Do we need to disassociate ending period poverty from sustainability?
The last week of November 2020 will forever be a monumental week in human rights history. It was the week that Scotland became the first country in the world to end period poverty. The life-changing vote to provide free sanitary ware to anyone who needs them was the result of four years of campaigning lead by Monica Lennon, MSP. It’s a win for human rights, a win for female dignity and a win for Scotland’s place in global change. I recall when free sanitary ware started being distributed through schools, colleges and universities in August 2018. I was doing litterpicks/beach cleans regularly and wasn’t best pleased about the plastic tampon holders that were being washed up on the shores. Whilst free period products are unlikely to be the more expensive (marketing BS) plastic applicator products, seeing those washed up 'beach whistles' prompted me to consider, "should free period products be sustainable?". But was that thought fair?
A question of privilege
Whether it's reusable like menstrual cups and period pants or non-reusable natural fabric products from Hey Girls or Natracare, these products are a bit more expensive and so they become a question of affordability and privilege. But for girls and women who can afford it – I believe we should all be choosing plastic free, sustainable period products. It’s a win win for all involved. For us, it’s safer for our bodies as there are less toxins. If we choose reusables it’s better for our bank balance. For the planet, it’s safer from production through to disposal - no more 'beach whistles' littering our shore lines. And as the majority of sustainable period products are dominated by small players, we support independent makers or smaller businesses. We vote for people and planet with our bank cards. And the more girls and women who choose sustainable, the more we offset the damage being done by plastic disposable period products.
What’s the cost?
For girls and women who have to use what’s distributed for free, i.e. pads or tampons - much of this will be plastic and toxic, for them and for the planet. But it’s cheaper. Or is it?
A reusable menstrual cup costs around £10 - £15. If the Scottish Government was to buy in bulk – they potentially could pay less than the retail price. This is a one off cost and if a girl or woman chooses to use a cup, they will use it for anything up to 9 years! For a monthly period product spend of just £2, the cup would have paid for itself in the first year. Of course, a cup also has to be washed out so for girls or women who do not have access to clean water, this would be an issue. So as long as she has access to clean water, this is an option that is safe for the user, the planet and is economically a big winner.
Period pants are another reusable product that can save a lot of waste and money in the long run. But again, they need to be washed and this could present a problem for younger girls who might be too embarrassed to put worn pants in the wash.
What about the disposables? The easiest switch for all to make. But it’s potentially the most expensive in terms of Government spending. Plastic free pads and tampons, made from natural fibres are better for her and for the planet however, they do still produce waste. But if it’s to end period poverty and give women dignity, then that has to be priority doesn’t it?
Sustainable end to period poverty?
I started writing this article with my head in the space that we do need to decouple sustainability from solving period poverty. But as I wrote my thoughts down I actually believe there are huge benefits to having the sustainability message as a part of ending period poverty.
Ending period poverty is far more important than making sure it’s done sustainably from the outset. If the super rich can continue polluting the planet with their private jets, then underprivileged girls and women are free to pollute the planet in order to gain a basic dignity of life. Solving period poverty sustainably is a process that starts first with ending the blight of millions of women around the world, educating and encouraging the more privileged among us to choose to reuse, and then working on providing sustainable options free to those who need them.
About Undisturbed's startup dream...
As a purpose driven startup, we have a dream that every single human on this planet has access to clean and dignified bathroom and showering facilities. Not having this basic human right is particularly problematic for millions of girls and women who suffer more every month during menstruation.