Over the last couple of decades we’ve been happily recycling our bottles and composting food scraps in an effort to reduce landfill waste. Environmental awareness has steadily percolated into our consciousness and now guides our lifestyle choices. But one area of unsustainable living remains obscured, especially to mainstream understanding, and that’s the volume of disposable sanitary products being consumed every year.
It’s a staggering fact that approximately 12,000 of these products will be used by Mrs Average in her menstruating lifetime. These end up in the ever decreasing landfill space available, being incinerated or flushed down the sewerage system and adding to marine pollution. Despite modern sewerage screening techniques, an average of 14 towels/ liners/ applicators per kilometre was found on our coastline in a 2001 Beachwatch survey.
Disposable tampons and towels are made from cotton, rayon (processed wood pulp used for absorbency) and wood pulp bleached with chlorine dioxide or hydrogen peroxide. These chemicals are used instead of the previous bleaching agent, chlorine gas, which produced an increase in environmental dioxin levels. Dioxins are a known human carcinogen.
The cotton used in mainstream brands will have been grown with the aid of pesticides. More than ten percent of global pesticide use is employed in cotton production and has a detrimental impact on the environment, wildlife and people. Anxious to avoid these chemicals, some women have switched to organic disposables, but this does not solve our throwaway dilemma.
Disposables also have an increasing variety of synthetic materials like petroleum based plastics, fragrances, lubricants and paraben preservatives included in them. These can contribute to Allergic Feminine Irritation; a condition with symptoms similar to thrush. Switching to natural sanitary protection can alleviate this.
Once seen as the old-fashioned way of coping with your period, reusable protection has become more accessible in recent years as women search for more eco friendly choices. These help save the planet and save money as there’s no need to repurchase products every month. An expense which cost women £370 million in 2001 and netted £18.5 million in VAT receipts for the Chancellor. A nice little earner from Auntie Flo!
Thanks to innovative marketing, menstrual cups like Mooncup and Lunette now have a fairly high profile. They use a silicone based design to capture rather than absorb fluids and do not leave fibrous deposits behind.
Sea sponges are another alternative for internal protection. They’re advertised as comfortable, convenient and with durability of up to a year. But as sponges are technically an animal, they’re not a suitable product for vegans and vegetarians. Worries have also been expressed over some samples containing grit and bacteria.
However, not all women can or want to use internal protection. Pads are better for girls and younger, developing bodies and some just want to get away from the “stuffing something up inside and forgetting about it” philosophy. After all, why should we be in denial about something so natural that happens to half of the population?
Moon Times, a local Bristol based company, is the only manufacturer of reusable pads and liners in the UK. Inspired by the reusable nappy campaign, its pioneer Rachael Hertogs, has created a wide range to suit a variety of needs and personal tastes.
Based on the popular ‘wings’ design with velcro fasteners, her designs consist of an outer ‘pocket’ style pad with a choice of cotton, hemp or flannelette insert liners which can be varied accordingly. She sees reusables “not as a step back in time but as a positive step towards our planet’s wellbeing. Even if only used at night the amount of sanitary waste we women produce will reduce”.
Moon Times pads are hand crafted and use organic and fair-trade materials where possible. New products include the gorgeous silky luxury range and the dark red and black range, designed to compliment lingerie choices more closely. Patterned or plain panty liners are another recent but popular addition.
The classic white collection features the best selling organic cotton pads, these come hand dyed with natural dyes or undyed. Whereas the funky patterned pads and liners, popular with younger consumers, inject some fun and novelty into a traditionally boring product.
Moon Times customers are enthusiastic supporters; Kate says “I’d been looking for a decent alternative to conventional pads and tampons ever since using washable nappies for my children. It seemed hypocritical to be trying to live a green lifestyle but still putting pads in the bin”. “Moon Times“…. according to Emily “are fab!” Very carefully made, comfortable to wear and easy to use”.
However, Rachael, nominated in the Bristol Evening Post’s Business Awards, has found getting women to discuss their menstrual cycles, a difficult taboo to overcome. She says “older women just can’t cope with the subject. And even younger, more environmentally aware women are initially shocked at the idea of reusables. Schools play host to “tampon lady” every year promoting her products and reinforcing the message to another generation that “periods are dirty and should be hidden away”. Luckily, Rachael found once you get women going on the topic, they don’t want to stop!
Menstruation is a process that’s been concealed by secrecy and shame. Colluding with this stigma allows women to be manipulated by negative media messages about their cycles. This propels sales of disposables and sustains a profitable taboo for the healthcare industries. Breaking through this barrier by informing women of menstrual health choices can enlighten and empower them.
www.wen.org.uk – “Seeing Red” Sanitary Protection and the Environment