Half of the population menstruates so why aren’t we talking about the impact disposable pads and tampons have on the environment? Why aren’t we working towards making sustainable solutions that can reduce this impact more mainstream?
On average, a woman uses about 11,000 pads and tampons throughout her lifetime. The waste generated from their use takes between 500-800 years to decompose, leaving a carbon footprint that outlives her and future generations.
The biggest culprit on the environment however, is the companies that produce these feminine sanitary products. Pads and tampons are made from either cotton, synthetic fibres or wood pulp. The industrial process involved in making the super absorbent layer in pads and the adhesive at the back uses a type of thermoplastic called LDPE. This process relies heavily on energy generated by fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming.
Global warming is becoming more of an issue everyday, and it’s effects are being felt all over the world. Countries are recording unbearably hot summers and icier winters. Here in Kenya, the disappearing snow on Mt Kenya bears further testimony to a world that is heating up at an alarming rate. The 18 mountain glaciers are rapidly melting away and as of 2009, only 11 were left.
In a bid to reduce the impact of global warming, a lot of products now have organic alternatives that are being marketed as mainstream products. From make up to skin care products and the recent move by the government to ban the use of plastics bags
So why aren’t we trying to make re-usable sanitary products more widely used? It could probably be because since most of these products can be used several cycles before they’re discarded, big corporations that manufacture disposable pads and tampons lose out on their 42.7 billion dollar annual revenue streams. Another reason could be stigma that surrounds menstruation.
From early on, periods are spoken about in hushed tones. They’re a taboo subject and you grow up being ashamed of your own blood. When presented with options such as re-usable pads which you have to wash, many women shy away as the thought of touching your own menstrual blood, let alone having to look at it causes an aversion like no other. The irony is, it’s a bodily function as natural as pooping.
Brand loyalty is also instilled in us from an early age through aggressive advertising. Most of the time, you’ll use the pad or tampon that your mother used and you’ll pass this on to your children. This makes it harder for women to explore other brand options that are sustainable.
Aside from being environmentally friendly, re-usable feminine hygiene products are also pocket friendly. Most of them can be used for over 6 months before you buy new ones.
What are the alternatives that are out there?
1. Re-usable pads
You can use these pads, wash then hang to dry before you use them again. You can find them at padheaven.org. Their pads cost Ksh. 500 for a six pack.
2. Menstrual cup
It’s a small cup that is you put into your vagina the way you would a put a tampon and it collects blood. At the end of the day, you take it out, pour of the collected blood then wash it with water before you use it again.
3. Period panties
To put it simply, these are panties that have re-usable pads sewn into them. Here’s a video of women who have tried it and their thoughts on it. Unfortunately, these products are still very niche and you can only get them at select pharmacies and websites.
Some of the measures that could be put in place to make them more mainstream include reducing the shame around periods so that women can talk about them more freely and be aware of the options that are available to them.
The government could also create policies that provide incentives to companies that make these re-usable period products so that more companies make them. The more variety that is in the market, the cheaper these products will be.
When you get your period this month, think about the impact the disposable products you use have on the environment and what changes you can make to remedy the situation in your own small way.