Can We Turn our Red Blood Green?
by Grace-Emily Kelsey
It is hard to imagine that anything sucks more than your period. It’s a Stephen King recipe for creating the worst three to seven days of your month, putting cramps, backache, insomnia, bloating and headaches into a bowl, and slowly mixing in your own blood. So, whilst you’re face down on the cool tiles of the bathroom floor, questioning what cruel twist of fate made you a uterus bearing human, you probably aren’t thinking much about the environment. Unless the environment is what you’ve nicknamed your uterus, then you are definitely thinking about the environment. Yet, your period has an impact, and depending on what products you use, it can have a large and brutal impact.
Last week for the first time ever two female friends and I got into a discussion about what we use whilst on our periods, and it turns out we are all different. One going for non-applicator tampons, and the other plastic applicator tampons, whilst I choose a cardboard applicator. While the plastic user was bashed for destroying the planet, I was on a cardboard-using induced mortality high, because cardboard biodegrades quickly, so it’s the best, right? Yet, it was only later that day that I came across a post on Instagram explaining the environmental problems of tampons, and I soon came crashing down. ‘Damn it’ I thought ‘I’ve spent so long carping on about eco-friendly living, and how we must escape our earth-destroying, money driven lives, and yet I have become part of the system. They’ve got me. I must revoke my environmentalist card.’ However, I found out all hope is not lost, as there is more to know and more to do.
The average person who has periods uses between 8000 and 15,000 disposable pads, tampons and liners throughout the course of their whole life. Even with men outnumbering women by 60 million globally this is still an unfathomable amount of period waste. Tampons are used by 100 million women worldwide, whilst pads are much more universally used, due to the stigma around tampons in some communities. This means a lot of period waste is created. In the US each year 2.8 Empire State buildings (1,000,000+ tonnes) of waste are created because of periods, and all this rubbish ends up in landfills or sewer systems. It can take between 400 – 1000 years for the plastic applicators to decompose, and when the tampon itself is wrapped in plastic packaging it can take just as long. Furthermore, the impact of period waste is not just restricted to landfill, but there is also the massive amount of carbon and other toxic chemicals released during manufacture. The process of making tampons involves turning wood pulp into soft cotton like fibres, which is both resource and chemical intensive. I hear Tobe Hooper’s new horror film is going to simply be titled ‘TAMPONS’, I can see some men are already quaking in their snapbacks.
While most of the production market has expanded into sustainable options, capitalising on our need to feel less guilty about climate change, and look better in front of everyone else, the period sanitary market is very much holding us all back. We use eco-friendly cleaning fluids, wear ethically made makeup, and drink fair trade coffee, but the little collection of tampons dancing around our handbags is capitalist propaganda of a consumerist disposable society that we need to get out of.
Sophie Zivku, the communications and education director for DIVA CUP (a menstruation cup company in America) says that “The paper feminine hygiene industry has done a very good job of convincing women that their period is something [which] should be out of sight and out of mind, something they shouldn’t talk about. Think about the advertisements we see – it’s all about silent wrappers, discrete and smaller products that are easier to hide or dispose of, and concealing the fact you have your period. Without opportunities for positive period talk, women and girls may not have the opportunity to learn about or even ask about other, more sustainable options.”
Most people are exposed to tampons and pads at a young age or when they start their period, and most are likely influenced by the type their mother-figure uses, and then these are seen as the only option. Due to period taboo women seldom talk to one another about what they use when they are on their period, and so silently grow a brand loyalty entrenched by repetition.
So, what are our other options?
