OPINION: How to make your period eco-friendly

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A basket in the women's bathroom in Anderson Hall offers free period products. The sign asks people who use any of the products to try to replace it when they can as the baskets run on donations. (Archive Photo by Sarah Millard | Collegian Media Group)

The taboo that has historically surrounded menstruation is unfortunately still preventing us from addressing it as a key area of sustainability.

For the approximately half of the population who menstruates monthly, managing a period produces a lot of waste, but it doesn’t have to.

Since disposable pads became widely used in the 20th century, the modern menstruater throws away approximately 17,000 pads or tampons over their lifetime. On top of the environmental impact of manufacturing, packaging and shipping, these products are estimated to take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill.

Not only do disposable products represent a significant environmental cost, they are unaffordable for many people, and inaccessible to many globally.

While I’d love to see more countries follow Scotland’s lead and guarantee tampons and pads to everyone, or at the very least get rid of sales taxes on period products, sustainable options are an essential part of the conversation. In an ideal world, disposable products would be widely available, but only as a last resort when reusable ones are unavailable.

Ultimately, disposable menstrual products represent a significant cost to both the environment and our wallets, but there are alternatives.

Thanks to the internet, the number of options out there for sustainable period products can honestly be overwhelming. Nowadays one can choose from menstrual cups, period-proof underwear, reusable pads and more. The brand I’ve chosen to support and can vouch for is GladRags, a female-owned company whose products are made in the U.S. and packaged with recycled, recyclable and/or biodegradable materials. You really can’t go wrong though, any reusable product represents an improvement from the infinitely more wasteful alternative.

Reusable products present a higher upfront cost, but can be used for years, during which they pay for themselves easily.

While period products represent a fraction of the larger waste issues in modern society, it is one lifestyle change that is relatively easy to make, and will actually save you a lot of money in the long run.

As the increase in disposable income in emerging countries drives demand for menstrual products, the demand for disposables is only going to grow. Disposable products are a convenient solution, but that’s where their virtues end.

In order to minimize our collective impact on the environment, menstrual cups and other reusable products will need to be a part of a sustainable future, period.

Rebecca Vrbas is a senior in journalism and mass communications and is the culture editor of the Collegian. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com

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My name is Rebecca Vrbas. I’m the culture editor at the Collegian and a junior in journalism and mass communications. My hobbies include obsessing over an ever-expanding pool of musicals and cats (not the musical). I love writing because of the infinite intricacy of language, as well as its power to cultivate a sense of community through sharing experiences.