As we reach the end of 2018, the usual best-of lists are sure to be upon us soon - “The Best Books/Music/TV/Films of 2018” will spring up online and in the weekend papers, all confirming how much we loved Killing Eve and making us wonder if we should get the Man Booker prize winner out of the library, after all. I look forward to one of these lists in particular every year - the announcement of the “Word of the Year” by several dictionaries.
This year, Collins Dictionary chose “single-use”, referring to plastic products designed to be used only once before disposal, and chosen due to a fourfold increase in usage of the term since 2013 (due in part to Blue Planet II) and rising uneasiness about our monstrous levels of plastic usage and production.
Collins’ word of the year captures the 2018 zeitgeist - we all know we should be using a reusable water bottle, refusing plastic straws and avoiding plastic carrier bags. I’m all for reducing plastic, and try hard to do so at home (my Sister Society tote bag is always by my side). But what about when we don’t have a choice about plastic?
I recently realised that one part of my life involves inevitable plastic usage - my period.
Pads and tampons are essential products for many women, but we are routinely forced, through lack of choice, into buying period products that contain single-use plastic. How many high-street shops offer plastic-free period products? On my last visit to my usual supermarket, it was exactly none.
According to the BBC, the average woman throws away 10,000 sanitary products in her lifetime, and one pad can be made of 90% plastic, often containing as much plastic as 4 supermarket bags. So what can be done to ensure a plastic-free period?
Well, the internet is a wonderful place, and it’s home to a multitude of companies selling alternatives to traditional, plastic-based period products. Natracare and Ohne offer unbleached (yes, bleaching products designed for our vaginas is unfortunately a thing) cotton tampons with cardboard applicators, and plastic-free pads and packaging.
Period pants, sold by companies like Thinx and Modibodi, offer a reusable and plastic-free solution.
A recent Kickstarter campaign by a start-up called DAME featured their reusable tampon applicator, ‘D’, designed to be used with cotton tampons and do away with single-use plastic applicators.
Menstrual cups are perhaps the most popular “alternative” period option, and although they are made of plastic they are designed to be reused for “years and years”, according to Mooncup.
Reusable cotton pads are available to buy from online stores like Earthwise Girls, and our very own Sister Society will soon be releasing a video tutorial showing how to make them at home.
So, plastic-free periods evidently are possible, and our increasing awareness of the damaging effects of single-use plastic mean our options are ever expanding.
Hate tampons? DIY a reusable pad! Hate pads? Try a menstrual cup! Hate menstrual cups? Try period pants! - and so on.
Yet my research showed it’s maybe not as simple as that.
A recent trip to the supermarket saw me put some pads, priced at just 49p, into my trolley. Because, whilst I hate plastic and do try hard to reduce my usage, I don’t have a spare £8 to buy a single reusable pad. For many women, the cost of sustainable period products is a barrier, and buying several pairs of period pants, priced at £30 each is simply not an option. Take, for example, the schoolgirls aided by The Red Box Project - when the 49p supermarket pads are not a viable option, the £20 menstrual cup is even further removed.
As the list of plastic-free period alternatives above shows, women are becoming increasingly aware of the plastic consumption linked to their periods.
With the government due to scrap the tampon tax, and consulting on a ban on plastic straws and cotton buds, should we think about making plastic-free period products more freely available, and accessible, to women?
I can’t end this post with a solution (although free menstrual cups for all would be nice, hint hint Theresa May!), and would like to stress that its intention is to get people thinking, rather than give women something else to feel guilty about, especially when period related plastic usage is unavoidable for so many of us.
But realising how much plastic I use each time my period rolls round has got me thinking, and I’ll definitely be sewing along to the Sister Society reusable pad tutorial coming soon.
by Maddie Carver
What are your thoughts on single use plastics + sanitary wear?
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