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The affect of periods on the environment…

October 23, 2019

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The affect of periods on the environment…

Many women take the disposal of sanitary products for granted. 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.  

Because of issues similar to this, we have become increasingly aware of how much human activity can affect the environment. 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. 

How can periods impact the environment?

The majority will be prepared to deal with our periods using all our favorite essential products. However, the plastic content of many of the sanitary products that we rely on is having a detrimental effect on the environment. 

Let’s take a look at the carbon footprint involved in a women’s menstrual cycle. 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. 

Research has also revealed that some sanitary towels have up to 90% plastic content. 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!

Being green when choosing what to buy is relatively easy. 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? 

How the likes of single use straws, cotton buds and drinks stirrers effect the environment has been brought to attention by the public, sanitary towels have not received the same response since these too have damaging qualities about them in terms on environmental welfare. 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. 

How can we combat this?

For a start, we should all become ‘binners’. 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. 

Blockages further down the sewer system can be caused by flushing tampons 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.   

Small changes such as becoming a ‘binner’ of non-applicator tampons can make a significant difference in reducing the environmental harms sanitary products cause. 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. 

The likes of organic tampons have not been washed in any harmful products such as chlorine, bleach or other chemicals, therefore are eco-friendlier alternatives to switch from. 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. 

In order to align with environmental concern, a sense of openness from sanitary brands is a key facilitator to allow consumers to adjust their choices. For example, now there is the option of using non-applicator tampons that have 97% less plastic in them. 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. 

In terms of the disposal of sanitary products, more action is needed. 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!

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