Environmenstrual Coalition raises concerns with Department for Education over its advice to schools on how pupils should use reusable menstrual products
In an open letter, businesses, organisations and charities are urging the Department for Education to amend their advice given to schools on how pupils should use reusable menstrual products.
Last month the government introduced free menstrual products in schools, in a move to alleviate period poverty. Schools have been given a list of menstrual products to choose from, including environmentally friendly options such as washable pads and menstrual cups.
Nastasha Piette-Basheer, Environmenstrual Campaign Manager, Wen says “Some of the guidance on reusables is misleading and could potentially pose a barrier for young people to use these products”
The letter states ‘Reusable pads have been in use for decades, both commercially and informally. After use, the usual advice is to roll up used pads and place them in a bag – special bags are not required as any liquid is soaked up by the pad. Once home, soak briefly in cold water then wash in a washing machine or hand wash and dry. Wetting used pads immediately after use and then bagging them can cause them to smell, due to the introduction of water, and may cause a build-up of bacteria and mould. There is no such guidance around other reusable products such as cloth nappies.’
‘General recommendations are that people swap their pads for fresh ones about as often as they would a disposable pad, and rinse their used pads out in cool water at the end of each day, then store them somewhere with adequate airflow until laundry day’.
Ruby Raut, founder of WUKA period pants says, “There is a lack of education around reusable menstrual products and how to use them. This has created a fear, embarrassment and barriers for young girls to use sustainable and reusable menstrual products.”
“But why is it okay to carry germs full of snot in a tissue paper in your pocket and not another bodily function such as your own blood?”
“You can actually take your reusable pads or period underwear and wash them at home at your convenience by hand or in the washing machine and clean the underwear like you would with your regular underwear. It’s as simple as that.”
Concern around the advice given on menstrual cups was also raised. ‘With menstrual cups, the general advice is to empty, and rinse or wipe every 4-8 hours. Users get used to knowing when a cup needs emptying. While rinsing a menstrual cup between emptying and re-inserting is the best option, instructing users to wash the cup every time after emptying it could put pupils off using them. This is especially the case if toilet cubicles do not have sinks. Users can simply bring a small bottle of water into the cubicle to rinse the cup if there is no sink available, or a wipe with a tissue will suffice in the interim. Once home they can rinse and clean properly between uses as advised by the manufacturers.’
Kate Metcalf, Co-Director, Wen says “Period education around the range of menstrual products is crucial to enable students to access these products safely and with confidence. Equally, school staff need to be provided with vital information about all of the different products available to make sure the new period product scheme is fully enjoyed by students.”
Jasmine Tribe from City to Sea, an Environmenstrual Coalition member, is also concerned by the recommendation that children use wet wipes.
“The last thing we need is more single-use wipes! Flushed wipes block our sewers and lead to all sorts of nasty items polluting our waterways and ocean.
“It’s so important that school staff are not just comfortable talking about periods and period products, but also what to do with those products once they’ve been used. Nothing but pee, toilet paper and poo should be flushed down the loo, everything else should go in the bin. Schools should ensure that every toilet cubicle has a bin, including in the boys toilets.”
The new period product scheme is an important step in the right direction towards addressing period poverty. But we must ensure that the provision of menstrual products takes into account the nuanced ways users can manage their periods with confidence and comfort. The only way we can ensure this happens is with unbiased and holistic education around all of the different menstrual products available.
The online version of this letter is live here
Department for Education guidelines