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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for several years, you know that the conversation around climate change, the environment and our overall footprint has become more and more prominent. There are so many ways our habits can impact our planet, but did you know that menstrual hygiene management and the disposable products you use can also have a serious impact on the environment?
Menstrual waste is on the rise
It’s estimated that people who menstruate will have, on average, 450 periods in their lifetime. Keep in mind this statistic is super general, because every period is different. This doesn’t change the fact that each time you menstruate, you’re having a negative environmental impact. Pads, tampons, liners and their packaging aren’t biodegradable and this can cause problems in terms of waste accumulation. Just one person can throw away approximately 11,000 pads and tampons in their lifetime. Not very eco-friendly.
It’s also estimated that each year, over 45 billion products related to periods are thrown into the garbage. 20 billion disposable menstrual products end up in landfills in North America alone. Here’s an example: Emily Turner, a writer for Refinery29, estimates she will have about 396 periods in her lifetime. She has a heavy flow, and goes through about 30 tampons and pads each cycle. This means that in her lifetime, Emily will be responsible for almost 12,000 disposables. I would say Emily’s period sounds very similar to most, so it’s easy to see how our menstrual waste can build up over time.
Do tampons decompose?
In 2015, the Ocean Conservatory collected almost 28,000 used tampons and applicators from beaches around the world. More so, an average of 1.5 BILLION period-related products, like tampons, are flushed down the toilet each year. This is crazy, considering we’re told to never flush tampons down the toilet.
So how to dispose of them? Even if you dispose of your tampons properly by throwing them in the garbage, the environmental impact isn’t much better – they’ll simply end up in a landfill. The biggest issue here is plastic applicators. Plastic tampon applicators are made from low-density polyethylene, which can take centuries to biodegrade. Unfortunately, it’s still not possible to recycle tampon applicators.
Are pads better?
Pads are just as bad as tampons – about 90% of the materials used to make pads and their packaging aren’t biodegradable. Pads run into the same issue as tampons due to the presence of polyethylene, which makes them hard to break down. Due to the materials used to make a pad, it’s estimated that one pad is the equivalent of 4 plastic bags. That’s crazy to think about.
There are a few other issues with disposable pads. The adhesives used to keep your pad attached to your undies also aren’t biodegradable, so your pads are going to sit in landfill for hundreds of years. Even organic cotton pads aren’t super beneficial for the environment. While they won’t last as long in a landfill compared to non-organic pads, it’s still human waste and this has a negative environmental impact. Of course, also remember to never flush sanitary pads either.
Reusable pads are an option: also known as cloth sanitary pads or CSPs. They’re made from absorbent fabrics and can be washed and reused, as the name suggests. Most are brightly colored, to keep staining to a minimum.
Eco-friendly menstrual cups, cardboard applicators or tampons that come without an applicator would be better for the environment, but none of those options are my cup of tea. However, if these are products you’re interested in using, you should absolutely do it. There are all sorts of menstrual cups available, including the Mooncup, DivaCup, and Lunette. Using tampons with a plastic applicator is simply my personal preference.
By wearing Knixteens on my period, I’m able to cut the number of tampons I use in a single cycle in half, because I’m not worrying about changing my tampon before it leaks onto my undies. This might seem small, but in my lifetime it’ll have a huge impact on the amount of waste I’m creating due to my period.
The menstrual middleground
About 70% of people who menstruate use tampons, so I know I’m not alone in this. The average person will spend upwards of $2,000, just on tampons. This is based on your tampon being changed every six hours on average. I don’t know about you, but based on the amount of tampons I buy on the regular, I have probably already surpassed this number. However, now that I have my trusty period undies I find I’m buying fewer tampons per cycle.
The point is, your period has a serious impact on the environment and your wallet. If you’re like me and are loyal to a specific tampon or pad, adding Knixteens to your cycle is the perfect way to help the planet and your wallet without completely overhauling your routine. If you want to go all out and attempt a zero waste period, consider using reusable products with your ‘Oh-No’ Proof Underwear.
There you have it! I hope we’ve given you a little lesson on the impact of your period. If you want to change the amount of waste you’re creating when Aunt Flo is in town, stock up on some of our period underwear and save money in the process.