Is it ethical to use sanitary towels?

Is it ethical to use sanitary towels?

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Dear Ethan,

Every month when I get my period, I get pains in my back – and in my heart! Nature gives me no choice but to use sanitary towels, products which are very bad indeed for the environment. This week I read that we can now recycle sanitary towels. Is this true, Ethan? Please advise!

Annabel Shorley-Asquith

Dear Annabel,

I know how you feel. I got my first period 10 years ago when I set up home with Sheba. Not three months after we moved in together I started experiencing ‘empathy periods’. Every month when Sheba got The Curse (and I’ll explain in a minute why I think that old wives’ name for the menstrual cycle is a fitting one) I too would experience backache, cramps, tiredness and other symptoms of PMT.

Okay, I didn’t literally bleed. But I did bleed from my heart in solidarity with my wife’s natural and beautiful pangs of pain. Every month, nature graciously reminded both of us, as we pottered around in our first little cottage in Kent, that we are animals at root – grunting, aching, bleeding animals – and that we are as driven by cycles and hormones and eggs as other beasts with which we share this planet. So much for human superiority! Ha ha! Humans and great apes both have menstrual cycles; other warm-blooded mammals – goats, aardvarks, sloths – have estrous cycles. There is nothing like stains of compulsory blood to remind we arrogant humans that we’re no different (and certainly no better) than other creatures.

Heavy menstruation can even prevent women (and their empathetically-pained husbands – sometimes my solidarity periods are REALLY heavy) from travelling, socialising or going to work. Can’t man- and womankind take Gaia’s hints? What are periods if not nature’s way of reminding us that we are animalistic, and stopping us from further harming our surroundings by enforcing through blood and pain our natural limitations? What are periods if not a sign, to both women AND ethically attuned men, that we are controlled by natural cycles as surely as the tides are tugged to and fro by the moon and winds? Periods are a red line that says: humans, STOP!

However, Annabel, as well as being a blessing, in that it reminds us of our animalism, menstruation is also a Curse. Why? Because of how WE have decided to deal with it. Just as we have industrialised agriculture and farming (as Benjamin Zephaniah said this week, ‘slavery is not dead…billions of animals are slaughtered, experimented on, shot, poisoned, beaten, shackled, drowned and dissected’), so we have industrialised our response to the menstrual cycle, too. Billions of sanitary towels and tampons are churned out every year, causing the felling of trees and carbon emissions during their production and further harm to the environment in their long, lingering deaths on one of the world’s already full-up landfills.

Did you know that the average woman uses around 10,000 towels or tampons in her lifetime?! According to one study of the impact of various elements of parenting on the environment, in Britain each menstruating woman uses between 286 and 358 towels or tampons per year, and 98 per cent of these – read that again: 98 PER CENT!! – are flushed down the toilet. A majority of these flushed towels and tampons (52 per cent of them) are released untreated into the sea. There, tampons take six months to biodegrade, and towels taken even longer.

It gets worse: the plastic liners on sanitary towels do not biodegrade at all, meaning they remain forever in the sea as a pollutant and threat to fish and crabs and seaweed. It’s enough to make you weep, isn’t it Annabel, to think that humankind is so vile that it has managed to turn the most natural element of our existence – the menstrual cycle – into another hand grenade to be thrown at Mother Nature. She blessed us with a monthly bloody reminder of our origins and status and we thanked her by vomiting paper and plastic into her beautiful, bounteous oceans. This is further evidence of the latest abhorrent prejudice harboured by mankind, which I wrote about last week: aquaism.

We have created what I call a Tampon Terror. (Sheba still hasn’t forgiven me for the fact that the first thing I said to her when she told me she was pregnant with our first child was: ‘Yes, praise Gaia! Our household won’t have to use polluting tampons for NINE MONTHS!’ She stormed out mumbling something about ‘eco…fundamentalist’ (well, I definitely heard the word ‘mentalist’) and didn’t return for three days.) The great shame about this Tampon Terror is that, prior to the creation of disposable sanitary towels, and indeed prior to the creation of ‘modern’ society, women were far friendlier to the environment than men were. Men insisted on hunting animals (murder) and farming land (rape), while women simply washed things, breastfed, tidied their modest homes, and raised children (too many children, but hey, no one’s perfect).

We must recognise that ‘women’s liberation’ has not been very liberating for nature. It has led to MORE people joining the carbon-producing workforce, to more forms of contraception (yes, stopping reproduction is good, but condoms take years to biodegrade and pills are tested on animals), and to industry-produced sanitary products that poison the seas. I’m very much in touch with my feminine side, but I prefer the natural-living, cloth-wearing earthy women of old to today’s carbon-emitting, tampon-wearing, car-driving eco-harridans. You know why they called menstruation being ‘on the rag’? Because brave and intelligent women in the past used rags which they washed by hand. In some cultures they used leaves. If such items were good enough for the women of yesteryear, why not today?

Annabel, you’re right, you do have a choice: you can use REUSEABLE sanitary towels. These are available from various eco-outlets. You simply put them on, stop the bloodflow, wash, rinse and repeat. You can use the same towels for years! There are also eco-friendly ‘sea sponge’ tampons. As the name suggests, these are made from sea sponges and they are very absorbent and fully reusable. My favourite (though Sheba flat out refuses to use them) are Mooncups, small soft rubber cups that collect your blood and which you simply empty whenever you need to.

I have finally coaxed Sheba to use reusable sanitary towels, though she insists that I, rather than she, wash ‘the dirty things’! Fine, I said: there is something about washing away our blood, just like we washed away our children’s excrement from their reusable cloth nappies, that makes one feel in touch with nature, responsible for one’s emissions, part of a natural cycle of creation, excretion and cleansing. I find the process of washing away Sheba’s menstrual blood to be profoundly spiritually and ethically uplifting, and I’m sure you will, too, Annabel.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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