Period Talk: Eco-friendly Menstrual Hygiene Products

On May 28th we celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day. A day that means to bring awareness to a taboo topic that really should not be one. A day to speak up for our rights – as women – to access feminine care products and basic but vital resources such as water whenever we need them. A day to remind us that many girls and many women cannot experience their period without stigma, humiliation or shame. A day to realise that some women are *dying because of a natural bodily process. We grow up in a world that makes us believe that bleeding is dirty and impure. But this belief is no more than an unreasonable perception buried deeply in ancient traditions that no longer serve our time. We need to move away from these fairy tales and embrace menstruation as something beautiful, powerful and natural. Menstruation is a gift, despite the discomfort and pain it may cause.

In Kenya alone, approximately 50 percent of school-age girls do not have access to sanitary products.

ActionAid

I am here to speak for my fellow sisters who do not have a voice. I stand up for these rights. I have a privilege that many do not have and I will use it to raise awareness and start these conversations that sadly evoke some sort of discomfort and disgust among people. The extraordinary work of an independent brand that I support was rewarded with a brief prime time TV appearance on a well-known German television programme. The interview explored the revolutionary design and function of period underwear. Following the show, disheartening comments (I just had dinner. Thanks for that (vomiting emoji). | Taboo? Rightfully so.) were published on social media. I believe I am speaking for all the beautiful women out there when I say that it comes to no surprise that all of them were written by men.

“I was told not to cook with salt because if I do my dad will have stomach pains, and people’s teeth will fall out.”

Vast, 17 years old. ActionAid.

It hurts to read such uneducated words from individuals who have quite frankly never experienced menstruation – and never will. Women deserve to learn about alternative products that provide us with comfort. We are entitled to see articles and adverts, hear interviews and podcasts on every media channel possible. Because it is astonishing how much there is yet for us to learn.

“Women use more than 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime.”

Women’s Environmental Network

We need to help our planet thrive with the resources we have because our current habits are simply not sustainable. The disposal of all single use menstrual products (think tampons, pads, applicators) adds up to an estimated 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. However, I am not here to evoke any feelings of guilt. I am here to support like-minded individuals on a journey to a more mindful way of living. Menstruation may still be a taboo topic, but the product development of eco-friendly alternatives is many steps ahead. I grew up in a house that had a dedicated ‘period shelf’ full of tampons and menstrual pads. Despite the privilege I would dread opening the cupboard every month. I naturally started to associate feelings of discomfort with menstruation and thus developed a strong, negative image that I could not shake for years to come. Was I missing something? Over the last three years I have moved away from single-use products. I have learned to understand that reusable products are beneficial to female health and well-being, to our environment and to the individuals who cannot afford menstrual hygiene products. Reusable alternatives are synonym to affordable sanitary products as periods can cost up to £41, which accumulates to an average of £492 per year and £18,450 over a lifetime. These are the reasons why organisations such as ActionAid “train women and girls to make safe, reusable sanitary pads so they always have access to clean and affordable sanitary products.”

I have therefore decided to put together a brief guide on three eco-friendly alternatives, which I have been using and testing myself for the last four years. You can find a plethora of well written resources online, so please feel free to educate yourself further and get in touch if you have any questions or experience with any other sustainable period products.

Menstrual cup

Made from medical grade silicone, these cups are available in a variety of sizes and can collect blood for up to 12 hours. Once inserted, the cup creates a vacuum which essentially prevents leakage. How to use? The simplest way of inserting the cup is by folding it to a c-shape. You can find plenty of information on these methods online. On heavy days you may have to empty the cup every hour. Clean and dry your hands and relax your vaginal muscles (the cup can wander up the vaginal canal and hence be more difficult to reach, but do not panic, this is completely normal and I can guarantee it will not disappear.) Gently squeeze the cup to break the seal and slowly remove it at an slightly sideways angle to allow for air to flow. Pour the blood into the toilet and if possible, rinse the cup before re-inserting. How to clean? Sterilise in boiling water for about ten minutes before and after your period. Use a wooden toothpicker or similar to remove any blood residue from the little holes below the top rim. Let dry on a clean tea towel and store in a breathable cotton bag. Price? Approx. £12 to £25. Verdict? The menstrual cup is a comfortable and sustainable alternative to disposable tampons. Despite the price, menstrual cups last a fairly long time, thus save money and waste if cared for properly. I have stopped using my cup a year ago due to regular urinary tract and bladder infections caused by a copper IUD which I had removed shortly afterwards and do not recommend. I am keeping the cup for holidays, as it is one of the few sustainable options for swimming.

Reusable cotton pads

Reusable pads work just like single-use sanitary pads. Instead of placing the pad (sticky side down) onto your undergarment, you wrap it around and snap in place with the clips attached on both wings. While the majority of menstrual pads contain 90% plastic, and can only be used once before ending up in landfill, reusable pads are made to last. You can find various shapes online, many of which are made from (organic) cotton only, whereas other options include an outer PUL layer which acts as an additional absorbent. How to clean? Rinse under cold water to remove any stains and pop in the laundry with similar colours. Wash, air-dry and reuse. Price? Usually £4 to £10, but you can find instructions on how to sew your own online. Verdict? The pads I own are made from organic cotton only which is why I usually wear them the days following my period to catch any leftover discharge. However, I would not necessarily recommend them for heavy days as you would have to replace the pad multiple times throughout the day (too much hassle for my taste).

Period Underwear | Period Pants

Period pants are essentially like normal underwear with an integrated pad at the bottom. They are usually made from high quality natural fabrics (bamboo, cotton, merino wool) and come in different shapes and colours, just like normal underwear. The pad consists of a combination of breathable, absorbing and antibacterial layers creating a highly functional membrane system which (depending on the thickness) holds more or less blood. How to clean? Rinse under cold water until the sink is clear and pop in the washing machine, together with the rest of your laundry. Wash as usual, let air-dry to protect the pad and reuse. How long can I wear one pair for? It fully depends on you and your flow. Period pants – unlike sanitary pads – do not feel wet or moist until they have reached their capacity. Heavy-flow pairs last me an entire day. I switch to a fresh pair at night and use low-medium flow pairs for the last couple of days of my cycle. You can combine cup and pant if your flow is extremely heavy. Verdict? Period pants are my favourite feminine care product. I feel perfectly comfortable and do not have to worry about emptying a cup or replacing a pad. I can fully trust the product the entire day, no matter whether I’m in the office, at home, out for dinner or actively participating in a yoga class. Cleaning and replacing is as simple as could be and the risk of infections equals zero. Period underwear can be fairly pricey (£15-30 per pair) but I truly believe the benefits outweigh the money. The longevity of the garment depends on the level of care, but usually lasts up to two years. Having said that, I have been using mine for two years now and they are still working fine. Bonus: at the end of their lifespan, you can keep wearing them as normal pants.

End period poverty

ACTIONAID

FREEDOM4GIRLS

WATERAID

PERIOD POVERTY

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Find the right product for your flow

M E N S T R U A L C U P

FAIRSQUARED | tested

SELENACARE | tested

MOONCUP | not tested

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R E U S A B L E P A D

IMSEVIMSE | tested

CHEEKY WIPES | not tested

EARTHWISE GIRLS | not tested

P E R I O D P A N T S

OOIA | tested

MODIBODI | tested

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