By: Angelica Bottaro

From the time a young woman reaches puberty, she has to deal with the consequences of having a period. Painful cramps, cravings, and PMS are all part of that, but another aspect is the sheer cost, both financially and environmentally. It’s not like we, as women, can simply decide to stop having periods and avoid paying for sanitation products that are just going to sit—relatively unscathed, I might add—in a landfill for decades. We just don’t have that option.

So, that means we have to sift through the many products on the market and decide which one works best for us to keep our underwear free of stains and ourselves safe from unjust public humiliation (that’s a whole other conversation!) if we do happen to spring a leak. We also have to consider how our periods have a detrimental effect on the environment as a whole.

Is Capitalising On Period Products A Human Rights Issue?

This inescapable stress-induced anxiety surrounding something that we can’t opt out of is unfair, sure, but that doesn’t stop tampon and pad companies from capitalising on it. According to a report by Statista, the feminine hygiene product industry is worth $40 billion US globally. Throughout a woman’s lifetime, she will spend close to $5,000 US on sanitary pads alone!

Those disposable products are lining the pockets of those companies that charge for something that our bodies cannot go without. While that may not seem like much to many people, there are areas of the world where access to that kind of money is unfathomable. Even in Western culture, roughly 21% of women can’t afford to purchase the feminine products they need regularly.

Some places in the world—Scotland, for example—have taken a different approach by introducing legislation to make period products free in all public places, schools, and universities. Unfortunately, there is still a considerable gap between the mandatory need for period products and many women’s or girls’ ability to get them.

So, considering that it’s possible to make the ethical decision to provide these basic-need products for free, why are more places not doing it? They should be available to over 500 million women and girls globally who have absolutely no access to feminine hygiene products at all.

The Environmental Impact Of Your Period

Tampons and pads are highly unsustainable products because of what they’re made with. Tampons are mostly made of plastic if you consider the packaging, applicator, and string used to remove it when it is time to change it up. Even the tampon itself has a thin layer of plastic inside of it. 

Pads are also full of plastic because of the synthetic products used to help soak up the liquids for a leak-proof period. As most everyone knows, plastic is a big no-no when it comes to being environmentally friendly.

What’s worse, they will be kicking around for as many as 800 years! Think about it this way, sanitary products were first commercially available in 1888. Back then, they were made of wood pulp, a more sustainable than plastic product that still takes years to break down. Basically, that means that the very first pad ever used could very well still be out there in a landfill somewhere. 

With the current and modern plastic editions of tampons and pads, the environmental outlook is bleak. If you consider the sheer number of these products being used, that’s a lot of unsustainable biohazards floating around in garbage heaps across the globe.

The Substandard Solutions  

Some companies are looking at these immense flaws and trying to make a difference. From an environmental standpoint, “green” feminine products such as reusable cups and pads or washable period underwear keep the waste factor down. Still, they don’t tackle the inequity when it comes to the financial cost of these products. Products like Knix Underwear, the Diva Cup, and Hannah’s reusable pads are all well and good, but they aren’t exactly priced fairly for all women.

There are also disposable products on the market today, such as August’s sustainable tampons and pads that are meant to break down more quickly and don’t use the same substances as the ones you’ll find on your typical drugstore shelf; however, they too are not cheap. So, basically, these products that would end the environmental impact are out of reach for even more people in the world than their disposable counterparts.

If every woman doesn’t have access to these feminine products, what kind of change is actually possible? If you ask me, addressing period poverty should be the first step in righting the wrong that disposable feminine hygiene products have caused to the environment. Because until every woman or girl has access to sustainable sanitary products, the issue will remain.