You have looked at all the options available to you, and you’ve decided that you prefer sanitary pads. Sometimes with wings, sometimes without wings. Depending on your mood and your time in the flow. But have you ever wondered what happens to that pad once you dispose of it? Where does it go? These are important questions to ask in the age of enlightenment, when we are looking for more sustainable ways of living and protecting our Earth. In a time that we are trying to nullify our carbon footprint, these are questions that you must ask yourself.
Is it safe to burn used sanitary pads?
You have adhered to the request pasted behind the doors of public bathrooms to not flush sanitary products, and have opted to dispose of it in the provided bin. Most of the time these bins are simply emptied out with the rest of the trash, and it goes to either an incinerator or a landfill. Although incineration is the better option, it still releases harmful gases into the air. But burning waste at a low temperature is even more dangerous, as it releases toxic and carcinogenic dioxins into the atmosphere.
Now take the harmful gases and dioxins of each pad, and multiply that by 113,000 tonnes per year. Do you see the problem? There are however innovative ways being found to combat this problem, as you can see here at Disposing sanitary pads made easy, pollution free, thanks to this B’luru woman | The News Minute The problem is that it is not yet freely and commercially available.
Although sanitary pads are still bound to end up in a landfill somewhere, it is indeed possible to use a more organic pad (like ladyanion pads) that is biodegradable. Not only do they degrade in a much shorter span of time, but they also contain much less plastic components than their commercial cousins. The problem remains with the wrapping and packaging, but this issue is slowly being addressed as well. Even in developing and third world countries, there is great movement towards more sustainable ways to handle menstrual waste.
There is however the hard truth that green pads aren’t as green as their manufacturers would have you believe. The sanitary pad still needs to be leak proof, which requires the plastic lining at the bottom. The sanitary pad must still be able to stick to the underwear to avoid slippage, which requires glue. The ingredients of green sanitary pads leaves a mark on the environment by harvesting bamboo and wood pulp, which of course means deforestation. A good article to read regarding this can be seen here at Not so green: The myth of the biodegradable sanitary pads – The Financial Express So what now?
Australian-born Kathy Walking is the founder of Eco Femme, and has finally found a truly eco-friendly alternative to the traditional sanitary pad. Foregoing all commercial sanitary pads, she has discovered that cloth pads have the smallest carbon footprint of them all. Not only is her reusable cloth pad eco-friendly, but once it does go in the ground eventually, it has a 100% degradable rating. It further reduces the carbon footprint by being made from old clothing, which starts solving the problem of ‘trend waste’. What is ‘trend waste’? This comes from people following fashion trends and quickly throwing away clothes as they go out of style. Although this solves many problems, people started asking how hygienic it is. It turns out that it is much more hygienic and healthier than the chemically and plastic laden sanitary pads that most people are used to. Especially when considering cotton cloth pads, which offers all the benefits of traditional sanitary pads without the plastic waste and harmful chemicals. Another great article to read on this subject can be seen here Is green menstruation possible? (downtoearth.org.in)
Let us for a moment consider the fact that men play a big role in all of this. The whole idea of sanitary pads started out as a green product, but due to money, greed and the patriarchy wanting a woman’s menstrual cycle to be as discreet and invisible as possible, alternatives were created that made menstrual pads one of the leading causes of landfills. But in our modern day and age where we can now openly speak about menstruation without men flinching in disgust, the conversation is also now open to more sustainable ways of managing a woman’s period in the most comfortable way possible.
The green men movement has also gained traction due to traditional pads being expensive, and most low-income households simply cannot afford to buy monthly menstrual products. Having said that, the tight fist also comes into play when a once-off, sustainable and reusable option is offered. This leaves women caught between a rock and a hard place.
But the hope is there as the topic is being discussed in classrooms and boys are being properly educated on the subject of menstruation. They no longer get false information from the internet or from friends, but from reputable sources which opens their eyes to what a woman goes through on a monthly basis. This means that the younger generation of men will be the ones to take our hands and lead with us a new age in menstrual products.
Go for green
For obvious reasons you cannot always rely on reusable pads. Active lifestyles and swimming simply does not agree with it. Therefore other green options needs to be explored. Reusable sponges and menstruation cups are your best options when it comes to dipping your toes into the water during that swim meet or diving into the cool waters of the ocean. For the woman that is on the go or sweating it out in the gym, period pants and panties are an excellent option.
All of these have been proven to be exceptionally green, as they have a very long lifespan, and even at the end of their life they are highly compostable and biodegradable accept menstruation cup of course because it is made of silicon. The recyclable process for silicon is very complex and silicon compound doesn’t biodegrade.