Let’s Talk about Sustainable Period Products!

A student-led project that recently received grant funding from the Planet Blue Student Initiative Fund aims to decrease the financial and environmental burden of menstruation by making reusable menstrual products free at the Maize and Blue Cupboard and University Health Services. The project leads were inspired to apply for this funding because the average person who menstruates will throw away up to 14,000 tampons in a lifetime! And all those discarded products, packaging, and applicators can add up to around 300 pounds of waste. In addition, these products can cost thousands of dollars over a lifetime. There’s been recent work done by both Western Michigan students and Michigan state legislators to get rid of at least the taxes (often called the “tampon tax” or “pink tax”) on these items, which would help, but this is far from making these essential products affordable for everyone who needs them. 

Traditional menstrual products that end up in landfills

While people have been menstruating for thousands of years, we’ve only been using disposable, plastic, potentially toxic menstrual products for about a century, and already, it’s estimated that 40% of people who expect to have a period in the future are already using or considering using reusable period products. So, I’m optimistic that we can make a quick switch to save money and reduce waste too. 

What are these new sustainable period products?

They are a range of new items including cups, panties, and pads that are safe to be reused again and again before they need to be thrown away. They often cost a little more up front than a single box of pads or tampons, but if you can swing the initial costs, one research study found that over just a year, a sustainable menstrual cup cost only about 10% of what tampons do and have only about 1.5% of the environmental impacts.

Sustainable period products that are easier on our wallets and the planet

What if I am concerned about the cost? 

There are resources on campus that can help! At U-M, the Sustainable Period Project aims to promote menstrual health and decrease the financial and environmental burden on students, faculty, and staff. While supplies last, free menstrual cups, sustainable underwear, and pads are available at the Maize and Blue Cupboard and University Health Service.

Also, you aren’t alone! In a national survey of 1,000 menstruating teens, 1 in 5 struggled to afford period products and 4 in 5 either missed or knew someone who missed class time because they did not have access to period products. 

Now that you’ve learned a little about sustainable period products, period poverty, and the pink tax, I challenge you to bring this up with your friends before your next visit from Aunt Flo. At your next house meeting, sports practice, or weekend brunch—whenever! We can do each other a huge service by breaking through the silly stigma surrounding menstruation and helping each other to learn about and get access to sustainable period products and education surrounding menstrual health. 

Exciting Update: Governor Witmer signed a bill at U-M to repeal the 6% tampon tax and grad student Ember Bradbury who started the Sustainable Period Project attended the signing.