Once a month, millions of women around the world quietly rush off to restrooms, bemoan the loss of their favorite panties, or furtively whisper to the closest female around, “hey, do you happen to have a tampon?”
And if you’ve experienced the latter, you may have felt a flush of pride at being a woman when you see how complete strangers can come together to find a feminine hygiene product for a fellow female they’d never met before.
It’s a beautiful thing.
A far less beautiful thing, though, is what’s actually in that tampon (or the typical menstruation pad). And how many of us stick it in or near our most vulnerable private areas without a second thought.
It may come as a shock to you that women used to function just fine without these feminine products we now take for granted. We look at the wonky contraptions that women of the past wore for their monthly flows and marvel at how primitive they were.
But actually, from both an environmental and body health point of view, we’re the primitive ones.
What do you mean when you make that statement? I mean that using these plastic pads or tampons comes with a heavy price on our planet and our bodies. Women in the “dark ages” never paid such an expensive price as the women of today largely do.
Let’s take a moment to consider what actually happens when we use a tampon or pad…
Firstly, from farming the crop to making the final product, both tampons and pads are riddled with heavy chemicals. If you had the choice, would you want to put toxins such as mercury on or inside your private part? Or any part of your body?
Probably not. But the fact of the matter is – there’s a lot more to the typical tampon and pad than pure, white clean cotton, like…
Mercury is still used in specialized pesticides called mildewcides for farming cotton, and many other fabrics that are susceptible to fungus .
Most standard pads and tampons are made up of cotton and rayon (bamboo), which have both been sprayed with mildewcides and other toxic pesticides that are based off of heavy metal contaminates.
Secondly, the pristine white color comes from bleaching in the refinement process, which tampon companies use for purification. While bleach may destroy germs and bacteria, it also has equally damaging effects to our bodily tissues, destroying them and causing cancer.
Tampon and pad manufacturers began to stop using chlorinated bleach, opting for hydrogen peroxide alternatives instead. These alternatives proved to be only moderately less toxic and because of that, companies claim that they are “safer to use” and even “eco-friendly.”
In fact, they cause DNA damage which can lead to cancer, particularly when combined with the heavy metals (that are already sprayed all over the materials before they undergo bleaching). Hydrogen peroxide itself was also shown to cause internal warts in rats – I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy getting a wart of any kind up in there!
We’re still not done – you know all those extra features that some tampons and pads provide? Yup, we’re talking odor neutralizers and fragrances to help hide the scent of menses.
These don’t come from roses – in fact, they’re a veritable chemical soup of artificial colors and like BPA, BPS, polyethylene (PET) and polypropylene.
These plastic compounds, especially when heated (as they would be when in contact with your vagina) have proven to cause hormonal and endocrine disruption. Even worse, they’ve been linked to everything from infertility to cancer.
All of these horrid toxins enter your body through the membranes of your most sensitive orifice, wreaking utter havoc. You think your PMS is bad because you were born that way? Think again.
The bus doesn’t stop there though – let’s quickly consider the environment…
When you dispose of a pad or tampon, it will go to a landfill or a sewage treatment plant. That seems harmless enough, right? Until you tally up the vast quantity that lands up there, every. single. day.
Most women get their periods between the ages of 11 and 14, and menopause occurs roughly between age 45 and 50.
On average, women will go through about 25 pads/tampons per month, usually more.
That’s about 35 years of having your period, which will add up to over 10,000 pads/tampons being used in your lifetime!
Considering there are over 3 billion women on the planet, that is an immense amount of waste that will sit in a landfill! When cotton and many other textiles go to the dump, they release toxic compounds into the soil and heavy metals, like mercury in gas form.
These toxins eventually condensate into rain clouds to form acid rain, which erodes the environment, kills wildlife and contaminates both air and water.
Not to mention the damage done to the soil and our environment just from harvesting cotton in the first place.
Each year the cotton industry makes 20 million tons of cotton.
To produce 2.2 lbs of cotton, it takes 5283 gallons of water! To top it all off, cotton makes up about 2.4% of agricultural activity on the planet, but it accounts for 24% and 11% of insecticide and pesticide sales globally.
Ready to make the switch to something that does not support this industry or try to kill you?
Good. Let’s get started – there are a lot of options out there!
The last section was depressing. So it’s time for some good news: When it comes to eco friendly period products, there are really great options out there.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since menstruation aprons and now have access to a range of period products that aren’t only darn convenient but also better for your body and the environment.
Here are the best eco friendly period products – and how they stack up!
Organic tampons and pads are a great baby step towards helping yourself and the environment become cleaner! The cotton in these will not be sprayed with chemicals although plastics and cleaning chemicals may still be a cause for concern.
A cloth pad is similar to an ordinary pad in principle. You use it to line your panties and it catches your flow. The difference is that they are far more comfortable and you don’t throw them away.
You keep washing them in between using clean ones. Many kits come with a plastic bag or container that you can use to store dirty ones in your bag while on the go, which may or may not be an issue for some women.
While this may sound a little obscene, it’s actually one of the most eco-friendly options available. A menstrual cup is a little cup that you squeeze slightly before inserting into your vagina, like a tampon.
It then fills up, after which you take it out and empty the contents down the toilet or sink. You then need to rinse the cup with water before reinserting, and voila!
Be sure to wash your hands well before handling it. If you spend lots of time out, you may need to buy a second one, as it won’t be so easy to wash it in a public bathroom. Also you will want to boil them at least once a month to keep them sterilized.
Note: I have to admit that this is my personal favorite option – I’d even go so far as to say that these little cups totally changed my life (at least during my periods). So a big thumbs up for menstrual cups!
Organic period panties are exactly what they sound like: You get panties that are lined with organic cotton wool. These are great for those with a lighter flow or at the end of the period when you don’t know if it’s over yet or not.
For the most cases, these panties are meant to be used with a pad, tampon or menstrual cup to ensure you don’t mess your clothes.
There are a few other varieties on the market that use high-tech fabrics which absorb moisture, quick dry and remove odors, but these will be made with synthetic materials that are not safely biodegradable.
They are, however, far less disposable and will last the same time as ordinary underwear.
You might not believe this, but sea sponges are also used as a natural solution for periods. I’m talking about those fuzzy creatures that grow in coral reefs!! They have been used for thousands of years – even by Cleopatra who preferred them to all other options available to her.
These sea sponges are very soft and squishy. You just twist them or squeeze them a bit before inserting them. They’re highly absorbent and when they’re full, you just take it out and let it soak in water until clean before pushing it back in.
Many women actually claim that they are super comfortable, but doctors warn against some of their lesser known dangers. These sponges feed off bacteria when alive and after being harvested, often contain bacteria as well as sand.
Parts of the sponge can also break off and stay inside you, which may lead to an infection later.
Infections can occur with anything you stick inside your vagina though, especially if you nick yourself – be careful!
These effects can be ameliorated if you soak them in something antibacterial to wash them (like 1 drop of lavender oil diluted in lots of water) but they will still contain sand. Also, never boil one as this makes them hard and impossible to use.
So what’s the best option? Well, it depends on you and your needs but out of all the above options, my hands down most recommended is the menstrual cup. It’s simply the best from a healthy, budget-friendly and environmental point of view.
But no matter which one you choose from the above – rest assured that they’re all a better pick than the typical tampon or sanitary pad. And by making the switch, you’ll be doing your bit to help yourself and the planet each and every time Aunt Flo comes to visit!