What role can sustainable period products play in tackling period poverty?
Scotland’s game changing Free Period Products bill is a major step towards eradicating period poverty in Scotland. Should our next goal be planet-friendly periods for all?
Periods and the environment
Each of us uses around 11,000 disposable periods products in our menstruating life. As you can imagine, this number comes with a huge environmental impact.
Disposable tampons and pads are the most commonly used period products and are known to contain up to 90% plastic. According to a UN-sponsored report, 49 billion single-use period products are used every year in the EU alone. Most of them end up in landfill, or worse: in our oceans and waterways. Despite increasing awareness of the impact of disposables, 1.5 billion period products are still flushed down the toilet in the UK every year.
The toxic trio of period poverty
Period poverty is caused by a ‘toxic trio’: the cost of products, a lack of period education, and stigma around periods. Providing free period products to those in need is an important step towards period dignity for all. But we can’t ignore the other two culprits.
We need to talk about periods
Decades of misinformation and period shaming (even by some period product brands!) mean that menstruation is still considered taboo by many. As a pioneering ethical period brand, smashing that taboo has been a major objective for us. When we first started in 2002, people just weren't publicly talking about periods. We wanted to support people in making informed decisions about the products they were using. And in order to evaluate choices and habits, that silence around periods needed to change.
We are so proud that our work has brought sustainable menstrual products to the mainstream, but let’s not kid ourselves, the period taboo lives on. Free period products have been fairly widely available in many places, such as schools for years, but the unspoken nature of this very natural bodily function has stopped the information from reaching those in need.
We need stigma-free period education
If we believe in a culture and environment that supports girls, women and people with periods, we need frank and stigma-busting menstrual health education. Research has shown that young people feel the education they receive focuses too much on just the biological elements of menstruation. Anyone with periods knows that menstruation involves so much more than knowing your ‘follicular’ from your ‘luteinising phase’!
Young people want to learn about the embodied experience of periods, like cramps and hormonal changes, as well as how to deal with them. The best way to debunk these taboos is to encourage an open dialogue and unashamedly talk about these topics. Period education should include discussion about our society’s and media’s attitude towards periods too.
Having seen a gap in current education resources available for educators, we recently launched a free Period Education pack for primary and secondary school teachers in the UK. It’s been developed by Mooncup together with menstrual and sexual health experts. The pack is designed to be a curriculum-related, inclusive, and stigma-busting resource, and it includes many opportunities for discussion about our society’s attitude towards periods.
Sometimes reusable period products are not the answer
Mooncup® supporters often reach out to us as they are keen to explore whether Mooncup could be an answer to period poverty. It is after all a sustainable, long-term solution, removing the need for monthly purchases.
So, while the Mooncup can often be a great solution, as an ethical business, it is important that we can be sure that the Mooncup is being introduced in an environment where it is genuinely wanted and helpful. Understanding the circumstances of the user is key. There are practical points to consider, like access to usage support, clean water for washing hands, and cleaning the Mooncup. We also need to respect people’s preferences for internal or external products.
Sometimes other basic needs simply come first and trying something new is the last thing someone in a state of crisis might wish to do. The points mentioned can also be valid for other reusable period products, such as period pants and reusable pads: they need washing facilities, a place for drying, and a change in a long-term habit.
Reusable period products as a solution for period poverty
We know period poverty doesn’t only touch on people in crisis. With the cost of living crisis intensifying, one in eight Britons says they are going to struggle to afford period products over the next year. In many cases the benefits of the reusables, especially menstrual cups like the Mooncup, are clear. You only need one Mooncup, which can last years and years. There’s no need to stockpile different absorbency pads or tampons and with no monthly repeat purchase, a lot of money is saved.
When reusables, like the Mooncup® menstrual cup, are an appropriate solution, it is also important for the people using them to have access to good support and advice about usage. At Mooncup, we offer a unique Advice Service to all our customers. All our Mooncup Advisors are medically trained nurses or midwives, and they are happy to help with any Mooncup-related questions.
While disposable period products may seem like a cheaper option to offer to those in need, in the long run, they will incur a higher cost to the provider - not to mention our planet. Reusable period products should be a standard option in all period poverty schemes. Our work with many UK and international charities shows that providing reusables, like the Mooncup, can be a real gamechanger and a step closer to a world with a better, shame-free, and dignified period experience for all.
Lena Koskela for Mooncup Ltd