IMPACT STORY – ENVIRONMENSTRUAL AMBASSADOR

[Cathy Mears]

Cathy is an Environmenstrual Ambassador and Keep Britain Tidy Ambassador plus a children’s book author (the Eco Protection Squad). Cathy is driven to share the information she has learned with as many people as possible so we can all support each other in a kinder, greener world and unite together to turn the tide on waste.
Cathy shares her experience of being an Environmenstrual Ambassador.

Can you tell me about the problem the Environmenstrual Ambassador Programme helps to solve?

There are a few problems the programme helps to solve – normalising the conversations around periods, how to properly dispose of period products, fighting period poverty and equality, putting health of planet and people above anything, keeping companies accountable for their products, and campaigning for free period products for all.  
Before becoming an Ambassador I mainly knew about the impact of plastic items being flushed down the loo from my own research. But I didn’t know as much about the health impact many products have on our bodies or how bad period poverty was.  
I love that the workshops are free for all so there are less barriers for people to overcome with any research, and the messaging by Wen is always supportive – after all, every body is different. It isn’t a case of saying you must not use this, Wen presents the information in a way that allows you to come to your conclusions and think about whether making the change to plastic free is something you can and want to do by presenting facts. 

Can you tell me about a specific person/people who has participated in one of your Environmenstrual Workshops? Now that they’ve participated in a workshop, are they inspired to make a change? 

I run online workshops with a fellow Ambassador whom I met at the Ambassador training programme and have since become good friends with, Hannah from sustainable.period. We have been thrilled with the responses received so far! We ask for attendees to feedback on an anonymous survey so we can see if there is anything we can improve for future workshops and also ask if they will swap to plastic free products. Everyone that responds says they will be making the swap. 
The biggest shock to the people we speak to is the chemicals that are included in the products as well as the sheer number of single use items we use in a lifetime and how that relates to cost to them (health and planet) and how many are flushed down the toilet and into the seas. One person was messaging her sister whilst listening to our workshop to share some information and strongly suggest that she makes a swap to plastic free too! One of the comments from the anonymous feedback stated:  
“The toxicity of the single use products- absolutely blew my mind! I would NEVER have used any of them if I had known.” 

What have you learned about plastic-free periods and how to engage people in this topic? 

The hardest part for the workshops has been keeping engagement active throughout an online session. Hannah and I put our thinking caps on and have tweaked the presentation as a result. We set up an anonymous online poll and quiz within the workshop and keep the chat fairly informal to allow for people to ask questions as we go through the information. 
I feel like I am always learning something new which I then get excited to share. For example the first menstrual cup was designed in the 1930s, which is similar to when tampons as we know them were being produced / tampax was established. That blew my mind so I figured others may be interested to know too. 
After deciding to go plastic free, the biggest worry for people who are curious about taking the first step to use reusables is how they work and if they are right for them. We share some stories about our own experiences as we have very different flows and hope this helps normalise the conversation for them. One person even shared after a session that they hadn’t considered that people may choose one product over another because of their flow vs just assuming a reusable item was the best way forward.  
We always suggest to anyone who wants to try reusables to start small. Invest in 1 item whether that is a pad, pair of pants or a cup. See how it goes and then expand your set once you find the combination that works best for you and your lifestyle. 
I really love running workshops with Hannah as we can bounce ideas off each other. We have plans for our future workshops and want to help set up a raffle for Wen to engage and reach more people.   

What was most surprising to you about your experience delivering workshops? 

What has most surprised me about the workshops is people actually tuning in! Second to that I would say the successes that Hannah and I are having with online workshops is surprising and invigorating. The last session we did ended up lasting almost 2 hours due to questions at the end of it! We have smaller numbers as we want people to feel more comfortable and some of the conversations and questions within the sessions have been incredible as a result. 
We are never sure exactly how many people will turn up and so far the success rate of people telling us they are swapping to plastic free is 99%. So even if it was just 1 person, that could be 7,000 less toxic items thrown down the loo or toxic tampons purchased. When you think of it like that, every single person that makes the swap has such a positive impact on the environment, PLUS their own health. 
I get really excited too as I feel like we are normalising the talk around periods little by little which is amazing. I wish I had these opportunities for accessible information about periods and different flows when I was younger and struggling to get to grips with it.  

Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you from your experience? 

The first session we ran will always stick with me as I felt just a tad nervous! Apart from that, one memory that sticks out the most was having a family member join one of my sessions. I am not shy about being an Ambassador for plastic free periods or talking about my flow as I know it helps break the taboo. But it can be easier to speak about it to strangers than family. Having my family member join, and also learn something, was amazing as they can be the toughest critics and the hardest to convince. 

Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of? Why? 

There are three achievements I am super proud of. The first was becoming an Ambassador and meeting the incredible team. I remember reading the email confirming I was an Environmenstrual Ambassador and jumping up and down with excitement in the office I used to work at. It is a real honour for me to be helping raise this awareness.
 
The second was when my dream team workshop host Hannah and I agreed together that we would commit to monthly workshops. We want to keep reaching as many people as possible and creating a fun, informative and engaging session which was tricky online. We have found a way to do this and the feedback we are getting is so lovely and positive with people saying they will make the swap. We bounce conversations off each other in the sessions, use polls to engage the audience and will share stories of our own experiences to help normalise the topic. It works really well, running a workshop with a fellow Ambassador.  
The third was creating a way to calculate your own cost and environmental impact differences between single use products and reusable products. I couldn’t believe how much I was saving overall by swapping to reusable products – about £2.5k for the next 15 years! One of the drawbacks people I have spoken to have about reusables is the upfront cost but having a way to calculate it based on your own monthly use really helps to see the bigger picture. 

How has the Environmenstrual Ambassador Programme changed you? 

I have learnt a lot from this programme and from my fellow Ambassadors as well as Wen. I definitely speak more about periods than before and I have learnt better ways to discuss plastic free alternatives with people. I remember when I was at school – I used to be so embarrassed about periods and would hate to admit I was on mine, hiding tampons up my sleeve or in my boot, or hiding the wrappers under rubbish if I visited friends’ houses. I have plenty of embarrassing and probably relatable stories but I look back at the girl I was to where I am now and I am so happy to be period proud and hope it helps others.  
The biggest change has been how much more aware I am of period poverty and particularly gender equality when talking about periods. Especially recently where there have been some people come under fire on social media for using ‘people who menstruate’ vs women. I am very conscious now that every time I talk about periods, I do say people. I am educating myself constantly to be inclusive. As a white, middle-class female, there is a lot of education about areas I have never personally experienced, but I am open to learn. And I in turn want to use my voice to help.  
Find out more about the Environmenstrual Campaign, Environmenstrual Week and Environmenstrual Ambassadors. 

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