Why Period-Shaming Is an Environmental Issue & What You Can Do About It

Apr 16, 2018 at 12:06 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

For roughly half the population, menstruating can be everything from a hassle to uncomfortable to excruciatingly painful. It's annoying enough that we have to deal with all that — not to mention period stigma — but we also should consider how to dispose of our menstrual products in an environmentally conscious way.

As it turns out, the shame surrounding periods and the related products also has an impact on the environment. A new survey conducted by the period underwear brand Thinx found that while 97 percent of menstruators are concerned about the environment, 85 percent of us dispose of tampons by flushing them down the toilet to avoid being seen throwing them into the garbage.

The average menstruator uses between 11 and 30 pads and/or tampons during an average cycle. Over the years, that can really add up — specifically, to between 5,000 and 14,000 pads/tampons in one person's lifetime. And that's not even taking into account the materials used for packaging and shipping.

Although most people know not to flush pads, a lot were actually taught they should flush tampons. In a way, it makes sense: If it doesn't go in the garbage can, it doesn't end up in a landfill, right? Nope, not at all. When you flush a tampon, first it goes into the sewer or septic system, which was not designed to process cotton tampons, let alone applicators (even if they're labeled "flushable"). It has the potential to clog up the machinery in the wastewater treatment plant, which then has to be fixed, having the tampons removed and moved to a landfill. Long story short: Either way, the products will end up in a landfill, but by putting them in the trash, you're at least eliminating a few costly steps.

More: How the U.S. Differs From the Rest of the World When It Comes to Periods

Having an eco-friendly period

The good news is our period product options are constantly expanding, so we're no longer limited to the same-old brands of pads and tampons and have a whole range of other products to consider. For example, if you still want to go the tampon route, check out applicator-free, biodegradable organic tampons from Cora, Lola or Aunt Flow (which also makes organic, biodegradable pads). If pads are more your thing, check out a new line of organic, environmentally friendly pads (which come in three sizes) from Rael. Yes, these products are still disposable, but at least they will take less time to break down, ultimately taking up less real estate in landfills.

More: Meet the Product Changing Period Sex Forever

For others, reusable period products are the way to go, significantly decreasing the environmental impact but cutting down on waste. For example, there are a range of menstrual cups available from DivaCup, Lunette and EvaCup; the Flex's menstrual disc (perfect for period sex); and reusable pads from GladRags and Lunapads, among others. Period underwear is another environmentally friendly contender, with options from Maia, Pyramid Seven (which makes boxer briefs), Rael and yes, Thinx.

It's also important to remember that not everyone can afford reusable menstrual products, and for a lot of menstruators in developing areas, getting access to a clean toilet is hard enough, let alone having to deal with the extra steps of cleaning the period products. So, while these are great options for some, it's not a realistic choice for everyone.

The bottom line is that we need to start thinking more seriously about our period products, both in terms of what they're made of and how we dispose of them and stop letting let stigma get in the way of a healthy period and Earth.

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