By Bernadette Thomas
So it’s that time of the month… again. You’ve been to the shops to make sure you won’t get caught short – tampons (check), overnight pads (check), panty liners (check), hand over cash plus GST (still added at time of writing – check). Repeat.
On average, Australian women use 12,000 disposable pads and tampons during their menstruating years; this equates to about 18,000 tonnes of landfill each year; disposable sanitary waste takes hundreds of years to break down; and it costs each woman in excess of $5,000 over her lifetime (sharethedignity.com.au/reusable-sanitary-pads/).
Buying feminine hygiene is a fact of life for most women; and while the financial cost is something we all have to bear, the cost to the environment is something we can control.
Most sanitary items are made from a combination of cotton, synthetic rayon, plastics and other synthetic materials. They are mainly wrapped in plastic wrapping (and often individually wrapped), most of which is single use and disposable. Even though some of the newer brands use paper and cardboard in the production and packaging, they are in the minority and there is still an impact on the environment.
Growing cotton uses lots of water, pesticides and fertilisers, takes up a lot of space that might otherwise be used for food crops, and runoff from cotton crops can add unwanted nutrients to waterways, causing algal blooms and depleting oxygen. The bleaching process of cotton involves the use of dioxins, toxic chemicals that may bioaccumulate in the body. Then there’s the carbon emissions involved in their manufacture, packaging and transport.
Disposing of these single use items is a major problem. Sanitary waste is not classified as clinical waste, so ends up in landfill with general waste. As a general rule, they either end up in your regular waste bin, down the toilet, or in a commercial disposal unit. CHOICE (choice.com.au) has reported that the annual cost of removing non-degradable materials (which includes sanitary items) from the wastewater network can cost water companies millions of dollars each year. That’s in addition to the cost of specialist commercial disposal units you will be familiar with.
By comparison, reusable pads and undies can be included in your regular wash after soaking, and if they are made from cotton or hemp, can be added to your compost once they hit their use by date (which by the way, will be many years from now, even with regular use). And (as with most reusable items) you can make them yourself; just consult doctor google. Menstrual cups can simply be washed out in the bathroom sink and dried – no disposal necessary.
I started using reusable pads nearly 20 years ago. During that time I’ve used a combination of reusable and disposable items, depending on what I was doing (work, home, holidays for example) and how heavy the flow. Back then there were limited options – a reasonably soft organic hemp cotton product that came, initially, in one colour, off white. Since then the range has widened, and other products have become available. I had known about the reusable option for a while before I made the switch; but I’ve never regretted making it. Using reusables means that I am reducing my environmental impact (which for me was the main driver for change), and it has also allowed me to celebrate and be more in tune with this most natural of cycles. Let’s face it, menstruation is not the topic of choice for most people, and as a community we generally shy away from talking about topics that are considered women’s issues. Reusables allows others to ask questions and reduces the stigma of menstruation.
If you are keen to make the switch away from disposable sanitary items, there are a few options – reusable sanitary pads, menstrual cup, and period pants. I’ve only ever used the reusable pads, but from what I have read online, the other two options work equally well.
The key to making your choice is to work with what you know will suit you and your body – it’s going to be different for everyone.
If you decide to give reusables a go, or want to talk about making the switch, get in touch at email@example.com