It seems timely to start this article with a little story about a recent trip to Cardiff. Andy suggested it would be nice for he and I to go for a city paddle whilst the boys had a day out with his parents. Reader, he lied! It was quite a traumatic, unpleasant paddle, for me at least. First, we parked in a less-salubrious area of the city, right next to a police incident support unit, the inhabitants of which were buzzing up and down the river searching for something. Then, as some of our regular readers may remember, some kids threw a traffic cone off a bridge at me, scaring the living daylights out of me – although thankfully it only nudged the board and I escaped injury and a dunking. I was left pretty shaken, and already doubting how ‘nice’ the paddle was. The final nail in the coffin of my enjoyment came when I decided to explore what appeared to be a lovely little tranquil lagoon off the main river just opposite our access point. Paddling in it was beautiful, and looked like a real wildlife haven… Until I looked down. It was fairly shallow and there were lots of white things on the river bed. I looked more closely, and yep, it was covered in sanitary towels. Horrified, I tried to make a quick (and dry) exit. Sadly, just at the entrance of the lagoon, and I have no idea how it happened, but I wobbled and fell in! Safe to say I have rarely got back on the board so quickly, and paddled back to land wishing for a decontamination tent! Although I have seen the odd tampon applicator on the beach, I have never had such a stark reminder of the effects of disposable period products, and if I hadn’t already been a strong advocate of reusable items, it definitely would have made me think!
Environmenstrual Week was launched by the Women’s Environmental Network in 2018 to raise awareness of period issues, including breaking the taboo around the subject, dealing with the inherent social injustices and trying to resolve the problem of disposable period products ending up in the environment. While these are all important issues, it is the latter that is most relevant to our audience here.
WEN report that a whopping 2 billion period products are flushed down Britain’s toilets every year, and they are also the 5th most common item found on European beaches. Britain recently celebrated single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds being banned, yet these are only the 7th most common item found on European beaches! Clearly there’s a massive problem here. Not only that, but sanitary towels can contain up to 90% plastic – a statistic that I certainly wasn’t aware of. Tampons also may have plastic applicators – a feature that isn’t even strictly necessary, as cup users will testify. [Stats sourced from WEN]
These statistics are horrifying, and in a time when plastic pollution is something we are all increasingly aware of, it’s clear that period products are a huge problem. Beyond the yuck factor, such as I experienced, there is the impact on the environment and wildlife of all these disposable sanitary items floating about in our waterways, the ocean and on land.
So as a reusable period product user for over 10 years, what would I recommend? I use a moon cup and Modi Bodi period pants as back up and would heartily recommend both. In fact I’ve been so pleased with them that I haven’t tried any other products. I’d be happy to have a chat about my experiences if you’re interested and would like to know more. However, I would say have a look at the wealth of options available, and have a try, as there’s all sorts from menstrual cups, to period pants to washable sanitary towels. Don’t be afraid – it’s a bit daunting at first, but so many people never look back. Different products will suit different people depending on the characteristics of their period, their lifestyle etc. They’re easy to use, save a heap of money over the course of their useful life and often people (myself included) find they make the whole experience more pleasant – and really who could ask for more! And don’t forget, you’re not only saving yourself money, you’re doing something awesome for our planet!
If I’m preaching to the converted, then I think we can all do our bit by shouting about how great these products are, and being prepared to break the period taboo and talk about it. It’s also worth considering the social injustices inherent in the issue – although these reusable products save money in the long-term, they are more costly up-front and so aren’t possible for everyone. Unfortunately the cheapest disposable products are also the ones that have the most chemicals in their make up, and the most plastic. WEN have a great Environmenstrual Week Tool Kit available via the link below, if you’re interested in finding out what else you can do, and you can also get discount codes for various reusable products: