In times of Friday’s for Future and a rising awareness for keeping consumption low, recycling, and reducing waste, it is quite surprising to witness the extend of plastic products in supermarkets nowadays. Especially, since it is an undeniable truth that plastic needs much longer to be decomposed than paper or organic waste, the omnipresence of plastic in our daily life is questionable. How can we take the responsible for waste that is making up at least ¼ of the waste flooding through the sea? Which will flood for some 450 more years through the open sea, damaging the oceans to an horrendous extend? We even know basically nothing about the length of decomposition when it comes to plastic since the first plastic product is “only” about 100 years old…
Impact of plastic on the human body
Although the impact of plastic on the human body is obviously a bad one, we keep on using it in various ways. Scientists differentiate between direct and environmental exposure. While direct exposure includes ways of refining and manufacture, the consumer use, as well as waste management, the environmental exposure implies the contact with plastic through inhalation or ingestion. No matter in which way humans are being exposed to plastic, it has a harmful impact on the human body. The immune system, the liver, as well the kidney are affected by plastic surrounding us. Also, eye and skin irritation damages of the respiratory system and even cancer can result.
Plastic free periods
Keeping in mind the terrible impacts of plastic on the human body, but also the ecosystem, one might start questioning their taken for granted lifestyle. Especially in highly developed countries, plastic is in first position when it comes to material use. Questionable is furthermore the use of plastic for products being in direct contact with the human body. Ahead are cosmetic products, including shampoos, cremes and toothpaste. But also pads and tampons, used to collect menstrual blood, are made of a considerable amount of plastic. Life in plastic, it’s fantastic? No, clearly not.
That many tampons incorporate bits of plastic in the absorbent part, as a thin layer often helps to hold the cotton together, and that also the string is in a lot of cases made of polyester or polypropylene, is an undeniable fact. And also pads use variations of plastic. Already the wrapping – as for tampons as well – is made up of plastic. But not enough; the whole pad is made of polyester fibres which should wick fluid away. No matter how thick the pad is; rarely any pad is not made of plastic components.
That’s not my cup (of tea) ? The menstruation cup
In average, every woman will have 450 periods over their lifetime. Keeping in mind, that per cycle around 20-25 tampons or around 30-35 pads are needed, one can imagine how much plastic is being produced – or rather consumed - by a single cycle. It is obvious that a woman’s menstruation is not directly contributing to sustainability. However, menstruation will always be a natural part of a woman’s life and thus shouldn’t not to be regarded as something negative. In fact, we should rather think about how to cope with menstrual blood in a more sustainable way. Clearly linked to the increase of the amount of plastic in our oceans are the use of applicators. Applicators are being used to inject the tampon. Especially in the UK and the US, women tend to prefer the additional provided aid during their period. The problem: applicators are often meant for single-use. Once being used, they are thrown away. Thus, with every tampon, a new applicator is used. Keeping in mind the massive impact plastic has on ecosystem and linking it with the fact that applicators are made of plastic, one comes to the conclusion, that the first step is to reduce the amount of used applicators. In European countries this is already practiced. In various countries women find tampons only without applicators in the supermarket. Eliminating applicators completely from our consumer zones would move us a step closer to reducing plastic for sure. However, women, who don’t want to abandon their trusted applicators, could instead move either sustainable or multi-use applicators. Since some years the menstrual cup has reached the consumers as well. Especially women, being aware of the human impact on the ecosystem, are using more and more those cups. Once bought, the cup can be used for about 10 years. Mostly, menstrual cups are made up of silicone. Of course, this isn’t optimal for the environment neither once thrown away. But compared with the waste being produced by tampon- or even pad-usage, the impact on the environment is still less.
In the end, every woman should choose the way they feel most comfortable with. However, we all should keep in mind that our daily choices during our life, and thus also during our period, has an impact on our environment.
Taking action – The role of the EU and youth
Coming from individual choices to the EU’s role when it comes to waste management. As mentioned before, plastic is an important material in our economy. The economy in the EU is very strong. Thus, a lot of plastic is being used. This should come along with the EU taking action when it comes to minimizing the waste of plastic. Is that the case? According to the European Commission, the first-ever European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy from January 2018 meant to transform the ways of plastic usage and provide regulation concerning the recycling of plastic. The idea behind the mentioned strategy is to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, the global climate commitments and the EU’s industrial policy objectives. Also, the European Commission proposed on May 2018 “new EU-wide rules to target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas”.
Facing Fridays for Future and the massive awareness, the climate change received recently, the awareness of the harm plastic is causing in the oceans, got drawn to a new level of attention. Especially youngsters participating on demonstrations of FfF are concerned about the waste and the amount of plastic in the oceans.
To conclude, the awareness is there at the moment. Politicians are aware of the issue, the EU is starting to realize, that they have to be stricter when it comes to plastic consumption. However, everyone should make choices in their private life and keep in mind how plastic is damaging not only our environment, but also ourselves. Life in plastic – not fantastic...