Many of us don’t give a thought to the amount of waste we throw out each day. But with the waste management situation becoming more and more dire with each passing year, it’s time to start thinking about how we can reduce our contribution to trash.
One of the biggest concerns is plastic waste. Plastic can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, which means our plastic waste today will still be sitting in landfills or floating around in oceans during the time of our great-great-great-etc. grandkids. Consider this: Our current 19-hectare landfill, the Rodriguez landfill, is fast filling up and at the rate it’s going, it looks like it will have a shorter life span than the now-closed 20-hectare Payatas landfill (which took 15 years to fill up). The Philippines is also the third biggest contributor of plastic waste in our oceans, which is especially distressing considering our country is relatively small.
While everyone has a hand in the waste situation, women in particular contribute a specific product category to plastic waste: feminine products. With half of the world’s population made up of women and with the average woman menstruating for over 30 years, the environmental impact of sanitary napkins and other feminine products like tampons and applicators cannot be ignored.
Menstrual Waste Facts
Sanitary pads are about 90% plastic and tampons with applicators (the preferred type of tampon among women) likewise contain single-use plastic. According to the Women’s Environmental Network, every woman in the UK uses an average of 11,000 disposable menstrual products throughout her life, which translates to more than 200,000 tons of plastic waste annually. A UK beach cleanup activity in 2010 found an average of 23 sanitary pads and 9 tampon applicators per square kilometer of shoreline, while a 2016 cleanup found 20 feminine products per 100 meters! The sheer amount of feminine products collected from beaches gives the term “red tide” a completely different meaning.
While some say that waste from feminine products is negligible in the bigger scheme of things (about 0.5% of women’s total waste throughout their lifetimes), cumulatively, it still has an effect on plastic waste and every little bit of effort to cut down on plastic use counts. There are certainly other ways to live a more earth-friendly lifestyle but switching to more eco-friendly feminine products can be part of a more holistic approach to waste management.
Best Eco-Friendly Feminine Products
There is growing interest from businesses to help manage waste from feminine products. Early this year, a reusable tampon applicator was successfully launched on an online funding platform. While this particular product hasn’t gone mainstream as of yet, there are a few other eco-friendly alternatives to traditional sanitary napkins and tampons with single-use applicators:
Menstrual Cups. Consumer attitude towards environment-friendly products such as the menstrual cup is slowly shifting. A report states that the menstrual cup market was valued at US$995 million in 2016 and is expected to hit US$1.4 billion by 2023.
A menstrual cup is a pliable bell-shaped cup made of medical-grade material (such as silicone) that is inserted into the vagina. It can hold up to three times as much as a tampon can absorb. It may look intimidating, but once inserted, it isn’t supposed to feel like it’s there. After use, you can just rinse it off and sanitize it then store it in a breathable bag. One menstrual cup, when handled and sanitized properly, can last you for years, making it both cost-effective and eco-friendly.
Period Panties. These are panties that do double duty as underwear and a sanitary pad, and can be laundered in the washer. The panties have layers that absorb liquid, prevent leakage, and provide comfort. These might be a better option for those with a lighter flow.
Cloth Pads. While babies have cloth diapers, women at a reproductive age have cloth pads. These reusable pads can be placed in the washing machine. And since they’re typically made of cotton, they don’t irritate skin the way some disposable napkins do.
Organic Feminine Products. You can look for organic and biodegradable napkins and tampons that don’t make use of plastic and won’t sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. Visit Healthy Options to find eco-friendly feminine products.