more comfortable than their disposable counterparts. I assure you that they can easily be transferred from storage bag to washing machine, so washing them is also simple.
Besides feeling good about the environmental outcomes of my choices, for me, choosing reusable items also makes me feel like I have more autonomy over my body and frees me from the monthly costs of using products from large corporations. They can even be a bit of a hidden accessory and will certainly have cost savings over time compared to the stiff, scratchy, plain disposables.
Stacey Danckert is co-director of Waterloo Region Environment Network (WREN).