How to have an eco period
After giving birth, every new mum is reminded of what they’d been having a nine month reprieve from: their period. Lochia, post-birth bleeding, is when the body sheds the lining of the uterus, which can last between two and six weeks. Hospitals provide you with heavy-duty pads, but what about when you get home? And what about when your period finally returns?
It is estimated that women in the UK spend £90 per year on feminine hygiene products, which generates 200 000 tonnes of waste per year. Since pads, tampon applicators, and associated packaging are predominantly made from plastic, they don’t biodegrade, instead sitting in landfills and washing up on beaches when they’re erroneously flushed down the toilet.
The average company, such as Always or Tampax, also uses environmentally unfriendly ingredients and manufacturing practises which further impacts our planet. The cotton they use is likely sprayed with pesticides, which harms the air, the people harvesting the cotton, and works its way into the cotton itself. Rayon, used in many tampons, is a key contributor to Toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which although rare has the potential to be fatal. Chlorine bleach is used to make products that clinical, sanitary white, a process which produces dioxins which are a carcinogen, and even the fragrances added to the products can cause allergic reactions.
There are two roads to go down when looking for eco-friendly menstrual products: disposable and reusable.
They may look like your big name-brand pads or tampons, but eco-friendly disposable menstrual products are made from organic unbleached cotton, are biodegradable, and are fragrance and dye free. Natracare is the most popular brand, and has various forms of pads (ultra, maxi, wings and no wings, maternity, and liners), wipes, tampons, and nursing pads. They are also Soil Association approved.
Reusable menstrual products vary just as much as disposable products, with two major added benefits: there is no waste and you save money.
Reusable pads are what you think they are: pads made of 100% cotton and attach using snaps or Velcro on the wings instead of an adhesive. To clean them, simply soak them first and then wash as you would any other article of clothing. They come in a variety of colours and patterns, in normal or organic cotton, and are softer than disposable pads, which is especially handy when you’re post-birth. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can also make your own as patterns are readily available online. Brands include Lunapads, Luxury Moon and Honour Your Flow.
Menstrual cups are one of the most popular reusable menstrual products. Made of rubber or medical silicon, they are inserted like a tampon and collect menstrual blood instead of absorbing it. You empty it out after 4 to 12 hours, sanitize it by either boiling it or using a sanitizing wash, and because there is no rayon and no indiscriminate absorption of vaginal fluid, there is no risk of TSS. There are two sizes available, dependent on age and whether you’ve had children, and they can last up to 10 years. Brands include Mooncup, Diva Cup, and Lady Cup.
If the menstrual cup isn’t for you, there’s the menstrual sponge and the reusable tampon. Menstrual sponges are natural sea sponges used just like a tampon and clean using vinegar so the sponge lasts longer. The only downsides are that there is still a risk of TSS, the sponges need to be checked for grit before use, and they are harvested from the sea which doesn’t say good things about their sustainability.
A reusable tampon is made of 100% cotton or bamboo, with a cotton drawstring, and is machine washable. Brands include Luxury Moon and Earthwise Girls.
Photography: menstruationstasse.net @flickr