I have been trying to cut back on the things I buy. I have been trying to avoid disposable and single use items in the interest of reducing my carbon footprint. This includes buying very little, reusing and recycling and buying secondhand. So there came an inevitable moment when I had to address the millions of disposable sanitary products that are purchased and discarded every month by half of the population.
Periods are rough. They are messy, sometimes painful, often unpredictable and the other half of the population don’t like it much when you talk about them. This can be frustrating to the vast numbers of femalekind who do get periods because they are a really big part of our lives. For around 5 days every 4 to 5 weeks we think about them constantly. This may be because we are feeling the physical effects, like our womb is being squeezed by an internal, misogynistic vice. Or that we feel irritable and are trying not to inflict this upon our fellows out of a sense of humanitarian altruism. Or we are worrying about our weapon of choice for controlling the flow. Do I need to change my pad? Do I need to change my tampon? If we go out now will I be able to find a bathroom in time? What if I leak? Oh no, through this skirt people will see everything. Oh god, I think I’m leaking….
Happily, this is mostly paranoia and the majority of the time we are not actually leaking. But the horror of having to be out in public with a visible stain is something most of us fear. I took this time to dedicate to the subject of period stress because I want to recognise that I am adding a layer to what is already a pretty sucky business. Some women may just want to tell me to stuff it, which is their right. A colleague once sneered at me and said she refused to be made to feel bad about environmental waste. That was just one step too far. Women have to put up with enough. And while I wholeheartedly disagree with her attitude I wanted to recognise why things are the way they are.
Most period-havers use tampons and sanitary products that are one use disposable items. Depending on the individual’s flow they may go through a few within a day. This adds up to a lot of discarded products. This also adds up to a lot of trees. But given how much we were discouraged to acknowledge this monthly bleeding it is not surprising we embraced a method where it is easy to dispose of the evidence. Binding ourselves with cloth and then laboriously scrubbing out the stains was a punishment everyone was happy to leave behind. When a girl gets her period she is taken to the particular drawer or bathroom cabinet where such things are kept and given a quick and easy solution. And that’s where the thought ends. But in the interest of our planet maybe it’s time to take a different tack. There are some amazing sustainable options.
My personal favourite is the menstrual cup, a small squishy cup that sits inside your vagina and catches the blood. Just reach in, grab the base and pinch together to pull it out. And then empty the blood and flush. You can wash the cup or wipe it down and then reuse. After your period is finished you can clean it with boiling water or gentle soap and then store it for next month. With a cup you have a real sense of how much you bleed in a day. Seeing the results of your cycle is interesting and also puts you a little bit more in touch with your body. And the cup feels satisfying and clean. There’s no cotton wads drying you out, making you feel itchy and floating to the top of the toilet bowel or creating an odour in the rubbish bin.
Although some people can just use a cup, I do always seem to leak a bit so rather than ruining all my underwear I go for a combo and have reusable sanitary towels. Mine are little fold up cotton wrappers called Hannahpads. They have poppers so you can clip them round your underwear. They are super absorbent and catch any leaks. And at the end of the day you can wash them with soap and cold water to get the bulk of the stain off and then stick them in the washing machine to use again next month. By using them in conjunction with a menstrual cup I avoid that heavy pad feeling and only have to wash out a minor bit of blood.
Moreover, with these fail safes on hand, I save money, I’m never caught out and my period is something I deal with healthily and sustainably. It’s part of me and my body and I embrace it in conjunction with the rest of my ethos – planet first.