Periods need not mean pollution for the planet

Dancers Sarah Gibson and Kara Hudson promote reusable sanitary products Picture: Mark Gibson
Dancers Sarah Gibson and Kara Hudson promote reusable sanitary products Picture: Mark Gibson
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A war is being waged on single-use plastics such as carrier bags, disposable cups, straws, drink stirrers, bottles and food packaging, which contribute to the growing avalanche of plastic pollution littering the planet.

However, there are other less-talked-about single-use items that are posing a significant ecological problem.

More than 400 million menstrual products are disposed of each year in Scotland.

This waste contains a mix of plastics and other synthetic materials which cannot be recycled, so goes to landfill.

A significant amount also ends up in the oceans as marine litter, with more than 340,000 tampons and pantyliners estimated to be flushed down the toilet every day.

As many of us have witnessed during days out at the seaside, this sanitary waste does not decompose.

It can remain for centuries in the environment, where it poses a risk to wildlife.

A shocking 48 items of sanitary waste were found littering every kilometre of shoreline during a UK-wide beach clean in 2017, illustrating the scale of the pollution.

So what can be done?

An increasing number of women are switching from single-use tampons and towels to options such as the menstrual cup, washable cloth pads and period-proof underwear.

And with the average woman estimated to use around 11,000 period products in her lifetime, individual actions can make a significant difference.

However, the numbers are still fairly low, with a recent survey suggesting only one in ten Scottish women currently relies on reusable products.

Research suggests the main reasons why more do not make the change are fears over the reliability of reusable products, hygiene and convenience, as well as habit.

A new campaign called #TrialPeriod, by the state-backed agency Zero Waste Scotland, aims to bust some of the myths behind reusable options and encourage women to try them out.

Three members of staff agreed to test out some of the products on the market and report back.

MENSTRUAL CUP: ‘FOUR MONTHS IN AND I’M A CONVERT’

When I heard about reusable menstrual products I wondered how they could be hygienic, but was inquisitive enough to learn more.

Four months in and I’m a convert. I’m not going to pretend it was easy from the word go, but after a few attempts – success. I was concerned that the cup would overflow but it surprised me how little you actually bleed. There’s no leakage – it feels and is hygienic and it’s so simple. I feel liberated. Not only do I feel it’s better for my body but I know it’s better for the planet and my pocket.

While I want to shout from the rooftops how fantastic a menstrual cup is and how it has changed my life for that one week a month, I also remember a period is very personal – one size doesn’t fit all.

Donna Kudarenko

PERIOD-PROOF PANTS: ‘COMFY AND SUPER-CONVENIENT’

If you’re a tampon user, you’ll know this. The fear of a bathroom with no bin is real. What am I supposed to do with it? How do some of my friends manage with no bins in their bathrooms? So many questions.

Period-proof underwear takes away the worry of finding your nearest disposal unit and they absorb your flow, so you actually forget you’re on your period completely.

These pants also removed that ritual in the morning when I’m scratching my head, figuring out how many tampons or liners to take depending on my expected flow that day. That’s a big plus, especially as flows change and can be hard to predict. What’s not so great are those heavier days.

I wore them on day two, which is usually quite heavy. While I didn’t even notice them for most of the day, there came a point when I had to swap them out.

Personally, I’d say these are perfect for those lighter days and when it’s difficult to predict what your uterus will be up to next. Of course, this depends on what absorbency strength you go for – I went with regular ones, but there are super-absorbency ones out there.

Period-proof underwear is really easy to wash. Just give them a quick rinse in the sink, pop them in the washing machine with the rest of the load and let them dry overnight. This way, you can use one pair of pants multiple times during the one period.

My verdict? After giving them a go, I will definitely be buying another pair. They’re comfy and super-convenient, plus they seem to be a more natural option as tampons run the risk of toxic shock syndrome. I didn’t leak once, and less waste equals a happier planet.

Sophie Thirkell

REUSABLE CLOTH PADS: ‘THEY WASH GREAT AND DRY REALLY QUICKLY’

I bought my pads in June and I’ve been really happy with them. They feel really cosy and comfy, much nicer than a plastic disposable, and they don’t make those horrible crunchy noises in toilets.

What surprised me most was the absorbency. I was astounded at how much one pad could hold.

You do need to rinse and machine-wash them after use. I do the initial rinsing in my bathtub – straight away if I am at home. If I’m out, I tend to opt for the disabled loos with in-built sink, so I can give them a quick rinse before rolling them away in my storage bag.

If that’s not an option, I don’t rinse them until I get home, and this is fine.

After rinsing, I just chuck them in the washing with other laundry but have friends who prefer to wash them separately. They wash great and dry really quickly.

Catherine Bozec