Of the Women, By the Women, and For the Women

A brief history of women sanitary products

A brief history of women sanitary products

We all have every day habits. Some of them have more or less environmental impact than others. But monthly, these impacts can be very high – in this context, especially for the women. Sadly, public discussion about menstruation seems to be still a taboo and that works pretty well for the companies which are getting a profit out of it. It is not a daily topic and most of the women will keep their traditional and used practice to be hidden from the society. But today, we will talk about female hygienic products: pads, tampons and the whole deal about them. Fact is- it is a big issue. It is economically expensive, can have serious health effects and produces a lot of waste.

Looking back to the history, disposable pads became known in 1890s. Especially doctors started to encourage women to use a protection during their menstruation. Before that, many women were already using different cloths pads. Earlier, they simply used the materials which were available – Egyptian women for example, used the papyrus.  After the discovery of disposable pads, many women did not use them, because it was too expensive.  But with the years and improvements disposable pads became the most commonly used female hygienic product.

The first disposable pads were made of cotton wool. This material was not as absorbent and effective as compared to materials used nowadays and that is why disposable pads changed a lot over the decades. Companies started to utilise materials with sphagnum and polyacrylate superabsorbent gels derived from petroleum. The materials used to manufacture most pads today, are derived from the petroleum industry and forestry. Typically, pads are made with a combination of plastic, cotton, synthetic fibres and wood pulp. So many chemicals for a better effect.

Many women heard the alarm. These materials, used in disposable pads not only stay in the environment, but also remain in our bodies for decades. With the mix of these chemicals we got the recipe for side effects like allergic reactions, hormone disruption, reproductive disorders and others.

In 1980′s the cloth pads returned back. For many years, using cloth pads was considered old fashioned and unhygienic. But some women saw the real economical cost, effects and environmental issues of the disposable pads. Quite the same happened with the tampons, which became even better sort of protection for women, but didn’t not change the environmental impact and health issues. The processing to manufacture these tampons is resource intensive as the farming of cotton requires large amounts of water, pesticides and fertilizers. We have to understand that each of these tampons and pads has an environmental impact of the waste not only the product itself, but the packaging, , as well as the less visible cost of transportation and production.

In India, there are around 355 million menstruating women but only 12 per cent use sanitary napkins. More than 70% of women said that they are unable to afford them. But that is still a huge issue. In an article published in 2013, Down to Earth calculated that 36 million Indian women use sanitary napkins every month.  Assuming average usage of 12 napkins per month, this adds up to 432 million solid pads, weighing 9000 mega tones, enough to cover a landfill of 24 hectares.

Any disposable products in the market have only one goal. Companies want to sell and earn. Definitely disposable sanitary pads and tampons have a huge market all around the world. I haven’t seen television advertisements on reusable cloth pads. I agree that disposable pads and tampons are extremely easy to use and available everywhere. But nobody talks or advertises about some other options!  There is at least one – Menstrual Cup!

The menstrual cup was invented in 1937 but never truly came into the market. This is an option without waste and without any health effects. A lot of women think it is pretty much the best option available today. You insert it like a tampon, empty out as needed and clean with hot water. It is reusable, contains no dioxin, no rayon and is easy to maintain. It is made of natural latex or silicon. It is not only the most eco – friendly but also the most affordable and healthy of all options in the market.

For those who prefer external –use products, there are greener options too. Reusable cloth pads are one of these options. Unfortunately they require some energy, water and soup but they do save on overall resource use, avoid plastic production and create minimal waste.

I know that changing habits like these is particularly difficult. Marketing studies show that often women will buy the same brand of pads as their mothers.  But to those of us who know that there are more important elements to our consumer choices than brand loyalty, it is worth it to give the alternatives a try!

 

In the future we want to share more guidance and reference from the people who have already used the menstrual cups. It is definitely an alternative which women aren’t aware of. We are inviting you to share your opinion, ideas and experiences with us! Already using menstrual cup? Help us to spread the word! (info@vatavaran.org)

Katja Polc, Vatavaran

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