Let’s go zero waste. Period.

There are almost 4 billion women in the world right now, of which roughly half has monthly periods. Menstruation is a normal event in every healthy woman of reproductive age’s life. While the de-stigmatization of menstruation and the elimination of period poverty worldwide are underway, the debate over sustainable menstruation is still far.

Polina Zimmerman | Pexels

It’s a very long way to bleeding green. While single-use plastics such as drinking straws, bottles, and packaging are being banned worldwide, throwaway menstrual products are adding to the plastic epidemic. On average, women menstruate for about 2 535 days – around seven years in total – and use more than 10 000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime. Roughly 70 billion single-use menstrual products are consumed each year only in the European Union and the United States. 

Feminine hygiene products have a tremendous environmental impact. Disposal of single-use menstrual products – tampons, pads, and applicators – generates 200 000 tons of waste per year. Many pads and tampons end up in the sea and litter beaches. According to a study conducted by the European Commission, discarded menstrual products are the fifth most common plastic waste product washed up on beaches across Europe. Sanitary products flushed down the toilets mostly end up landfilled or incinerated.

Most women are still not aware that conventional sanitary products available in the market are loaded with plastic. Menstrual pads incorporate up to 90% plastic, from the synthetics that soak up fluid to the packaging. It is estimated that one pack of pads contains the equivalent of four plastic bags. Tampons are made of up to 6% plastic, including polyethylene – the most common form of plastic – and polypropylene – which is the plastic used in chocolate bar wrappers. Traditional sanitary products could take 500 to 800 years to decompose, as the plastic used is non-biodegradable.

Some feminine hygiene products can be a threat to women’s health. According to recent studies, conventional menstrual products contain elevated levels of chemicals. Also known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, these toxic chemicals are linked to developmental and reproductive harm and potentially lead to health issues such as endometriosis and breast cancer. Through period care; pads and tampons come into contact with some of the most sensitive and absorptive skin on women’s bodies. Due to the high absorption efficiency and permeability of female reproductive organs, the chemicals sanitary products contain, are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. 

And let’s be honest: sanitary pads are not the most comfortable feminine products.

Although no sanitary product is perfect, some are less damaging than others. Here is a list of three of the most popular sustainable alternatives to conventional menstrual products:

Menstrual cup

Rebecca Manning | Unsplash

A menstrual cup is a small flexible funnel-shaped cup of rubber or silicone inserted into the vagina to collect period fluid. Menstrual cups can hold more blood than other methods, hence being used for up to 12 hours depending on flow. The cup only needs to be removed, emptied downed the toilet, rinsed, and reinserted every 4 to 12 hours. One cup may be reusable for up to 10 years.

A report conducted by The Lancet, one of the most respected international medical journals, indicates that menstrual cups are a safe option for menstruation management.

Period underwear

Jen Theodore | Unsplash

Looking and feeling like regular underwear, period panties are a specially designed undergarment that consists of special odor-eliminating and absorbent fabrics in the crotch area to absorb menstrual blood. They come in a lot of different colors, sizes, patterns, and absorbencies and ensure protection from 8 to 12 hours. Unlike throwaway pads and tampons, period underwear can be washed and reused for up to 5 years.  

Reusable pads

Meghan | Wikimedia Commons

Reusable pads are used the same way as disposable pads, but the main difference is that they can be washed and reused over and over again for many years. They are made out of unique soft and breathable fabric topped with an absorbent-leaking protecting layer. 

 Still hesitant to make the switch?

These eco-friendly alternatives to disposable feminine hygiene products have entirely changed the way women manage their periods. In my experience, once women get the hang of using it, most of them never look back.

Though the initial cost is higher than disposable sanitary products, these eco-friendly alternatives will enable you to save money over the long run as they last much longer (up to 10 years!).

Two tips before getting started:

– see if there are any reviews of the brand (on social media, for instance) and see what others have experienced while using them.

– preferably choose products made in Europe or in one of the neighboring countries of your country. Cheaper products (for example, those made in Asia) are usually of lower quality.

Where to find reusable sanitary products in Macedonia ?

Although the number of reusable sanitary products is limited in Macedonia, you can find them in some drugstores and Dm. There are also several Serbian brands as well as EU-based companies shipping their products internationally, such as OrganiCup (www.organicup.com) and DAME (www.wearedame.co).

Lucile Guéguen

National Geographic, How tampons and pads became so unsustainable
Metropolitan, What’s the Environmental Impact of Your Period?
Wen, Environmental Fact Sheet
Global Citizen, Which Period Products Are Best for the Environment?

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