Do you flush or do you bin? Now don't be shy, and definitely don’t laugh.
The huge number of disposable menstrual products being used day-by-day is a serious issue. Why? Because when you part with those toxic little tampons, pads and pantyliners, their life has only just begun. Those single-use products aren’t designed to disappear. They’re designed using materials likely to survive 500 years. Think about that. Every single menstrual product you’ve ever used (organic aficionados aside) will outlive your great-great-great-grandchild.
So, what kind of crazy survival substances go into these products that we happily put in our knickers? The answer to this one’s not clear. Tampon and sanitary pad manufacturers aren’t required to disclose a list of ingredients – the consequence of legal consideration of period products as ‘medical devices’.
Nonetheless, we have a pretty good idea. First up is plastic. Each sanitary pad contains the equivalent of around four plastic bags. That plastic is made of a mixture of chemicals (including the toxic BPA, BPS, DEHP and phthalates). To this chemical-rich substance is added pesticide-filled cotton. That plastic/cotton mix is then doused in a chemical soup including bleach, polyester, chlorine and glycol. Why? To make your period product prettily pearly white.
Feeling a healthy concern for your body now that you’re aware of the chemical onslaught those products represent? Now think about the effect of those products after you flush or bin. If using these products for less than a week a month for 35 years advances the likes of hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, dryness, infertility, endometriosis … What happens to the soil and sea those tampons, pads and liners sit and float in for the next 500 years?
You’ve probably seen the latest David Attenborough BBC documentary Blue Planet, and you’ve hopefully seen Craig Leeson’s A Plastic Ocean. When we throw or flush, these products don’t disappear. They pollute.
Still, all is not lost. We have a whole host of wondrous alternatives to the single use demon. As a self-confessed menstrual cup evangelist, I would highly recommend a cup! A sweet £20 and this simple little object will last you 10 whole years. We also have the simple sponge tampon, the colourful reusable pad, and the currently en vogue period-proof underwear. All these options are greener, cheaper, and (genuinely) far more comfortable alternatives to ye olde disposable. If you simply can’t face these then please at least buy organic.
If you’re wondering how much of a difference changing your period practice will make then think about the 27,938 used tampons that wash up on the world’s beaches every day, and decide if you want to make tomorrow 27,937.
Pissed off seagull photo credit to Ingrid Taylar