My Plastic Free Period Journey
Written by Emma Constantine
8th April 2021
It’s difficult to pin point the exact moment of when something started isn’t it? However I can tell you some key events that helped me to confidently take further steps along the plastic free period journey.
Currently, making period pads is a staple product in my shop, but I had never come across anyone making them themselves until I went to a workshop in 2018. While on an artist residency in Tasmania (aka paradise), I visited the remote village of Poatina. Serendipitously, they were hosting a permaculture day and other related workshops by local artists. I attended one that was about upcycling fabrics and we were given a choice of what to make. Well, I was so intrigued by making a period pad from old bed sheets and flannel pyjamas that I chose that. I still have the template and sample pieces the artist gave me so that I could remember the different layers involved. To this day, I am still using the pad that I made on that day 3 years ago.
In summer 2020, I attended an online workshop run by Sunny Jar Eco Hub on plastic free periods. It was informative but also practical as we were going to be shown how to make our own pad. I was interested to compare this to the previous one I’d made and also be reminded about how to make it! From then on, I was hooked. The workshop’s informative element was very shocking and clear about how polluting disposable products are, not only for our environment but specifically our waterways. Admittedly, I used to flush my tampon down the toilet, not really thinking about the consequences or thinking it would somehow decompose (I now know that it can’t), but I couldn’t believe that pads and pantyliners are flushed down the toilet too. If I’d known that tampons also contain hidden plastics, I would have stopped my flushing much sooner. Imagining a tampon getting stuck in a drain is gross enough, but did you ever think about what you might be putting into your body? The white soft tampon seems harmless, but in actual fact,“Women are putting plastics and chemicals inside their most intimate area. The vagina needs a healthy pH balance and is highly absorbent, which means that the ingredients can potentially make their way into the bloodstream.” – see full article here
Rewind a couple of years to when I was travelling and working in Australia and the main reason for buying a menstrual cup becomes apparent. I was doing a lot of moving around from state to state and I didn’t want to worry about having to re-stock my tampon supply if I was in a remote town and didn’t know where the local shop was, and in one case, had no means of travelling independently because I was living so remotely. It would be so embarrassing to ask for a lift or call a taxi because of a period emergency! A menstrual cup not only means there’s no further purchasing, but also no need to carry extra supplies with you. So much of my lifestyle in Australia was spent outside, sometimes having a spontaneous dip in the sea, (I know, it was pretty great) so worrying about needing to change a tampon or having leaks, was going to just hold me back from having an adventurous time. I definitely struggled with wearing the cup initially, but I soon loved it because it can stay in there all day. No more awkward trips to public beach bathrooms where there is no bin or sometimes no tap to wash my hands! I could wear my cup and forget about it: enjoy my day whether it was on the beach or taking the kids to the park.
It is incomprehensible to learn that the average woman uses 11,000 disposable period products over her lifetime. Even more shocking when you realise that this is actually not necessary with reusable products on the market. In one year, tampons, pads and pantyliners amount to more than 200,000 tonnes of waste sent to landfill each year in the UK. What’s more depressing is that many end up in the sea, in the stomachs of sea animals or washed up on beaches. This of course made me feel so guilty about flushing my tampons down the toilet so now with this education, I am determined to not only continue with my plastic free periods, but to make reusable pads as well.
If you are just starting out on this journey, or maybe this is the first time you are hearing about the horror of disposable period products, then I would love to advise you about how to get started. You don’t have to be as bold as starting with a menstrual cup like I did. Using a reusable pantyliner is a fairly low cost and low risk way of starting to reduce your plastic waste and save money in the long run. Pantyliners are designed to be worn towards the end of your period to catch a few drops of blood, discharge or maybe even urine if you are susceptible to that. You won’t have to face cleaning a huge amount of blood away so it’s a good way to start to get used to handling your own body’s fluids. I also worked on changing my mindset from thinking it was gross, to seeing it as something that came from my own body, so I shouldn’t mind handling or seeing it.
I would recommend reading blogs on the Thinx website for more honest articles about women’s menstruation and general health. https://www.shethinx.com/pages/thinx-periodical