If you're like me, you feel overwhelmed when you see images of trash piling up around our world — the plastic in our oceans, the damage to our atmosphere. Every April 22, Earth Day urges us to reflect on our relationship with our planet. But what about the other 364 days fo the year?
As human beings, what can we do to care for our planet? As one person, what can I do? I often ask myself if the products I use, especially the ones marketed to me as a woman, are environmentally-friendly. The answer? Not always — especially when it comes to menstrual products.
Many disposable pads and tampons contain toxic chemicals; their materials, including plastic packaging and applicators, take centuries to biodegrade. Over an average woman’s lifetime — approximately 38 years of menstruation — her use of disposable menstrual products will create an estimated 250 to 300 pounds of trash. When you consider America's 162 million women, plus the billions of women and girls around the world, that's a staggering amount of trash.
So far, I've probably created about 70 pounds of trash just by using disposable period products.
Fortunately, I have a choice. I can choose to limit my environmental footprint, starting by using sustainable, reusable menstrual products. This year, after learning more about this issue through Days for Girls International, I have resolved to switch to reusable pads and menstrual cups.
From the very beginning, sustainability has been integral to the Days for Girls movement. CEO and Founder Celeste Mergens first tried to help an orphanage in Kenya by distributing disposable pads; the result was almost worse than the girls having nothing at all, because they had nowhere to safely dispose of the products and were even tempted to reuse and share them due to the recurring cost. The best solution turned out to be a design for a reusable pads — the DfG Kit, which lasts up to 3 years. (We’ve heard feedback from some cases that lasted five years!)
Menstrual cups are another sustainable option — one that can last up to 10 years. In select regions, Days for Girls Enterprises have begun offering DfG Kits with menstrual cups. Cups are not always considered age or culturally appropriate, but our volunteers and staff have reported that interest is growing.
Consider the sustainable benefits of reusable pads and menstrual cups — both economically and environmentally. Whichever reusable option a woman chooses, she is both saving money and saving the planet from harmful waste.
As more countries consider the example set by Kenya, which has completely banned plastic bags, public policy and grassroots efforts to improve environmental sustainability will include promoting eco-friendly and reusable menstrual products. If 20 billion pads are thrown away in the United States alone, think of how much less waste will exist on our Earth as more people here use DfG Kits or other reusable products.
Periods are a natural part of women’s lives. Celebrating the power of our bodies each month shouldn’t be a choice between our own health or the health of Mother Earth. Sustainable menstrual products allow women to protect themselves and protect the planet. What’s more powerful than that?
Genevieve Jesse is a senior at Seattle University, studying international relations and French.