Why we need to talk about reusable menstrual products
The period taboo has gone on long enough. Now it's time we taught young girls about the safer, reusable options that exist for them.
There's a lot of talk about plastic pollution on beaches these days, which is a very good thing, but it's usually restricted to straws, water bottles, grocery bags, disposable cutlery, and such. Rarely mentioned are menstrual products, but they should be. When the UK's Marine Conservation Society did its annual beach clean-up in 2016, it found 20 tampons and sanitary items along every 100 meters of shoreline.
These items end up on beaches because they are flushed down the toilet and get washed through the sewer system out to sea, despite the "do not flush" warning on every box. Conventional menstrual products contain significant quantities of plastic -- the equivalent of four plastic shopping bags per pad and non-biodegradable tampon applicators -- which means that traces of each item could linger on Earth for 500 years or more.
Currently, the menstrual education given to young girls in schools (and even at home, if mothers are not familiar with reusables) is heavy on the traditional, disposable products. Girls are given samples and taught to look for products made by big companies like Always or Tampax -- and we know how susceptible young people are to brand recognition.
Some groups are working to change this, running programs in schools to "disrupt the current education bias" of these companies. City To Sea is one such group that created the following video. Its goal is to get more women interested in trying reusable menstrual products -- reducing waste, maintaining a healthier body, and saving significant amounts of money over the years.
No More Taboo, based in the UK and active with young women in developing countries, tells students of the risks associated with conventional disposable pads and tampons:
"Conventional pads and tampons are not regulated. Many sanitary products contain dangerous chemicals such as bleach and dioxins which are known as human carcinogens. There are currently no regulations over what feminine hygiene companies can put into their products and, therefore, consumers do not know what chemicals they are putting into their body."
The truth is that many good alternatives exist, but it takes a mental shift to break away from disposable products and give them a try. Washable pads, liners, and menstrual cups are wonderful products that, once incorporated into one's lifestyle, become totally natural, comfortable, and sensible. But in order to make that happen, all of us have to fight the taboo surrounding any discussion of menstruation and make it more normal. Our daughters' bodies and the planet will thank us for it someday.