Menstrual products are a significant source of waste in Europe – generating around 590,000 tonnes of waste annually – and there is work to be done to make eco-friendly, toxic free and plastic free products readily available for menstruators.
This week, we want to amplify and magnify the work happening all across Europe and beyond. Whether it’s raising awareness, breaking the taboo, skilling up educators, demanding action from producers and suppliers, or asking for policy change at the national and European level… we need to start talking about periods, and start taking action to build a better world!
There are loads of easy ways to get involved in #environmentstrualweek whether you menstruate or not:
GET EMPOWERED: tune in to all the various events happening across Europe to educate and inform on the topic of menstrual products.
FIND YOUR PERIOD PEOPLE: see our list of active member organisations taking part in #environmenstrualweek to tune in to online events and join campaigns in your language.
MAKE THE SWITCH: If you can, commit to making the switch to toxic-free, plastic-free, and zero waste period products, and share your story with the hashtag #environmenstrualweek.
The Environmenstrual Week movement has become a force to be reckoned with. Each year, Wen releases an action toolkit which is shared widely with their Environmenstrual Coalition partners, supporters and the general public. The toolkit includes loads of ideas on how to take action – from activities like making your own pad, hosting a period quiz, lobbying manufacturers, or raising awareness about period poverty with your local government officials. It is filled with lots of powerful posts and images to raise awareness about the environmental and health impacts of conventional period products. The toolkit provides people with the tools and resources to make a difference about #plasticfreeperiods in their communities.
As Environmenstrual Week comes into its third year of action, it has become clear that access to sustainable period products is not only a health and environmental issue, it’s a social justice issue. The fact that the cheapest menstrual product options are often those with the most potential to damage our health and planet makes this a social and environmental justice issue. It means people with the least power have the greatest exposure to dangerous products. That’s why Environmenstrual Week is also about fighting for period parity.
All of this and more is why Wen are motivated to get the Environmenstrual Week message out even further bringing it to a European audience in 2020 with the help of our brilliant partners at #breakfreefromplastic!
More information on the origins of #environmenstrual week:
For many menstruators, the environmental impacts of menstrual products probably do not come as a surprise – we see the realities of the waste problem every month. Yet, these products have been overlooked in legislation and could play a key role in tackling our waste problem.
Single-use menstrual products create serious environmental impacts throughout their lifecycle – from production to end-of-life. In the 28 EU Member States in 2017, research found that: more than 49 billion menstrual products were consumed, resulting in an annual generation of around 590,000 tonnes of waste from these products alone. Worse still, typically 87% of these products then end up in landfills, while 13% are incinerated – creating knock on impacts for the climate and our environment.
However, this is only where products are properly disposed of. The other challenge with menstrual products is where they are flushed down the toilet, and end up in our oceans and water systems creating economic and environmental consequences. Single-use menstrual products are the fifth most commonly found item found on European beaches.
One of the stand-out benefits to switching to reusable menstrual products is the reduction of waste generated. If only 20% of menstruators in the EU switch to reusable products, the amount of waste could be reduced by 100,000 tonnes per year!
More information on periods and the environment:
Policy recommendations to make menstrual products, nappies and wet wipes circular
Existing measures & policy recommendations to minimise the impact of menstrual products, nappies & wet wipes
The environmental & economic costs of single-use menstrual products, baby nappies & wet wipes
Applicators Unwrapped: the problem with plant-based plastic applicators
From the amount of waste generated by these products one can already imagine how much it would cost for public administrators and consumers themselves to manage them in public sewer systems, treatment and clean-ups. First of all, collection costs related to this waste stream in Europe may be significant, varying from €1 per inhabitant per year in some regions of Greece and Italy, to almost €10 in Ireland.
In addition, there are costs resulting from the incineration and landfill of such waste. The total typical charge to landfill of one tonne of municipal waste in the EU (the tax, plus the middle of the range of gate fees) ranges from €17.50 in Lithuania to up to €155.50 in Sweden. The total typical charge for incineration (tax plus the middle of the range of gate fees) for one tonne of municipal waste in the EU ranges from €46 in Czech Republic to €174 in Germany.
But the public costs associated with these items do not stop there. There is also the marine litter costs, including the costs of: (i) cleaning up the beaches, (ii) the obstruction of the engines, (iii) costs of hospitalisation due to the impact on human health, (iv) income losses in the fishing industry due to a reduction in the population of fish or its own pollution, (v) loss of income in the tourism sector, as well as the (vi) economic costs associated with welfare: impacts on human health, loss of aesthetic and cultural values, etc.
