The way they're currently made, sanitary pads take 500 years to decompose. It doesn't have to be this way.
Disposable menstrual products generate enormous amounts of plastic waste. A single sanitary pad contains the equivalent of four shopping bags of plastic, not to mention a host of harmful chemicals. Tampons aren't any better, drenched in chlorine, glyphosate, and more often than not encased in a hard plastic applicator.
Choose plastic-free options is the advice I've always given on TreeHugger, pointing women in the direction of reusable menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period underwear. But what if choosing plastic-free menstrual products were no longer the responsibility of conscientious consumers, but rather an obligation for companies to provide? It would make women's lives much easier, cleaner, and healthier.This is the goal of a UK-based petition created by Ella Daish. It calls on companies to redesign all single-use menstrual products to be plastic-free – because, really, it's ridiculous for them not to be. Daish says in a promotional video for her #EndPeriodPlastic campaign:
"We use a sanitary pad for four to eight hours, but they take 500 years to disintegrate. That means if Jane Austen had used them, they would still have been decomposing today."
The petition states that period items are the fifth most common form of litter found on beaches. A shocking 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads, and 700,000 pantyliners are flushed down UK toilets every single day – another environmental nightmare that contributes to sewer blockages – and imagine how many more there are worldwide. These products pose a risk to sea birds and marine wildlife, and release plastic microfibres as they disintegrate.
If companies switched to truly biodegradable, all-natural fibers in period products, it means they would break down more readily, leaving less of an unappealing and unhygienic legacy in landfills for future generations.
But the optimal solution remains switching to reusable products, which every woman should try. This does require a mental shift and an acceptance of what our female bodies do; unfortunately it's something we have been conditioned to feel embarrassed about for far too long. In the words of Nastia Nizalova, a green lifestyle blogger quoted in Forbes,
"With reusable period products, women often feel unhygienic and too exposed to the reality of their body. It is much easier to shove something [inside] or stick something to your underwear and then throw it away like it never happened. Using a cup or reusable pads requires you to be more aware of your body, how much you bleed, etc. For some people that can be too uncomfortable."
But once you start, it can be life changing in numerous ways. It's much cheaper, more convenient (fewer changes), more comfortable, and arguably more sanitary. Nizalova points out, "How sanitary is it for your blood to be sitting there without any airflow? Because that's what happens with regular pads and tampons."
In the meantime, add your voice to Daish's petition to make all disposable menstrual products plastic-free. It is an obvious and logical step forward, and with Daish's upcoming meeting with Proctor & Gamble, she's really hoping to reach 200,000 signatures in the next little while. Let's help her get there.