The damaging effect of female hygiene products on our environment

It seems counter-intuitive that, despite the huge increase and popularity of sustainable options for a broad range of products over the past few years, including clothing, food and beauty products, options for such a huge aspect of women’s lives have scarcely changed in the past century – this being the use of highly polluting and unsustainable female hygiene products.

Despite periods being something that half of the earth’s population will experience at some point in their lives, the continuing cultural taboo has arguably helped the disposable feminine hygiene industry to thrive. Single-use tampons and pads became accessible to the developed world in the early 20th century. Today, tampons are used by over 100 million women worldwide, and this is not including those that opt for the use of sanitary pads instead.

This widespread use comes with massive environmental costs. The average woman uses over 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. The time it takes for a tampon applicator or pad wrapper to degrade in a landfill is over 500 years, centuries longer than the life of the woman who used it. Additionally, the process of manufacturing these products – turning wood pulp into soft fibres – is both resource- and chemical-intensive. Now, more than ever, the dangers of single-use plastic are gaining huge media attention, with its adverse effect on health and the environment being blindingly obvious.  The fact that companies are able to produce products without plastic shows us that plastic need not have a place in sanitary products and also that if a high demand for these more eco-friendly versions is shown, it will help to make them the more obvious choice for billions of women and therefore cut the mass production of the plastic-containing versions. However, issues continue to arise with even the more natural brands which use 100% pure cotton and zero plastics, as they are causing considerable strain on the environment due to the unsustainability of cotton, as a result of the water required to grow it. This leaves us still looking for a truly sustainable replacement.

The use of alternative, reusable products is something I feel needs to be considered by anyone to whom it is relevant, even if, for some, it may not currently be a viable option. One such alternative is the menstrual cup; a product which has the potential to not only massively reduce waste but also to reduce the cost of periods over a women’s life. Period poverty is something not frequently discussed or given much attention to, however it is something faced by 1 in 10 young women in the UK. The investment in, or access to menstrual cups would help to alleviate much of the shame that is felt by those suffering period poverty, as it is a one-time cost for a product that lasts several years. Maybe, if charities were to start giving girls menstrual cups, it would not only benefit them financially, but it would help to normalise the use of more environmentally-friendly products, that are often looked at with scepticism or even disgust by those who are not educated about them. I find it particularly interesting that a menstrual cup is something viewed in a negative light by some women and girls, however, the devastating waste created by regular products is seen as the norm. This therefore shows that education in relation to sanitary product sustainability is crucial for young girls, as menstrual cups and other alternatives are not always something spoken about when discussing periods and they are not as readily available as the highly damaging and polluting, plastic-containing tampons that so many people use without a second thought.

Pandora, UVI Form


Photo credit:
Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images News / Getty Images / Universal Images Group