On Plastic Free Periods
Last week I published a photo on instagram of my beloved menstrual cup with a caption underneath mentioning how I often use the cup contents to feed my houseplants, and I received a pretty interesting response. I had a few messages from people who were blown away by the idea and how logical it sounded, they couldn't wait to give it a go themselves. There were others who were rather curious, wanting to know the precise details of how much I dilute it or what type of plants I pour it on. Then, of course, there were a couple of people who were completely grossed out by the idea. It may be slightly taking zero waste living to the extreme but personally I kinda love that blood I've been chucking down the toilet for 15 years can actually be used to help grow plant life, here was me thinking the only things we could grow were babies. Aside from all that though and the mixture of responses I was getting, what I loved most of all was that it had people intrigued, interested and, most importantly, talking about zero waste periods.
In the UK alone single use menstrual products generate 200,000 tonnes of waste a year, with each menstruating individual using up to 11,000 disposable period-related items in their lifetime. Up to 90% of a menstrual pad and 6% of tampons (alongside the plastic applicator) contain plastic and if they end up in landfill will take hundreds of years to decompose. Many of these disposed items also end up in seas and rivers, especially when they are flushed down the toilet. The problem becomes even greater when you consider the production process of some non-organic menstrual products, a process which often involves pesticide-sprayed cotton and wood pulp bleaching and which has detrimental effects on both the users and the workers who grow the materials, bringing together the environmental, health and social justice issues surrounding period plastic. There is no doubt that plastic free periods are the future and thankfully there has never been as many ecofriendly alternatives out there to choose from, a few of which I mention below.
The menstrual cup has to be my favourite zero waste period product. It's easily sanitized by boiling in a pan for 5 minutes before and after each period and, once you get the hang of it, very simple to insert/remove. There are lots of different brands out there now, generally offering cups in 2 sizes (for those that have given birth vaginally and those that haven't), but they all kinda do the same thing. The great thing is thay can be kept in for up to 12 hours, so can even be used overnight. Most cups are made from silicone, are completely safe to sit inside the vagina and can last for up to 20 years. Yes the initial financial outlay may seem a little heavy but the cost more than makes up for it when you consider the money spent on disposable period products over that time period.
On my really heavy days, which I must say have become much heavier since having a baby, I sometimes find I need a cloth sanitary pad alongside the menstrual cup just to be safe. Cloth sanitary pads work just like their disposable counterparts, most have a small clip to hold them in place and when changing I just rinse them with cold water and put in a designated wet bag ready for throwing in the wash. Once again, they prevent a lot of waste and save money in the long run. It also doesn't require major sewing skills to make your own, I finally got round to making one last week using an old cloth nappy insert and an old tshirt. It works fine and uses up material I no longer needed, just don't zoom in on my super messy stitching, sewing isn't my strong point. If you would like to have a go at making your own check out this washable pad pattern from the Women's Environmental Network.
The third option, which I haven't personally explored much of yet, is period pants. These pants are designed to look and feel like normal pants but can absorb up to a large pad's worth depending on your flow. Again, there are multiple brands out there and they can all be rather costly, but if they prevent any more disposable purchases then they are more than worth it.
Another alternative option is to try use tampons which are 100% organic cotton and plastic free. The most important thing to remember is to never flush disposable menstrual products down the loo, even 'biodegradable' or 'flushable' products cn take months to break down, blocking pipes and polluting marine environments along the way.
It's worth experimenting with a few different things until you figure out what works for you and your flow, but when you get there it feels so empowering to just open up the cupboard or make a new cloth sanitary pad instead of having to dash to the corner shop when your period starts.
Next week, from 12th - 19th October, is the 2nd Environmenstrual Week of Action held by the Women's Environmental Network (WEN) and is a whole week dedicated to raising awareness about period plastic and period justice. The campaign is committed to increasing education surrounding the environmental and health impacts of disposable period products and to normalise the use of reusable period products. WEN has encouraged individuals and organisations across the country to take part by holding their own events, talking about #plasticfreeperiods through social media and by demanding plastic-free menstrual products from retailers. You can find out more on their website, where you can also sign up to receive discount codes for menstrual cups, washable pads and organic tampons. The Environmenstrual movement is due to be celebrated on the 16th October at the Environmenstrual festival in London, which will involve stalls, eco-feminist period-inspired art, pad-making workshops and a speaker panel. I will be there spreading the plastic free period love and if you would like to come along you can use the code PERIODACTION to get discounted tickets.
Do let me know if you're planning to come along so I can say hello and have fun spreading the #plasticfreeperiod love.
Thanks for reading,
This post was written in collaboration with the Environmenstrual Campaign and The Women's Environmental Network.