Have you heard of Fatberg? If you haven't, Google it. Or don't, depending on how squeamish you are and whether or not you've recently eaten. Fatberg is a 130 tonne solidified formation of waste that is blocking the London sewers. And one of the causes is the tampons and sanitary products that have been flushed down toilets across the city.
You may not be aware, but it takes a tampon longer to degrade than the lifespan of the women who wears it and the average woman will use over 11,000 disposable, one-time-use menstrual products in her reproductive lifetime. That's a lot of tampons.
Luckily, there's a plethora of brands waking up to the fact that periods as we know them are totally unsustainable - and they're taking action. Take Freda, for example, a brand that sources sustainable, ethically-sourced materials that don't compromise on hygiene or performance. “Our products contain no chemicals, without compromise on protection. We always put our customers needs first, while constantly pushing for more sustainable packaging, ingredients, and production.” Organic cotton breaks down far more easily and therefore poses far less of a problem where the environment is concerned. It's all down to fact that certified organic tampons don't contain the synthetic materials found in other tampons. including rayon, plastics and artificial absorbents that are non-biodegradable. Other brands offering organic options are Ohne, who also work towards tackling stigma surrounding periods and period poverty and TOTM, which is also another subscription service.
There's also a wider array of environmentally-friendly options becoming available. Menstrual cups like the Mooncup, Intimina and Diva Cup have enjoyed a stratospheric rise in popularity in part for their economical benefits (one menstrual cup for around £20 will last up to 10 years), but also for the fact they are completely zero-waste. Menstrual cups are soft silicone devices that are easily inserted inside the vagina and collect blood. All you have to do is pull it out like you would a tampon, wash it, and re-insert. The non-porous silicone means it doesn't harbour bacteria, making it super safe and completely hygienic.
"Choice is everything," says Celia Pool, cofounder of DAME, a reusable tampon applicator. "There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for women when it comes to menstrual products. There are different needs and requirements, even within one person's cycle. You might want to wear your cup or pad during your lighter days, and your tampon during times when you are active. Or the other way round."
Dame does exactly this - it gives women the choice to use tampons, and applicators, if they want to. Traditional plastic applicators take 500 years to decompose - and the women of the world use 10 billion of them every month. DAME uses antimicrobial technology to produce BPA-free, leak-free, medical grade tampon applicators - that can be reused for life.
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"The bottom line is that you can care about the environment and use tampons - the two need not be mutually exclusive," says Pool.
Alongside reusable applicators and menstrual cups, there's also reusable period pants, which are made of intelligent, hyper-absorbent and anti-microbial fabric, which you simply pop in the washing machine after a day's use, ready for the next day. Thinx is arguably the market-leader in mainstream period pants. They make slimline sustainable pants that are as fashionable as they are functional. They're made up of four layers; first, a breathable cotton layer to absorb menstrual blood, then an anti-odour fabric, followed by a super absorbent layer and finally, a leak resistant outer material.
As for the existing pollution? One woman hoping to put an end to this is Ella Daish, who launched a kickass petition calling on manufacturers to remove plastic from menstrual products. She's already secured over 100,000 signatures and counting. Here, she tells GLAMOUR her story - and how you can join her plight.[ id="BZeiq97A0J6"]
"It all started rather normally one cold, cloudy day in February; I was enjoying the brief rays of sunshine, looking out for cats to fuss, whilst posting letters on my postal route in Wales. However, something was preventing me from appreciating this and that was the continuous sight of rubbish during my round, it seemed worse than ever with bag after bag of waste strewn across the pavements. After thinking about how much waste was being disposed across the UK, I realised that change must happen.
"I asked myself whilst driving home from work that day 'what could I do about this?', so I began to think about what waste I could reduce in my own life. The following week, when my period began, it dawned on me just how much plastic waste I was creating during my menstrual cycle. Moreover, after some research, I was shocked to discover just how much plastic some menstrual pads contain - up to 90% - which is equivalent to four supermarket bags! Not only do they contain so much plastic, but the volume at which they are being produced and disposed of was a real concern to me, especially as they take over 500 years to decompose.
"More worrying still, the people I discussed this issue with were totally unaware of the plastic content of these products. So it became clear to me that I wanted to raise awareness of this issue and take action to get manufacturers to end period plastic. Subsequently, this compelled me to start an online petition to ‘Make all Menstrual Products Plastic Free’.
"With the problems of single-use plastic gaining huge media attention, it is now clear more than ever that it is having an adverse effect on health, wildlife and the environment. This has naturally put this topic at the forefront of many people’s thoughts, making them consider the role of plastic in our lives, the waste it produces and the damage it causes worldwide. With many companies offering plastic-free versions, it is evident that these products do not need plastic in them and so it is crucial that these mass-produced products become plastic-free so that they inflict minimum damage. It is thus apparent that whilst the use of plastic is appropriate in certain circumstances, it is certainly not essential for our period products.
"So far, the campaign has gained over 100,000 signatures since it began in February and has received overwhelming support with many individuals from all walks of life raising their voices on why this issue matters to them and their reasons for signing, which includes: ‘I am horrified at the amount of plastic in products I didn’t know contained plastic. We need to find alternatives’ and ‘I don’t want plastic near my knicker elastic’.
"In the future I would like to see all mainstream disposable menstrual products changing to become plastic-free worldwide. By signing the petition, you are calling upon manufacturers to take responsibility for the unnecessary plastic they use whilst raising awareness of this important issue. And the great news is, by going green on your flow, by opting for plastic-free alternatives, you can make real change happen!"
Next time you stock up on period products, spare a thought for the Fatberg.
Fed up of the period stigma? Check out this liberating advert by Bodyform.