Plastic Free Periods is trending this International Women’s Day

City to Sea's innovative campaign empowers women and prevents plastic pollution at source

As our awareness and understanding of the climate and ecological emergencies grow, more and more community groups, charities and individuals are working to equip younger generations to live sustainably. Education that explores nature connection, body literacy, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, compassion and inclusivity, personal and community empowerment and global issues all have crucial roles to play in our journey to creating a new way of living together.

With a challenge of this scale it’s crucial that we understand the root causes of our unsustainable behaviours, which are largely rooted in social injustice and inequality. In 2017 a coalition of scientists, economists, policymakers, researchers, and business people published Project Drawdown, ranking the top 80 ways to tackle climate change. Many people were surprised to see that Number 6 on this list was Educating Girls, and number 7 was Family Planning.

City to Sea, a non-profit organisation who campaign to prevent plastic pollution at source, are combining female health education with environmental awareness-raising through their campaign Plastic Free Periods.

Historical and cultural taboos and stigma around menstruation have prevented people from receiving proper education about what is happening in their bodies. People are unaware of what’s normal, what products they can use to help manage their periods and how those products might impact the environment.

The toxic combination of societal shame and lack-of-education has created a growing environmental problem.

  • Currently a staggering 4.3 billion tampons, period pads and liners are used in the UK every year with most of them containing single-use plastic in some form.
  • Research shows that disposable menstrual pads sold by most big brands contain around the same amount of plastic as 5 carrier bags. Tampons also contain a plastic weave, which is hidden from citizens.
  • An estimated 1.5 – 2 billion of these are flushed in the UK every year, creating sewer blockages and ending up as pollution on our beaches or in our ocean.
  • Menstrual products are now the fifth most common item found on Europe’s beaches - more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery, straws or even plastic bags.

What a bloody disaster! But the tide is turning. There are now a huge number of sustainable products helping people across the globe to turn the tide on plastic pollution from periods. These products include organic/plastic-free disposable tampons, pads and liners; reusable tampon applicators; menstrual cups, period pants and washable pads.

Campaigns like City to Sea’s ‘Plastic Free Periods’, the Women’s Environmental Network’s ‘Environmenstrual’ and Ella Daish’s petition to supermarkets have been working to make environmentally friendly period products more accessible for all, through engaging high-street retailers, manufacturers, the NHS, government, community groups and schools.

  • The Environmenstrual Coalition – a group of more than 60 organisations have been working to improve availability and access of sustainable menstrual products in the UK. This movement had meant that in the past year more than 8 new plastic-free products have been introduced across 5 major high-street retailers in the past year.
  • More than 8 new plastic-free products have been introduced across 5 major high-street retailers in the past year.
  • Thanks to Ella Daish’s petition both Aldi and Sainsburies ditched single-use plastic from their tampon applicators last year.
  • In the past 5 years google searches for ‘menstrual cup’ have increased by 300%.
  • Hey Girls’ Pads for Dads campaign engaged fathers with the subject of periods, providing a guide to help start the conversation with their daughters.
  • City to Sea campaigned for the Department for Education to offer plastic-free products to schools as part of their period poverty scheme, and now schools can order organic tampons and pads, reusable pads and menstrual cups for students.
  • City to Sea’s free school program Rethink Periods will have reached more than 31,000 students in the last 6 months alone.

Plastic Free Periods coordinator Jasmine Tribe said -

“It’s been amazing to see this movement snowball in the last few years. Not only are we empowering women to take care of their bodies and the planet, we are also working collaboratively and across sectors, creating strong bonds and community. We can only have environmental justice when we have social justice, and for social justice to manifest we need gender equality.”

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