Why the way we menstruate today is environmentally unsustainable.

Womxn : Alternative spelling of woman but the ‘man’ removed. We use this to avoid perceived sexism in the standard spelling and to explicitly include or foreground transgender women and nonbinary people.

IMAGE: VICKY LETA / MASHABLE
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

There is no viable disposing of the disposable.

How did it become like this?

Over a womxn’s lifetime, we’re predicted to throw away about 400 pounds of packaging from these products. But before we get into that let’s go back to ancient Greece. Menstrual blood was considered poisonous and unhealthy, a symbol of female excess and something that must be expelled. That general attitude persisted for centuries. And by the mid-1800s in the U.S., the stigma has concluded that Period blood was perceived as “bad blood,” both dirty and shameful, says Chris Bobel, a menstruation expert at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. During the Pre-20th century, womxn used fabric, bark, or anything absorbent that’s available. These items are reusable. But this meant that when these items are washed and dried, they would be displayed publicly and this causes ‘discomfort’ in society because of the implications of the stigmatized menstruation.

Disposable Pads.

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash
The anatomy of a typical pad

Tampons.

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash
The anatomy of a typical tampon

What happens when these products are disposed of?

After products are used, they are thrown in the trash and end up in landfills. Just keep in mind that it takes 500–800 years for them to fully decompose. And for improper disposal like when they’re flushed down the toilet, they clog waterways and usually end up in other water ecosystems, damaging the environment. Let’s check some statistics here.

vchal / shutterstock

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  • An EU report has found period products are the fifth most common type of waste found on beaches.
  • But on UK beaches there are nine plastic tampon applicators found per kilometer, according to the Women’s Environmental Network.
  • Center for Marine Conservation claims that over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along with U.S. coastal areas between 1998 and 1999

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  • Global warming potential: Global warming potential is measured by the radiative forcing effects of greenhouse gases emitted to the environment (Tester et al., 2012). On a single unit basis, a tampon with no applicator produces 6.49 kg CO2eq of global warming potential while Tampax, a tampon with a plastic applicator at has a global warming potential of 21.90 kgCO2eq
  • Acidification: Acidifying compounds released into the atmosphere and are deposited on ecosystems, affecting the pH of the environment like soils and water. Once they’re in the ecosystem, it can have negative effects. For a single unit of menstrual product, the tampon with no plastic applicator produces 59.35 g SO2 eq of acidification, and Tampax, a tampon with a plastic applicator produces 111.01 g SO2 eq of acidification.
  • Carbon footprint: disposables get thrown on the ground, washed into rivers, and disrupt the ecosystem — getting eaten by fish, etc.

But there is a solution.

Non-disposable menstrual products that can be used more than once are emerging in the market more than ever.

Menstrual cups.

unsplash.com
X-ray of a menstrual cup in use
A SMART Menstrual Cup

The Period Underwear.

www.shethinx.com

Why only now?

Reusable menstrual cups were actually developed in the 1930s, not long after disposable pads were released. Although reusable menstrual cups were developed shortly after disposable pads and around the same time as tampons in the 1930s, they did not become popular at the time due to the lack of marketing compared to disposable menstrual products. Other than that, companies have bigger desires for disposables than reusables because they have a higher commodity potential. With disposables, consumers will have to keep on repurchasing products periodically whereas more sustainable products like menstrual cups can last up to 10 years. However, there has been a surge of interest in reusable products due to the spread of information through social media and the 4th generation feminism wave, where it’s less stigmatized to talk about women’s hygiene & the rise of femtech.

So, what can I do?

First of all, you’ve done the first step — Educating ourselves on this issue.

student 🌐 innovator @ tks | based in jakarta,indonesia