Is Your Period Polluting the Planet?

Getting your period every month for 38 years, give or take, is pretty sucky. As a fellow menstruating human I feel the pain. The last thing you need is someone to make you feel bad about the environmental impact of your menstrual waste.

But, do you really love pads and tampons so much that you wouldn’t consider an alternative?

Getting your period is a natural phenomenon out of your control, but the way you choose to manage it, is most likely, within your control.

If you haven’t me yet, firstly HELLO! And secondly, you may not know (yet) that I am an advocate of menstrual cups and period underwear. These products are reusable period management products that I believe will help you to have a better period. Better from a comfortable, less imposing on your normal life kind of way, as well as better for the environment.

period polluting planet

Waste from your period

The amount of waste produced from your period is not something you may have ever considered before. Don’t feel bad about this. I don’t think it’s something often spoken about. But once you do learn about it, it’s one of those things you can’t forget and hopefully won’t ignore.

Reusable period products are gaining wider popularity today, however, single-use pads/sanitary napkins and tampons are still the most widely used period management products that are creating an alarming amount of menstrual waste.

Menstrual waste is the waste produced by a menstruating person. This may include disposable pads and tampons that are used in managing menstruation and then disposed of as waste after use.

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. Please refer to my Affiliate Disclosure for more information.

How much menstrual waste are you making?

I invite you to consider for a moment how much menstrual waste you may be creating over your lifetime if you are using disposable period products, such as pads for example.

Let’s say you get your period for four days every month. Your period starts when you are 14 and finishes up for menopause when you are 52, totalling 38 years of periods. In this time, you may experience pregnancy which will reduce the number of periods, or you may have shorter or longer periods, but for illustrative purposes I am will focus on the big picture average.

For your average four day period it would be safe to estimate you would use around twenty pads, or a combination of pads and tampons equating to around twenty items.

How did I calculate twenty? Well, based on recommended hygiene practices you should change your pad once every four hours. If you’re sleeping well you probably sleep for around eight hours. So for 16 hours of the day you’re awake and if you’re changing your pad every four hours, then you will use four pads over the course of the day.

I assume you will then use one overnight pad for your eight hours of sleeping which means for the total day you will use five pads. Five pads per day for four days of your period is twenty pads for every period. Twenty pads on their own may not sound like too much really…but as we know, we are having many, many periods over our lifetime. 

Let’s say you repeat the same for every year of your menstruating life, you’re all of a sudden using 240 pads a year and 9,120 pads over your lifetime (38 years of periods). Think of how much your bathroom bin fills up from each pad you wrap up and throw in there and then try and imagine this 9,000 times more. I know it’s a bit hard to really imagine because the sheer extent of it is huge.

While I know you are a wonderful and unique individual, you are but only one person. If every menstruating person on the planet is doing the same then we are looking at a bloody HUGE amount of waste. Just think, on any given day it’s reported there are 800 million people menstruating. Yes 800 MILLION. 800 million multiplied by five pads on that given day equals 4 billion pads.

On a single day. Of course not every one of these people will be using pads or tampons, for various reasons, but even if a fraction are, we are still looking at a lot of menstrual waste.

Why does it matter how many pads you’re wasting?

So what’s the big deal of it all? Well, if pads biodegraded in a reasonable amount of time then perhaps it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that pads are comprised primarily of plastic. It seems weird and prior to this knowledge I don’t think I would have described a pad as being made out of plastic. But as you will see below, it’s true.

What are pads made out of?

I went on a fact-checking mission to verify the ‘ingredients’ in your average pad. It’s actually not super easy to find this information but I did end up finding on the Kimberly-Clark website the list of ingredients contained in their U by Kotex pads.

You can see in the ingredients list below, which I obtained from https://www.kimberly-clark.com/en-us/brands/ingredients/consumer/kotex that there is mention of polyethylene and polypropylene in a number of the pad components. These are fancy sounding names for various types of plastic.

Pads made from plastic

Why plastic is a stage-five clinger

Plastic has certainly been getting a bad wrap recently, and for good reason. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you may already know a thing or two about the longevity of plastic. The reality is, plastic is a stage-five clinger. It ain’t going anywhere, for a very long time. Like, for at least the forseeable 500 years.

If pads are plastic and plastic is here for a long time, then this means your used pads, made from plastic, are here for the long run too. The potential number of pads we are using and disposing of each year, all across the world, are filling up landfill when disposed of correctly and ending up in worse places, like our waterways, when not correctly disposed.

It’s a scary thought when you take a moment to really think about it and it makes sense that, if there is a viable alternative to single-use period products, then why wouldn’t you consider using it?

Alternative reusable period products – that make your period better!

The funny thing is, these alternative reusable products actually make your period experience a whole lot better too. With a menstrual cup you don’t need to worry about changing your pad or tampon every couple of hours, your cup can stay in for up to 12 hours. You don’t need to worry about packing a whole pile of pads or tampons when you go travelling, you can just take one cup. And you don’t need to be spending money every month on products you are literally going to use once and throw away. A menstrual cup can be purchased for a small outlay and then be used for up to 10 years.

With period underwear, you don’t have to worry about wearing your old, daggy underwear when you have your period or staining your good underwear, you can wear period-proof underwear that is both comfortable, sexy and absorbent. You don’t have to worry about any odours, sweating or not feeling fresh because period underwear will keep you fresh and dry all day long. And no more uncomfortable, oversized pads that chafe and make you feel like you’re wearing a nappy, period underwear contains absorbent layers so you don’t need to wear a pad at all.

Unless you love your pads and tampons and can’t imagine a better life without them, then why wouldn’t you give the alternatives a try? If not for anything else, do it for the planet.

If you’d like to learn more about menstrual cups or period underwear then please check out the following:

What on earth is a menstrual cup?!

Meet Period Underwear, your new favourite undies

And my personal favourite,

10 Ways Using A Menstrual Cup Will Make Your Life Better

Ellie The Better Period Author bio image

Ellie Heasman

The Better Period

Ellie Heasman is a period blogger and founder of The Better Period. Ellie helps people on their journey to a better period through introducing them to the world of menstrual cups and period underwear, and sharing knowledge about the menstrual cycle and fertility awareness. You can join in the better period conversations on Instagram @thebetterperiod_ or find out more about Ellie here.

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