This is my exciting new purchase. Plastic-free, all natural panty pads. It even says plastic-free on the box. How cool is that?
I’ve been putting off the sanitary pad issue for a while now, partly out of denial, and partly because I thought I was going to have to go the re-useable route. I don’t have any issues with the re-useable route – I did some research into it a little while ago, and there are plenty of options out there, from the Mooncup for those who prefer tampon-type protection, to handmade pads by companies such as Minki and Imse Vimse. S, my eco-knowledgeable MA tutor, even hinted at the sew-your-own option.
There's chlorine in my panty pads?
Why use re-useable or natural pads? Clearly, re-useable means less waste, plastic or otherwise. But while this is obviously a big concern for me, there are other reasons too. Where the typical modern pad is concerned, it all comes down to the chemicals used to make them. And there’re a lot of chemicals.
The main function of sanitary pads is absorbency, and today this is typically achieved through the use of wood pulp. Not any old wood pulp, but chlorine bleached wood pulp.
There’s chlorine in my panty pads? I had no idea. But it gets worse… Think about all those adverts for Always or Bodyform that shout about how their pads are thinner yet more absorbent, so you can feel comfortable doing womanly things such as playing volleyball, or cycling in hot pants and a bikini. How do they make this so? By adding polyacrylate gels. Yes, there’s that word, ‘poly’ – a plastic. In addition to these gels, there’s a leak proof barrier of polyethylene, and even the main outer is composed of polypropylene.
This is a bit scary: I hadn’t realised the pad itself was full of plastic, I was only thinking of the packaging it comes wrapped in.
And the consequences? Other than the environmental concerns – from extraction and processing of the materials, 90% of which are petroleum products, to the problem of disposal – there are health ones. The high level of synthetic materials used causes many women thrush-like irritation, and the chlorine-bleaching of the core produces dioxin as a by-product, a chemical that is linked to cancer, endometriosis, and immune suppression. Yikes, and I’m putting this against one of the most sensitive areas of my body.
In the olden days
I’ve been thinking about what women used for their periods before the advent of the modern sanitary towel. And it is a modern thing, especially as far as the plastic content is concerned, which has only come into use in the last twenty-odd years, well within my lifetime. Rags seems to be the general answer, which basically brings me back to the suggestion of making my own pads.
I guess the modern pad is a reflection of modern life and, to an extent, the emancipation of women. Women have both the right and the ability to do everything men can do, and the tampon or panty pad helps us to see this through. Before they were around, women often had to remove themselves from society during their period, whether out of hygiene or because of their culture. And still do today in some parts of the world.
So panty pads are a good thing; they enable me to live an active life. But there’s no reason why they have to poison me or the environment in the meantime.
Me and mine
Why did I put off changing my sanitary towels for so long? Firstly, until I sat down to write this entry, I hadn’t realised how bad my ‘normal’ sanitary towels were. Secondly because – as always – I was put off by the cost of re-useable pads. I know it’s a one off cost so once you’ve got a set, that’s that, at least for a while, but to buy enough to get me through a period without having to wash them every single day is going to set me back in the region of £50. I know it makes more sense in the long-run to make this investment, but that half of my brain has trouble computing with the part that says, ‘But it’s £50!’
So, when I visited my eco-hippy friends C&D a couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany:
‘D, what do you use for your period?’ I asked.
‘Natural pads,’ she said, rummaging in the corner of the room for a moment before reappearing with a box of Natracare. ‘It’s better if you don’t use tampons,’ she says. ‘And you should never use branded pads because of the blue stuff,’ referring to the colour the polyacrylate gels give the liners.
Well, that told me. And I think it’ll change my life. These new Natracare pads are so soft and comfortable I keep forgetting I’m even wearing them. Ironically, this makes them even more successful at female emancipation than the typical brands. Ultimately, my plan is still to go the re-useable route, but at least for now I’m not putting any plastic in the bin.