Image source: Getty images, altered by author
Well, here is a delicate subject. When is the last time you shared your thoughts at a dinner party about how you can avoid adding to landfill volume with your feminine hygiene products? And, if it comes up in mixed circles, is there probably some crank who will attempt to terminate the conversation by suggesting that the two best options are: (1) "Keep 'em preggers, all the time"; or (2) "Keep women in their separate tents until it is over"? Option 1: vetoed. Overpopulation is not greener. Option 2: Thank goodness we live in more enlightened times. Because there are options. Put those cranks in their place, and read on for the best ways to green your monthly visit from Aunt Flo.
Image source: U. Illinois Press
1: Menstrual Suppression
We are squeezing this one just below the preggers and tent options. Quite honestly, that reflects a real concern about humanity's predilection for tinkering with nature, and societal trends discouraging women from being...well, women. Birth control certainly must be recognized as one of the greatest advances in empowering women's influence over their own lives, and the effects on the population explosion must be recognized as beneficial environmentally. So menstrual suppression probably belongs in the arsenal of personal choices available to women to relieve menstrual discomforts. The National Women's Health Network (USA) points out that menstrual suppression relies on the same medicines used for decades for birth control. Therefore, it is believed to be safe and low risk for those women who tolerate oral contraception well. Listen to your body and do what is right for you.
2: Life Cycle Analysis for the Squeamish
We will admit: for some, the convenience of disposable sanitary products simply will beat out all other arguments. And face it, there are other ways to go green that can have greater impact than worrying about a few pads or tampons per month. If you cannot give up the disposable habit, here are the things to look for to minimize eco-impact and reduce potential health risks of disposable hygiene products:
- Life cycle analysis suggests that applicator-free tampons are greener, mainly because they do not require the amount of low density polyethylene (LDPE) plastics which are required as backing for pads.
- Choose products which are not bleached. Bleaching is associated with the production of dioxin, a very toxic by-product.
- Choose organic feminine hygiene products, especially in the case of tampons which remain in close contact with mucous membranes for long periods (no pun intended!)
- Scale to match your flow: keep several sizes or strengths of disposable product available and use the smallest one which is sufficient for your flow depending upon your cycle.
Why You Should Take Options 3-7 Seriously
But if you think that that feminine hygiene waste is a "small problem", consider these numbers. Research done for the introduction in 1999 of a bill* for tampon safety and research found that 73,000,000 women in the US use tampons. The average woman uses 16,800 tampons in a lifetime; 24,360 tampons for women on estrogen-replacement therapy. Assuming a 40-year period of fertility, that is over 30 billion tampons per year which must be handled by special sanitary disposal systems. So maybe options 3 to 7 deserve a closer look. Still not convinced? Check out the Menstrual Cost Calculator provided by Menstruation.com.au to see how much money you could save with options 4 through 7.