Menstruation and the Environment

Yooju Choi

There seems to be a lot of unnecessary taboo surrounding menstruation, but it’s necessary that we talk about the extensive amount of plastic waste created by menstrual products. Tampons first come encapsulated by a plastic case and then are wrapped again by plastic. Pads mostly consist of plastic as they are woven with polyester fibers to ensure absorbency. According to an article published by The Guardian, ”1.9 billion women globally are of menstruating age, spending on average 65 days a year dealing with menstrual blood flow.” The taboo and shame surrounding menstruation stops us from addressing the immense amount of plastic created by these products. In addition to talking about straws and plastic bottles, we need to talk about this equally large, if not larger, source of plastic. 

I believe a crucial step in approaching this issue is to advocate for and to implement proper education. In elementary and middle school, walls physically separate children based on gender and taboo is immediately integrated into the curriculum. From a young age, we’re taught to open our products as silently as possible in public restrooms. It makes you think: if there are so many people who menstruate on a regular basis, why does all this shame exist? Reusable options, like the DivaCup or tampons with reusable applicators, should be introduced to girls at an earlier age so the usage of these more sustainable options are normalized.

However, there is much privilege to consider here. Many impoverished women lack the accessibility to menstrual products due to the exorbitant price. The luxury tax on menstrual products decreases accessibility even more. Some women have to choose between meals or buying menstrual products and often resort to using unsanitary socks and paper bags as substitutes. Reusable products like menstrual cups can be pricey and therefore are not fiscally an option for many people. Therefore, menstrual product manufacturers need to start actively thinking about how they can reduce the amount of plastic that goes into their products. A group of women from MIT worked on creating 100% compostable and biodegradable sanitary products made from banana fibers. They “degrade within 6 months of disposal, 1200 times faster than conventional pads, and eliminate the need for incineration, reducing CO2 production.” 

All of it boils down to starting these conversations about the role menstrual products play in creating plastic waste. People should not just pick and choose what they want to talk about in terms of sustainability according to what they’re comfortable talking about. We need to encourage discussions about making these products not only more sustainable but also much more affordable.

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