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Sustainable solutions for feminine hygiene products

Global Society & Global Goals
Sustainable solutions for feminine hygiene products

If you've been paying attention to environmental news in the last year or so, you've probably noticed that the negative impact of single-use plastics has become a hot topic. From bans and taxes on plastic bags and takeaway coffee cups to policies on reduced plastic packaging, a growing number of countries and private-sector companies are taking action to combat plastic pollution. Recently, the European Parliament voted to ban all single-use plastics, including cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink stirrers, balloon sticks, and polystyrene food and beverage containers.

If successfully passed, the EU's Single Use Plastic Directive will be the most comprehensive piece of legislation addressing plastic pollution to date.

While the fight against single-use plastics like straws and shopping bags has gone mainstream, one thing we don't hear much about (possibly due to the social taboo surrounding menstruation) is disposable feminine hygiene products and their environmental impact.

Menstrual products, on the other hand, generate massive amounts of waste. It is estimated that the average woman throws away approximately 150 kilograms of tampons, pads, and applicators in her lifetime, with approximately 90 percent of them being plastic.[1] (This may surprise some because, unlike food products, there is no legal requirement for menstrual product manufacturers to list ingredients on their packaging (though most of this information is available online).

The vast majority of these products end up in landfills (where they can take up to 450 years to decompose), or as litter on our beaches or polluting our oceans. Menstrual products, in fact, are one of the most common single-use plastic items found in marine litter.[2]

In addition to visible plastic debris, there is the issue of microplastics, which are defined as pieces smaller than 5 millimeters. Despite advances in microplastic research, much remains unknown about the precise effects on human health and the environment.

What Other Options Do You Have?

As people become more aware of the world's plastic problem, they become more interested in finding reusable non-plastic alternatives to traditional pads and tampons.

Ella Daish launched the #EndPeriodPlastic campaign in 2018 after witnessing shocking levels of litter on our streets during her postal rounds. The campaign encourages leading brands to remove plastics from their period products. She also spearheaded the Eco Period Box initiative, which resulted in the donation of thousands of eco-friendly period products to combat period poverty!

Ella was working as a postal worker for the Royal Post when she realized how much was being thrown away. This got her thinking and she reflected on her own consumerism. In her daily life, when her period started, she noticed that there were no plastic-free alternatives for feminine hygiene products in the supermarket. The vast amounts of single-use plastic that are co-produced for these products and found with every purchase were unavoidable in conventional supermarkets. She wanted to make a change but felt powerless in her position. That was the moment she created the #EndPeriodPlastic campaign.

The campaign uses targeted action and a clear message to address one manufacturer or retailer at a time. By doing this, it increases pressure on the targeted decision maker, which they cannot ignore. Large companies including Sainsburys, Aldi, and Superdrug have been inspired to stop using plastic applicators in their period products as a result.

Ella is pleased that major brands are now also taking further steps into more environmentally friendly production and use of feminine hygiene products. She shares that some brands have already responded by developing and launching their own eco-friendly ranges. Most stores additionally have a selection of environmentally friendly tampons, pads, and menstrual cups. Read the full interview here:


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