Menstruation is something that is affecting nearly ½ the population nearly ¼ of the time- and yet it is still considered too taboo to be discussed very publicly. However, recently we have been hearing more and more about tampons in the media: people are angry that tampons are taxed as ‘luxury goods’ when, in reality, they are not a luxury at all, but a necessity. Groups of protestors have been gathering outside Downing Street demanding that this tax, which women have been paying since 1973 when the government ruled that tampons were ‘non-essential items’ be eliminated. At first glance, these protestors, as well as the journalists supporting them, seem to have a good point: why are tampons taxed when they really are quite essential, especially a whole host of other items are tax exempt including medical supplies, helicopters and edible sugar flowers?!
However, what these protesters and journalists aren’t telling us, is the negative impact tampons can have on both our bodies and the environment. Maybe the real issue up for debate isn’t whether the cost of tampons is out of date, but whether tampons themselves will soon be a thing of the past?
The threats to the environment that tampons pose are too great to be ignored any more. Everyone knows exactly where you put a tampon to use it, but no one really acknowledges where it goes next… The average woman will use and, then throw away, anything from 8,000 to 17,000 tampons in her lifetime. In the United States alone an estimated 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown away every year, and, because of health risks, they can’t be recycled. The only way to safely dispose of them is either incarceration or in a landfill site. However, tampons take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Commercial tampons and pads contain harmful chemicals, including pesticides and dioxin, a serious environmental pollutant, which are then released into the earth.
These chemicals can also present health risks to women using them, another factor that the protestors tend to overlook! Dioxin has been found to have links to immune system repression, reproductive issues and even cancer in humans, which certainly makes me feel slightly uneasy about putting it somewhere so delicate!
Tampons are specifically designed to be as absorbent as possible, and, while this is definitely useful in some respects, it can also have harmful consequences. They absorb everything- both the good and the bad. The vagina is full of tiny micro-organisms that work to maintain a healthy pH balance, and sticking a tampon, which is effectively a sponge, into middle of it, absorbs the fluids and good bacteria that help keep you healthy. This can lead to a plethora of problems, including irritation and even infection.
It gets worse. Tampons can also lead to, potentially fatal, Toxic Shock Syndrome, which is caused by tampons that are left in too long, leading to bacteria growth and infections. The fibres in a tampon can stick to the walls of the vagina, causing tiny abrasions, which make it much easier for harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
So, what are we left with? Environment harming, bacteria causing, chemical filled little things that are, as we’ve already discussed, sillily expensive. The average woman will spend about £45 per year on tampons, so, say she menstruates for forty years, that’s £1,800 over her lifetime. The average woman will have around 500 periods during her life, so think of how often she is exposing her body to potentially harmful chemicals and the risk of infection.
This is all a bit doom and gloom, but there is a bright side, and there is something you can do to save the environment, your money and yourself. Reusable, environmentally friendly alternatives are becoming increasingly popular. A lot of women are opting for the menstrual cup as an alternative: it is washed with soapy water, and therefore is not thrown away like a conventional tampon; it contains no dioxide or pesticides; there are no loose fibres that can get stuck and cause infection; and, it’s cheaper because you don’t have to buy new ones every month! Machine washable fabric pads are also becoming increasingly available.
It seems that there is hope for the future of menstruation after all!
May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day, and the whole of May is Menstravaganza! Find more information here: http://menstrualhygieneday.org/