Well hello my fellow bleeders! Who’s excited to talk all things menstruation? The topic of your period and how to approach it with a zero-waste mindset can be super overwhelming. There are multiple points to consider when working towards a low to no-waste and toxin-free option for feminine care and your cycle.
I want you to take a deep breath and know it has taken me nearly a YEAR to finally get to a zero-waste period. I had done all this research, bought all the things, and then had to get through the last of my disposables before trying (and failing) for a few cycles to get to a no-waste solution.
Please oh please be patient with yourself. Don’t force yourself into a sustainable solution that doesn’t work for you because then it’s not truly sustainable! We often forget on this sustainable living journey that our own emotions and willpower require a sustainable mindset as well. Cultivate kindness and patience with yourself as you try out the following various zero-waste menstruation options.
In this first post, we will go over conventional products, like tampons and pads, and the significant issues they pose for our bodies and the environment. Then in my next post, we will chat about the zero-waste options you can use instead. Finally in the last post of this series, I’ll share some awesome zero-waste and toxin-free pain management tips for your monthly visitor.
First, though, I need to teach you about your mother of all souls, ahem, I mean vagina.
Why Tampons And Pads Are Terrible For Your Health
The microbial environment of the vagina is delicately balanced and always working to achieve an equilibrium that keeps certain bacteria in check. When it's thrown off, things like yeast infections or painful intercourse can crop up. Like the rest of our body, the vagina enjoys an acidic environment between 3.8 and 4.5. This range allows for the good bacteria to produce lactic acid that subsequently reduces the pH, building up an environment where bad bacteria cannot tip the scale to their favor.
When we clean our lady bits with alkalizing soap, douches, and sprays, we continually undo that acidic balance and allow certain bacteria to take over. It's a vicious cycle, you wash your lady parts to make them cleaner, but ultimately you create an environment for bad bacteria to thrive.
The same happens when we insert tampons during our cycles. Our monthly cycle is a chance for our vaginal pH to get a true reset. As blood exits our cervix and travels down the walls of the vagina, it recalibrates the pH upon its exit. When we insert tampons made with synthetic fibers to stop and absorb that blood flow, we lose a chance to reset our vaginal pH. On top of that, the synthetic fibers mess with our bacterial environment in ways we are just starting to understand.
The vagina is the most absorbent skin on your body. Whatever you put in it, or on it, is going to find its way into your bloodstream. Tampon and pad companies are not required to disclose the ingredients in their products, but we do know that most contain cotton, fragrance, bleaching agents, and plasticizers. Many of the plastics are non-recyclable, and include phthalates, parabens, DEHP, and PET. Eeek!
When we insert tampons into our vagina or spend our day with a pad on, those undisclosed chemicals are absorbed. Even pesticide residue from cotton tampons is present in trace amounts, contradicting the FDA’s recommendation that feminine products be pesticide-free. Specifically, the pesticide found at the highest amount (37ppb) was Procymidone. This nasty pesticide is a probable human carcinogen according to the EPA. Holy Moses guys.
A great video I recommend watching for my fellow pad wearers is this one. Andrea Donsky of Naturally Savvy burns a conventional pad next to an organic cotton one, and the difference is striking. The fallout from these chemicals ranges from hormone disruption, yeast infections, genital itching, dermatitis, and cancer risk.
Luckily, legislation has been introduced that will require manufacturers of tampons and pads to disclose the ingredients used. Introduced by Representative Grace Meng (D-NY), the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act of 2017 (H.R. 2416) is working to put an end to women living in the dark on their feminine care products. Detox The Box is another initiative striving for feminine care product companies to become more transparent. As much as political action like this is warranted, it's not enough when we look at conventional feminine care through the lens of sustainability and earth care.
Ok the toxins are bad, but why go all-out zero-waste for your period and not opt for disposables that have organic cotton?
Why Even Organic Disposable Pads And Tampons Are Not The Best Option
In just the United States, the market shows women are spending over $2 billion a year on feminine care products. In a woman's lifetime, she can go through nearly 17,000 tampons and/or pads. We ladies spend a lot of money on our menstrual cycles, and in turn, we create a lot of waste. What happens to this pile of cotton and plastic when we are done with it?
First, some of it winds up in a landfill where it can take on average 500 to 800 years to decompose. Second, it is encroaching on our oceans and waterways. It was challenging to find current solid data on the amount of plastic feminine care products disposed of and their specific effect on our ecosystems. What I was able to scrounge up is a stat cited in multiple articles without a link. Between 1998 and 1999, over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along US coastal areas according to the Center for Marine Conservation. We know that plastic is rampant in our waterways and oceans, this is not news, but you may not have thought that your tampons applicators have to potential to contribute to this issue.
More plastic in our oceans and landfills is not what we need. Having to submit our bodies monthly to products where we don’t even know the ingredients or their full effect on our health long-term is unacceptable. As women, we have the power to mobilize and make a massive shift in our habits that will create a direct positive effect on our environment and our bodies. Let’s talk about holistic and reusable alternatives.
In my next post, we will talk about the options you have to go zero-waste and non-toxic when it comes to your period.
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