People who menstruate will have, on average, 450 periods over their lifetime, from our menarche (first period) to the beginning of menopause. That number differs widely, because menstruation doesn't come as one-size-fits-all.
As healthy as periods are though, the environment suffers so much because of our periods and if you don't care about the environment, I'm sure you care about your bank balance. Just look at the following statistics...
1. It's estimated that, every year, over 45 billion products related to periods, including tampons, pads and applicators, are thrown in the garbage. And tampons make up a large part of that weight.
2. The Ocean Conservancy collected 27,938 used tampons and applicators on beaches around the world in a single day in 2015.
3. Tampons themselves, because they've been used to capture human waste, are not recyclable,and despite being told not to, many of us flush them away, where they're likely to end up in sewer systems and in waterways.
4. It takes 500 - 800 years for sanitary pads and tampons to decompose.
5. It's estimated that the average person will use 9,600 pads or tampons in their life. This is calculated by saying the average woman has a period lasting 5 days, each day using 4 pads or tampons = 20 pads or tampons ("P/T") a month. 20P/T X 12 Months = 240P/T a year. And the average person has periods for 40 years. 240P/T x 40 Years = 9,600P/T in a lifetime. You can calculate it yourself with your own period length and P/T usage, but either way, the numbers are staggering. Multiply that number by everyone on this planet that gets their period and that equals a substantial amount of waste.
6. A study in Stockholm found that one of the biggest environmental impacts of periods is the use of plastic applicators, because they're made of low-density polyethylene that will take centuries to biodegrade.
7. Up to 90% of the materials in pads and their packaging are plastics that aren't recyclable.
8. It's been calculated that the environmental impact of one pad is the same as four plastic bags, largely because of the problem of polyethelene (the adhesive that’s used to make the pad stick to your underwear), which is notoriously difficult to break down. It takes between 500 - 1,000 years for one plastic bag to biodegrade. So between 2,000 and 4,000 years for a pad to biodegrade.
9. In the US alone 12 billion pads and 7 million tampons pollute landfills annually.
10. I feel I can't leave out the health risks of tampons in this post. We've all probably read the leaflets the mention Toxic Shock Syndrome, TSS, which is a life-threatening infection. A tampon saturated with blood is a supportive place for rapid growth of bacteria. It also seems to matter what the tampon is made of. Polyester foam provides a better environment for the growth of bacteria than either cotton or rayon fibers. People who die from toxic shock are killed by the body's response to the toxins released by staph bacteria. Most people suffer hypotensive shock, in which the heart and lungs stop working. Back in 2012, model, Lauren Wasser Lost Her Leg to TSS. Read her horrifying story here.
11. In Ireland, sanitary towels can cost anywhere between €2-€6 a pack with the average pack containing 10-15 pads. Tampons range in price from about €1.50-€8 a pack. So over a lifetime (saying we use a pack a month) the cost of pads or tampons would be between €720 (€1.50 a month) and €3,840 (€8 a month).
So, can we do better? Let's see..
Option #1: Menstrual Cup
The first environmentally period option you may want to consider are menstrual cups. Some of the brands you may have heard of include the Diva Cup, Lunette Cup, Mooncup or OrganiCup. Although some companies say to replace your period cup every year or two, most people find that the top quality ones last for 5-10 years.
Think about this. If the average person menstruates for 40 years, and a menstrual cup lasts for 5 years, that’s 8 of them over a lifetime.
Thousands of tampons vs a handful of menstrual cups? The winner is clear if you’re considering which option creates less plastic waste.
As a bonus, you’ll also save a ton of money, reduce your risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, and lower your exposure to toxic chemicals. There isn’t much not to love! The first few times it can be painful to remove but you just need to relax and practice!
The average price of a menstrual cup is €20 - €30.
Most menstrual cups are made from 100% medical grade silicone, which is derived from quartz, a type of sand, which is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust and not hazardous to the environment.
Buy yours here.
Option #2: Reusable Cloth Pads
If Menstrual Cups aren't your style consider making the switch to reusable cloth pads.
They’re similar to disposables but are made mostly from natural materials like cotton, charcoal, or bamboo. Like menstrual cups, they can last for years and potentially save thousands of pads from going to the landfill. Just rinse them after and pop them in the washing machine.
Most people find that they need 5-6 pads to make it through their period in style.
Although they cost a bit more up-front, you’ll save money over the medium to long-term by making the switch. I've personally never used these as I'm not a pad kind of person but I know lots are.
Buy yours here.
Option #3: Organic Tampons and Pads
Although they’re a disposable product, they have a number of advantages over conventional products.
First of all, organic feminine hygiene products contain no harmful chemicals. Although regular pads and tampons contain only small amounts of this stuff, exposure to it can add up over time.
Secondly, the vast majority of organics are also plastic-free, including the packaging.
Not only are you making a better choice for your health, but the environment as well. The only real negative is that these products can be a bit expensive. However, you can often save a ton of money by shopping online instead of the local health shop. Natracare products are made from renewable, biodegradable and certifiably compostable materials. I have a box in my work drawer in case of emergencies.
Buy your here.
Option #4: Period Pants
Although these have been around for years, period pants are really making a come back with the impeccable marketing of Thinx. I'm sure you've seen the ads pop up on your Instagram.
Period pants are washable, reusable pants that absorb your period and are a more sustainable solution than single-use disposable products.
Depending on your flow (light, medium, heavy), they can replace pads, tampons, liners, and cups, or be worn with tampons and cups for extra protection.
THINX is an incredibly ethical, feminist company that provides jobs for both Western and Non-Western women. They also donate a portion of their profits to the charity AFRIpads, which trains women in making and selling washable pads so that girls don't have to skip school when they get their periods.
THINX isn't your only option for period panties, though. Dear Kate and Be Girl have some gorgeous period pants to choose from as well. Both companies are run with women in mind, too. Dear Kate's team is totally female, and if you buy a pair of period panties from Be Girl, they'll ship another one to a girl in a developing country.
I wear my THINX on my last day and the day after on their own and they work perfectly and I don't need to be self conscious of possible leaks. If you are buying THINX from the US, remember that you will have to pay customs when it arrives to you.
Buy yours here.
Option #5: Reusable Tampon Applicator
Although I still don't like the idea of millions of tampons ending up in the landfill, the reusable tampon applicator is a good first step, especially if it's used with organic tampons.
Buy yours here.
Option #6: Sea Sponges
I only discovered this whilst doing my research for this blog post. And it's exactly what you are already thinking - they are natural sea sponges you use the exact same way as a tampon. And according to doctors it doesn't carry the risk of TSS like regular tampons. They are reusable and you can use the same one for up to a year depending on your flow. You simply rinse it out and let it dry naturally.
Buy yours here.
If you have any more tips to an eco friendly period, please comment them below :)