The best advice I got from my dad about my period was: Don’t flush menstrual products down the toilet.
I’m sure it wasn’t a conversation–who talks to their dad about their period? I certainly didn’t. I know he was more worried about our plumbing than the environment, but it was still good advice and I got the message. It’s the reason I’m puzzled whenever I see the sign in a public restroom telling me not to flush feminine products down the toilet. Didn’t everyone have this talk with their dad? Probably not.
Like no other topic or bodily function, menstruation is stigmatized. People don’t want to talk about it despite the fact that 26% of the population is menstruating and 800 million people menstruate each day. In spite of these numbers, 58% of women have felt embarrassed because they were on their period. When we don’t talk about menstruation, it makes it harder to solve the environmental issues, health aspects and accessibility of menstrual products for people around the world.
Menstruation: Let’s Talk Facts and Figures
A person menstruates when the egg is not fertilized and the uterine lining sheds, approximately every 28 days for 5 days during a woman’s reproductive life span (about 40 years). This adds up to 2,400 days or 6.5 years. About 11,000 menstrual products will be used in a woman’s lifetime.
Let’s Discuss the Environment
Textiles pervade landfills but can be recycled along with bottles, cans and paper, but the waste from tampons and pads aren’t comparable. Period products are considered medical devices and aren’t recyclable nor included in landfill statistics. But they still end up in landfills where the plastics in pads (up to 90%) and applicators will take about 500 years to break down. Pads can also contain non biodegradable superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) that never break down.
Colorful plastic applicators are ending up in the oceans because they are getting flushed down toilets. Landfills and waterways in North America receive over 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators each year. People talk about reusable water bottles, but not reusable pads, period underwear or menstrual cups.
Wash and Repeat: Use Reusable Period Products
Disposable products are sometimes a necessity, but reusable products are at the forefront of menstrual product innovation. Companies like Rael are making cloth pads, liners and underwear that can protect from leakage and be washed and reused again and again. Silicone menstrual cups can also be washed and reused, replacing up to 3250 pads. Reusable products have higher upfront cost, but supplies do not need to be replaced every month, so they’re a money saver.
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Healthline.com has reviewed reusable pads to give their top pads in seven categories.
Women’s Health Magazine lists the 10 best menstrual cups from beginners to experts.
Here are some reusable products to try:
Let’s Review Health Factors
Period products need to be sanitary and prevent leakage, but should not have ingredients or by-products that are bad for our bodies or the environment. But you may not always know what’s in the products you buy. The information is not on the package because, as noted above, pads and tampons are “medical devices.” Ingredients in menstrual products include chemicals found in plastics like phthalates, paraben and bisphenols and chemical by-products like dioxin from the bleaching process and pesticide residue. Add to this list the fragrances that are sometimes added to tampons and pads and you get a veritable chemical soup that can get absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the skin.
Look for Organic and Certified Products
Natracare is at the forefront of organic period products. Susie Hewson developed the first brand of organic and natural period products in 1989 after learning about how much dioxin is created in the production of menstrual hygiene products. Natracare uses cotton certified by GOTS and their products are free from toxic ingredients and certified by MADE SAFE™.
Let’s Discuss Access
How many women would you guess got caught without a pad when their period started? Eighty six percent, according to a study commissioned by Freethetampon.org. Freethetampon.org is working towards getting period products added to the free supplies already provided in public restrooms, like soap and toilet paper, so that women don’t have to improvise a tampon or pad out of toilet paper (79% have done this).
Access also means getting supplies to people who can’t afford them. The term “Period Poverty” has been in use since 2014 to raise consciousness about the fact that not everyone has the supplies or environment they need to have a healthy period, at low cost and free of shame. Access is not just about having pads, but making sure people have privacy and running water for cleanliness. Days for Girls provides this access by delivering reusable pads and health education for people around the world.
“Days for Girls works to address menstrual health for the advancement of gender equity internationally.” Lauren Nelson, Days for Girls Grant Manager
Lauren Nelson of Days for Girls says that the root causes of inadequate menstrual health include a lack of reliable access to menstrual products, age-appropriate information to reduce stigma and shame, proper sanitation and positive social environments.
Spreading the Word Through Education
In the 2019 Oscar-winning Documentary on Netflix “Period. End of Sentence” boys were asked if they had heard of a period. One boy answers “like a class period? And another “the kind you’d ring a bell for?” Days for Girls is working to provide information to change this perspective so men and boys are part of the conversation.
“While others in the menstrual health field focus exclusively on girls, Days for Girls brings tailored, culturally-specific education to boys and men as well as girls and women. By taking a holistic approach, we cultivate allies and environments of menstrual health support.” Lauren Nelson, Days for Girls
Men and boys are important allies. They’re brothers, husbands, classmates and friends.
Be a Part of the Solution
You can help provide period product access to people across the globe. Donate to organizations like daysforgirls.org. Use their Amazon wishlist to get products directly to women and girls who need them.
Let’s change the conversation about periods. Instead of signs telling us not to flush feminine products down the toilet, let’s have safer products and start talking about why it’s important to keep plastic out of the oceans and our bodies, Let’s get supplies where they’re needed–in public restrooms of schools and workplaces and in every woman’s home.
Let’s normalize periods. Period.
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