It is estimated that the maintenance and unblocking of these facilities, together with the waste disposal of sewage debris removed in wastewater treatment plants costs the European Union between €500 – €1,000 million per year. This cost is passed on to all consumers through water bills regardless of whether they use these products or not.
More information on periods & economic costs:
Period pads can contain up to 90% plastic, and tampons have plastic in them too, both in the string and their applicators. It goes without saying that our world has far too much plastic in it, but we certainly don’t need it in our bodies too!
Yet, plastics aren’t the only unwanted toxics in period products. Many single-use menstrual products and their packaging contain synthetic materials like rayon, adhesives, artificial fragrances and toxic chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenol-A and petrochemical additives, which are recognised environmental pollutants and are known to be endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to diseases, such as heart disease, infertility and cancer.
We need to ensure that all menstrual products are toxic and plastic free, and that the very best products are readily available on the market at an affordable and accessible price.
➡ Switching to reusable products means taking control of what goes into our bodies, protecting us from potentially dangerous chemicals, and helping remove them from the environment too.
More information on periods & health:
We cannot talk about periods without talking about the societal structures and systems that perpetuate a taboo around menstruation. Despite periods being 100% natural, 100% powerful, and 100% the agency of the menstruator – our male-dominated society has had a lot to do with the way we hide, disguise and try to cover-up periods.
This week we want to be clear that all menstruators are their own agents, free to make their own choices about their bodies, their purchasing power, and their periods! We need to build a movement of empowered menstruators who feel educated and confident when making decisions about their periods – and this should be matched with policies that support wider access to products and education in schools.
Similarly, there is work to be done to make period products accessible for menstruators. Still today nearly one in five women struggle to pay for basic single-use menstrual products on a monthly basis in the EU and this has to change. We want to see financial support from governments to ensure that period products are not taxed, are fair, and that free products are accessible to those in need.
➡ An important benefit of reusable menstrual products are the long-term economic savings. Using a reusable menstrual product could generate annual savings of between €18 to €199 per person, with lifetime savings that could exceed €4,400.
More information on periods & socioeconomic costs:
We need the EU to take the lead on supporting and empowering menstruators to be their own agents – by setting up the policy framework – so they can feel educated, confident and free to make their own choices about their bodies, their purchasing power, and their periods!
This can be done with policy support that guarantees:
🩸 a European wide reuse target of 30% by 2030, to be increased to 60% by 2040 for menstrual products, combined with a separate collection target for recycling of the remaining single-use menstrual items of 40% by 2025, 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040;
🩸 period education programs in schools, so that menstruators can make informed choices about their period and body, including understanding all kinds of menstrual products and their associated impacts (i.e: single-use) as well as their benefits (i.e: reusables) and how to use and dispose of them properly;
🩸 widespread availability of toxic-free and reusable menstrual products in particular in large retailer outlets and pharmacies across the EU (at least in the same proportion to single-use items), accompanied with awareness raising measures on the benefits of reusables compared to single-use menstrual products;
🩸 economic incentives for reusable menstrual products to overcome barriers to entry (i.e: discounts for reusables and/or levies for single-use products); as well as strong encouragement for Member States to reduce or eliminate taxes on reusable menstrual products;
🩸 a legal obligation for manufacturers of menstrual products to phase-out hazardous chemicals and eliminate the use of toxins in their products, as well as to disclose the ingredients’ list of their products; and
🩸 that free products be made accessible to those in need.
By taking these measures the EU can help change current consumption patterns by moving away from disposability, addressing the environmental, health and economic impacts related to single-use menstrual products all together, and help fight menstrual poverty and inequality, while empowering half of its population and being a champion of women’s issues.
#breakfreefromplastic | #PeriodParity | #PlasticFreePeriods | #ToxicFreePeriods
Friends of the Earth Scotland
In partnership with Women’s Environment Network we are launching the #PeriodProud Challenge to encourage people to be loud and proud about periods. It’s time to end the shame around periods which affects our choice of products, how we dispose of them as well as equal access to period products.
This challenge is open to all genders, menstruating or not menstruating.
To participate we would love you to:
1. Accept the challenge
Each person that does the #PeriodProud Challenge has to nominate 1 or 2 people to join them. If you are nominated, you have 24 hours to complete the challenge!
2. Take a photo
Take a photo of yourself showing your favourite period product out and proud. Do this in an unexpected place or in an unexpected pose! You will need your period product, camera and a social media account.
*Ideas: You could hold your period product in your fav yoga position? Whilst climbing a tree? Whilst petting your dog?
3. Share your photo to social media
Tag the people you are challenging and include the hashtag #PeriodProud, share the link (https://www.wen.org.uk/2008/09/14/periodproud/), and tag @wen_uk and @brkfreeplastic !