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Sustainability Versus Accessibility

Guest Blogger: Chelsea Fulton

Period products have come a long way - since the use of rags bundled together and placed between the legs in the 1700s, to the first menstrual cups made of aluminum or hard rubber marketed in the late 1800s, to the first patents for tampons filed in the late 1920s and early 1930s, to the much more comfortable and sustainable products offered today. In 2021, if you’re experiencing menstruation, you have a variety of options to choose from, as well as the ability to focus on environmentally-friendly products.

Most menstrual products are not recyclable, and the average menstruating human will use somewhere between 5-15 thousand disposable tampons and pads in their lifetime, significantly contributing to the ever-increasing piles of waste littered around our planet. So the relatively recent innovation o

f reusable pads, reusable tampon applicators or applicator-free tampons, leak proof underwear, and improved menstrual cups, are a welcome change for environmentalists and eco-friendly consumers. For individuals experiencing menstruation, we no longer have to choose between comfort and convenience, or sustainability. On top of that, because the range of period products has increased, sustainability is not only a luxury for the financially well-off.

However, though we’ve come a long way in the types and quality of menstrual products offered, and in opening pathways to be more sustainable in our consumption of these products, there is still a huge disconnect between sustainability and period poverty. Individuals experiencing period poverty often don’t have access to the hygienic resources that are needed to utilize the more eco-friendly menstrual products available. For example, period cups are one of the most cost-effective and eco-friendly products on the market; but if an individual doesn’t have regular access to soap and boiling water, they can’t adequately clean and care for a period cup, or any other product requiring similar maintenance.

So even if these products themselves are more easily accessible and affordable, we’re discounting the qualification requirements to access them at all - having such basic conveniences as running water, appliances, and cleaning supplies. For individuals experiencing financial instability or homelessness, sustainable consumption isn’t really an option.

With that in mind, what can those of us do who are looking to help? First and foremost, we should support providing access to any and all period products for menstruating humans experiencing period poverty. Second, we should consider ways we can support and enact fundamental changes to provide basic necessities (i.e. stable housing, financial security, etc.) to all humans. By marrying these two overarching initiatives, we can take both short- and long-term action in creating a more sustainable way of living without sacrificing quality of life for everyone who experiences menstruation.

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