Menstrual cups! In the UK, your main option is The Mooncup (although, they do ship worldwide), and in America you are most likely to get a Diva cup. These are reusable menstrual cups, around two inches long and made from soft medical grade silicone. They contain no chemicals, no plastics and no dyes. They are worn internally and a lot lower than tampons, and while tampons and pads absorb menstrual fluid, menstrual cups collect it. This means they don’t cause dryness or irritation, and they also collect far more blood – three times as much as a tampon! Since menstrual cups are reusable, you only need one, so it saves you money and helps the environment. Menstrual cups are designed to be folded and inserted into the vagina, then removed, rinsed and reinserted every 8 hours. A light seal is formed with your vaginal walls, allowing menstrual fluid to pass into the period cup without leakage or odour. This seal is released for removal, allowing you to empty the contents, rinse or wipe and reinsert. Comfortable, convenient and safe! Menstrual cups can be used overnight and when travelling, swimming or exercising. With the advised cleaning and storage, a menstrual cup will last for years. Only if the menstrual cup splits or becomes sticky, or if there is any change in its shape will it need replacing.
The menstrual cup was actually invented in the 1930s! However, this was the same year that the first ever public tampon commercial was made, and they quickly became the favourites, using Hollywood actresses to convince you tampons were the best way forward. Manufacturers liked the idea of guaranteed monthly repurchasing of tampons and pads, and so they got behind these products, supporting more and more advertising campaigns. The business of the period cup could not compete, due to the fact that people didn’t need to come back for more, they didn’t create anything like the income of the tampon companies and soon went out of business (and so fell off our shelves). However, women are now ready for cost-effective, eco-friendly sanitary products.
I worked out by adding up the products I use, that my period costs £10.34 a month (not including all the comfort chocolate and lost productivity…), so in a year of 12 periods that’s £124.08. Sometimes, depending on the frequency of your cycle, and how many days your period lasts for, you can have 13, 14 or even 15 periods a year – let’s take a moment to send positive love and vibes over to those poor, unfortunate souls. But by buying a MoonCup at £19.99 over 3 years of periods I would be saving £352.25! I could go on a cheap holiday to Italy just on period money! So, whilst the old me is splashing cash on little cotton, environment-destroying corporate-backed soldiers, the new me is drinking wine, while politely declining olives (disgusting), on a gondola, discussing art in the sun with all my tampon liberated friends. Well, doesn’t that sound lovely? If that’s not resonating with you as desirable how about 35 months of Netflix? 234 large Galaxy chocolate bars? 176 copies of Vogue?
Now when you change to a new thing, whether it be a new sport, new school or new period device, you definitely have questions. The FAQ sections on both the DivaCup and MoonCup websites are very good at answering all of these, but one playing on my mind was how do you change a period cup in a public bathroom? But I need not have feared any awkwardness, the companies suggest having a little bottle of water in your bag and rinsing the cup over the toilet before reinserting. EASY! Also, if you’re thinking ‘I don’t always have a water bottle on me’, well, you should, because dehydration is the worst. It makes you lightheaded, gives you headaches and makes you tired… Just the classic Monday? NO. You’re probably dehydrated, and maybe also went a little heavy at the weekend. But if you find yourself waterless, they suggest that wiping the cup and reinserting is also fine. With a period cup, you can do everything you can do with a tampon, and actually even more, because you have to reinsert less frequently giving you more time to smash the patriarchy.
So, economically we know period cups are dope! But just think about how much less waste you are supplying to landfill, and how free of tampons sewer systems would be. Even better, the less people stuffing money into the disposable tampon, pad, liner industry, the less products they would need to make, reducing greenhouse gas emissions!
The period cup will not hold you back, it will set you free, economically, morally and from the grips of the businesses tricking you into thinking that your natural bodily functions need to drain your wallet and destroy the planet. YOU ARE FREE. Put on a long flowy skirt, find a field of yellow flowers, apply an Instagram filter, run like the wind and never look back. During writing this I have purchased my very own MoonCup, and for the first time ever I am excited to get my period. Let’s all get period cups and tell our sisters, mothers, best friends, bosses and even our frenemies, that they should get one too. Then you brilliant, brave and intelligent person can throw a punch in the air, because you are eco-friendly right down to your pants.