‘Pants that you just bleed into? How does that work? Don’t you get loads of blood in your
washing machine? That’s disgusting.’
‘Disposable period protection including pads, tampons and applicators are found polluting our
beaches and waterways and killing our marine life. That’s disgusting.’
It’s a bloody shame.
Using disposable period products such as pads and tampons has been considered the ‘norm’ for a long time now, however as we’re realising more and more, that ‘convenience’ has had a HUGE environmental impact. Each person menstruating uses on average 11,000 single use products over their lifetime, which is incredible.
In the UK alone, it’s estimated that between 1.5 and 2 BILLION items of period waste are flushed down our toilets, contributing to the disgusting fatbergs we’ve seen in documentaries like ‘Blue Planet’ and programmes such as ‘War on Plastic’. That’s not even accounting for the plastic packaging that they come wrapped in, nor the cost of producing, shipping and supplying all these goods.
According to the Marine Conservation Society, during beach cleans on UK beaches, an average of 4.8 pieces of single use period protection were found on every 100 metres of beach. Imagine a child digging that up with their bucket and spade!
Treat your bloody lips with respect
Being ‘on’ is often hard enough, between hormone changes with the potential for mood swings in the run up, craving carbs, a sleepless night or two beforehand or suffering with cramps and general achiness during your period. All of this is bad enough, without adding insult to injury through the products we use during our period.
Whether you call it your noo-noo, fanny, flower, front bottom, lady parts, or you’re grown up enough to use it’s actual name, vulva, we pay for the convenience of single use products by giving our delicate ‘bits’ a fairly hard time.
● Chafing from pads rubbing your thighs
● Inadvertent bikini wax from the glue on the back of a pad catching your pubes
● Tampon strings getting caught in your knickers
● Recurring thrush
● Toxic shock syndrome
The bloody truth about your period
Do you remember when you first learned about periods? As a child of the 70’s I don’t think I’m alone in that there was a furtive conversation with my Mum, followed at a slightly later date by her shoving a packet of disposable sanitary pads my way, which was topped up each month.
There was also of course the ‘Tampax Lady’ who came to school and talked a bit more about what periods were and how they worked and then also helpfully gave us some to take home. I remember crying in my bedroom, in floods of tears of both annoyance and embarrassment, trying to work out how to get the flipping things in. For many of us, those formative experiences stay with us and generally we plod along each month using the same brand of products that we have always used.
What if there was a better alternative?
Isn’t it about bloody time to revisit our period protection? In much the same way as many of us are trying to reduce our meat consumption, recycling more and choosing items with less packaging, more eco friendly products are now becoming
more and more widely available.
The more recent focus on climate change and living more sustainably has created a demand for new products, aimed at both reducing the environmental impact of our periods but also just as importantly, making our ‘time of the month’ a damn sight easier.
Menstrual cups are medical grade silicone cups, inserted into your vagina like a tampon where they open up and collect blood which is simply flushed down the toilet and then is reused. They’ve been around for a while and many people swear by them, however post kids, some people also find that their bodies change and internal period protection is no longer appropriate
Cloth Sanitary Pads are also a fantastic alternative and certainly if you’re an disposable pad user, is a simple swap to make, subbing out sweaty, plasticky disposable pads for cloth which can just be chucked in the machine and reused. However the new kid on the block, Period Pants is (rightly) being heralded as a game changer.
Just Pants? You’ve got to be bloody joking? I’ve looked at them and they’re £30 a pair!
As in every area, there are lots of period pants on the market, priced from under a tenner to
almost £30. They all work in pretty much the same way (despite gimmicky advertising claims):
● Comfortable ‘stay-dry’ layer next to your skin, normally cotton or bamboo
● Absorbent layers, to catch the blood
● Waterproof layer, to prevent leaks
● Outer layers these come in a choice of materials, from cotton which are brilliant for sports, right through to control type materials
Things to watch out for when choosing period pants:
Don’t be sucked in by how many ‘ml’ pants will hold. The testing for period pants absorbency how much liquid the whole absorbent area of the pants will hold over a period of time. This isn’t how real life works, when generally the fluid tends to settle over one area. Layers of absorbent material = how absorbent the pants are and generally pants come with 4 or 5 layers of material as standard.
The exception to this of course is when you’re sleeping. Having absorbency just in the gusset of your knickers is absolutely no bloody use when you sleep as you move from your front to your back. Look for knickers with absorbency to the front and rear waistband as standard so that you can sleep well without fear of leaks.
Compared to buying pads or tampons at £3 or £4 a packets, reusable products are definitely more expensive, however, looked after, they will last you for many years. And there’s definitely a positive trade off in paying for comfort. Parents of teens or tweens in particular are seeing the benefits of this type of period protection for their children. No anxiety about going to school when they’re ‘on’ just different knickers that they wear for those few days a month. Simples.
C’mon though….Blood in your washing machine? Gross surely.
Over the whole course of your period, your total ‘flow’ is usually between 5 teaspoons and 14 teaspoons of blood. So each pair of knickers will only need to hold a little bit and, given that most washing machines use around 50 litres of water per cycle, you can see that blood is easily diluted and washed away. Fun fact of the day – did you know that washing in warm or hot water will ‘set’ bloodstains?
Yep, not a lot of people know this, but because blood is a protein stain, as soon as you wash it over blood temp, 36c, you will set the stain. Think of an egg white. Runny at room temperature, set when it is boiled. That’s why you should wash any bloodstains at 30c or less – which is better for the environment anyway as an added Brucie bonus.
It’s easy to care for reusable period protection, whether that’s cloth sanitary pads or period pants. Cool washing (30c or less) on a decent length wash cycle (15 minute rapid wash won’t cut the mustard here) along with your usual washing detergent and maybe a scoop of stain remover. If you’ve got time, we find a cold water soak makes washing dead easy, but throwing
them into the wash without soaking is also fine.
Now that you’ve learned a little more about period pants and reusable period protection, what do you think? Has it persuaded you to change your period habits and try them out yourself, or would you consider them for your child?
Helen Rankin is the founder of Cheeky Wipes & Cheeky Pants, who have been championing
‘Simple Reusables’ since 2008. With 4 kids of her own, she appreciates that switching to
reusable alternatives needs to be easy and along with her crack team, developed the ‘reusable
period protection questionnaire’ to assist in making the swap. Helen spends most of her days
talking about poo, pee and periods and loves to bust taboos. The business was recognised with
a Queens Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development in 2021, celebrating their hard work
over the last 13 years.
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