Sustainable Menstruation is not a concept widely discussed or practiced. The importance of this subject matter has been negated much like other topics in our society that make people uncomfortable. Conversations around a woman’s menstrual cycle and female hygiene products continue to be stifled in society, and we have young girls sheepishly asking for a packet of sanitary napkins from their local pharmacy as if they ought to be ashamed for making the said purchase. While the instance here is a symptom to a societal ill, what escapes the attention of many is the ignorance that accompanies the purchase of sanitary napkins and tampons.
The society we live in is yet to understand that menstruation is a perfectly normal body function. This biological process has escaped many conversations which has led to a growing ignorance that is now fast affecting the environment too. The products commonly available in the market are harmful to our bodies and the environment. We have been made to believe from a young age that brands like Whisper and Stayfree are what we need and what is good for us, when in fact they are causing more harm than doing any good. A regular sanitary pad is made up of plastic, whose effect on the environment needs little introduction, it also contains cotton that has been doused with insecticides and pesticides during cultivation, and lastly, it contains bleach which is made of chemicals and toxins. It is all these components that we allow in close proximity to our vaginas on a regular basis, and then we complain about rashes, allergies, and infections.
Let us attempt to understand the environmental impact our menstrual cycles have. Every pad or tampon used by individual lands up in a landfill where the plastic of a single pad will take anywhere between 500-800 years to decompose. Meanwhile, the toxins present in the pad aid in accelerating the deterioration of the soil. Let us break this down further to understand the role an individual plays on the environment in just one instance. On an average, the menstruating age of a woman is between 13 to 51 years. That would mean she would be menstruating for 38 years of her life which is a total of 456 months of menstruating. The duration of a cycle lasts anywhere between 3-7 days and we can take 5 as an average. We now have 5 days for 456 months with an average of three pads used in a day. Thus, we have 15 pads per menstrual cycle for a total of 456 months which gives us 11,400 pads used in a single lifetime by one individual. The numbers are overwhelming enough, even without counting for the entire female population.
Sustainable menstruation becomes the need of the hour then. A simple lifestyle change has the power to make an incredibly positive impact on the environment if only we would shed our prejudices and be more open to the alternatives available in the market. These sustainable products not only have a low impact on the environment but are also healthier and the more hygienic options than the products that have been marketed all these years. They are made from organic materials, have no chemicals in them, and are also cost effective. Straying from the norm may be a little uncomfortable at first, but this is one small bit where you can help the environment and also make wiser choices for your body.
While there are several sustainable products that have entered the market, I’ll limit my article to three products that have been tried and tested. Although each of them requires a little of adjusting to, their long-term benefits should not be ignored.
The Menstrual Cup
The Menstrual Cup is life changing! This bell-shaped product is made of medical grade silicone and free of any chemicals and toxins. The product does not absorb blood but rather collects it and needs to be cleaned every 6-12 hours. It is comfortable and gives one the flexibility to move around without any discomfort. Once inserted, you do not need to bother about it for 4-12 hours and you can swim, ride bicycles, go trekking, and perform other activities as you normally would. The menstrual cup is also low maintenance- 1 cup can serve you for 8-10 years and the only care required is to sterilize it before and after your menstrual cycle. The price can be considered steep, but, it makes for a better investment in the long run.
You can find out more about the Menstrual Cup here: https://www.facebook.com/boondhcups/
The Cloth Pads available in the market today are a form of what our mothers and grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers used and what many still use in more rural settings. It is a clean and hygienic method and is easily available. EcoFemme is an organization based in Auroville which manufactures cloth pads in stylish designs. These cloth pads come in various sizes depending on your flow and time of day. They also come in pretty patterns and colours and are environmentally friendly in that they are reusable and can be used for up to 2-3 years. Cloth pads, however, entail a little more care and maintenance as they require to be washed after every use and that may be a deal breaker for you, but maybe look at what this small lifestyle change of yours can do for the environment?
You can learn more about EcoFemme and learn more about the organization and the products on their website: https://ecofemme.org/
Organic Pads & Tampons
Organic Pads and Tampons have also hit departmental stores. They look and function exactly like pads and tampons do but are made of 100% organic materials and do not contain any of the toxins and plastics commonly found in sanitary napkins. They do however come at a much steeper price and not a viable option for a majority of the population.
Organyc is a popular brand under this category and is easily available on online platforms like Amazon
The products that have been listed here are only a few of the alternatives available in the market. While each of these is great in their own right for being chemical free and more sustainable, these products are also helping to change the conversations around periods. They do not hide the colour of your blood and make you shy away from a bodily function that has always been a part of womanhood. The companies that manufacture these products promote conversations and awareness on these issues with the hopes that woman will one day hang their cloth pads out to dry confidently with no shame and stigma attached.
Author: Camilla Lyndem
Camilla Ann Lyndem is a Staff Writer. Based in Bengaluru, she is a graduate of St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, where she completed her Undergraduate and Postgraduate degree in English Literature.Although a hardcore liberal arts student, she enjoys coding and has worked on building smart models, including a smart irrigation system (take that, CS students).