When my daughter was small I overheard a conversation between her and a friend, who asked her what karma was. “Well,” she said,” it’s like this. You know the planet is round? So if you do anything to anyone that badness or goodness goes right around the planet, then hits you from behind.” How true.
And so it is with anything we try to toss. “Disposable” anything is not cool, since there’s no ‘away’ on this planet. Everything comes back to us in some form or another. If something cannot be recycled it should not be used, so disposable pads, tampons and nappies belong to the past when we didn’t know better. But why and what are the alternatives and how will I personally benefit from changing how I take care of my period and my baby?
“Disposable nappies consist of a plastic exterior, an inner super-absorbent layer treated with chemicals, and a liner. One commonly used absorbent chemical, sodium polyacrylate, can trigger allergic reactions. Disposable nappies may also contain dyes and dioxins, a carcinogenic by-product of the chlorine bleaching process.” Guide to Less Toxic Products from the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia. Disposable pads are made in much the same way.
Volatile organic compounds have toxic effects
They also release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene and dipentene. These can have toxic effects such as cancer and brain damage with long-term or high level exposure.
Apparently each child in disposables contributes 2 tonnes of non-biodegradable waste over the 2.5 years they are in nappies. Here they take up to 500 years to break down, and contribute to toxic leachate juices, which often drain through to the groundwater. Even if they’re captured in special waterproof linings these leachates are chemically treated in order to make them disposable – again into the environment. Plus chemicals and add the footprint of mining and manufacturing these chemicals.
Now I wonder about sanitary pads and tampons over the fertile period of a woman’s life. The mind boggles. As women and mothers we care about the home we leave behind for our kids. Polluting their environment is simply not good enough, no matter how convenient it is for me now. Personally I raised two kids on cloth nappies and no, it wasn’t difficult. But now things are so much easier.
Eco nappies on offer in various colours
We have a baby arriving in our extended family next year, so it was time to explore what’s on the market now. And how lovely are the already folded little nappy pants, which you could still line with a biodegradable liner in order to easily dispose of the solids into the toilet. NOT the regular nappy liners though, they are clogging up the sewage systems across the world. I have seen some horrible films in this regard. Use biodegradable, flushable wipes or a cloth which you wash.
These incredible products are available online, as well in selected baby and health shops:
Mother Nature All-In-One Bamboo Nappies use a one piece, one size design that adjusts to fit from birth to potty training and any sizes in-between! The highly absorbent insert is made from 2 layers of 100% natural bamboo-cotton toweling. The cover has breathable waterproofing hidden between 2 soft polyester layers that keep baby unbelievably dry.
If you like the sound of an all-in-one cloth nappy but worry about the longer drying and cleaning times, you’ll definitely want to try out the gorgeous Bam+Boo Sleeve Cloth Nappy (also known as ‘all-in-two’s‘). These cloth nappy prints are just like all-in-ones i.e. very easy to use, but they have the added benefit of allowing you to remove the absorbent part of the nappy. This makes cleaning day a total walk in the park!
So now you have a bit more washing. Feel good about raising an eco baby in a non-toxic environment, using proper baby friendly products, and setting the right example. Ensure you are air drying and using our lovely African sun’s free energy. Keep the temperature low – some nappies only need 40 degrees. It’s best to have an energy efficient washing machine and wash only full loads.
Your washing powder or gel will be eco friendly too. Here we have a huge range of choice now. I have tried them all. Avoid fabric softeners – they clog up your machine with fibres and destroy your fabrics. Once the little one is potty trained, pass the nappy pants to a friend. Keep the love going. Here are a few great products we have found:
Great for babies, great for nature
The Mother Nature Stain Remover bar is perfect for hand laundering and works wonders in lifting tough stains. Using only gentle, natural ingredients, this laundry soap and stain remover will leave no harmful chemical residue on clothes and is kind to delicate skin and is 100% biodegradable, helping you save money and the planet.
For the cleanest wash and freshest fragrance guaranteed. Triple Orange’s Bio-Det Laundry Cream is a powerful, pH-balanced degreaser which acts as a softener as well. It cleans thoroughly, is gentle on your clothes, leaves no residue and will not affect people with sensitive skin and allergies.
Better Earth Conditioning Laundry Gel gently cleans and conditions your laundry, leaving it with a Spring Blossom Fragrance. No need for fabric softener as this gel contains a fabric conditioner that is safe for all fabrics. And what’s more, it is gentle on the environment and your hands, providing peace of mind to the eco-conscious user.
What’s the deal with disposable sanitary pads? With the skin around, and especially inside, the vagina being highly permeable, it’s important to know what you are using on your skin. Chemicals inside these feminine products are absorbed directly into the bloodstream and distributed to your delicate organs. This may be worse than eating chemicals.
Body consumes toxins via the skin
This way our bodies consume a range of toxins, which need not be revealed on the box, as they are considered medical devices. According to the research done by Andrea Donsky, founder of Naturally Savvy and co-author of Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart, “each conventional sanitary pad contains the equivalent of about four plastic bags! With everything we now know about the hazardous nature of plastic chemicals, this alone is cause for concern.
For example, plasticizing chemicals like BPA and BPS disrupt embryonic development and are linked to heart disease and cancer. Phthalates — which give paper tampon applicators that smooth feel and finish — are known to dysregulate gene expression, and DEHP may lead to multiple organ damage. Besides crude oil plastics, conventional sanitary pads can also contain a myriad of other potentially hazardous ingredients, such as odour neutralizers and fragrances. Synthetics and plastic also restrict the free flow of air and can trap heat and dampness, potentially promoting the growth of yeast and bacteria in your vaginal area.”
Then there is the bleaching process for which chlorine is commonly used. This can create toxic dioxin and other disinfection-by-products (DBPs) such as trihalomethane. Did you know that even low or trace levels of dioxins may be linked to:
- Abnormal tissue growth in the abdomen and reproductive organs
- Abnormal cell growth throughout the body
- Immune system suppression
- Hormonal and endocrine system disruption
- Read more here.
Toxic shock syndrome from tampons
Now we have not discussed the extra dangers which lurk in regular tampons. Tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but potentially fatal illness where the common bacteria staphylococcus aureus produces toxin which is absorbed into the bloodstream. The immune system is overwhelmed and it attacks the major organs, which leads to kidney failure, lung collapse and even cardiac arrest. Half of all these cases can be related to tampon use. This is caused by the rayon in the tampons.
There are super alternatives, like:
- Reusable and washable sanitary towels. With soft natural fabric outers, they are latex free and breathable and are easily washed in your washing machine.
- Menstrual cups gather up to 15ml of blood at a time, are rinsed and re-inserted safely and last up to 10 years.
- Menstrual sea sponges are inserted like a tampon. They don’t absorb the body’s natural moisture, unlike tampons, and can be rinsed and used again. They last about a year and are then composted.
You can also find Woman-Kind menstrual sponges and re-usable pads. The sponges are a truly affordable, natural and green alternative to traditional modern tampons. Sea sponges have been sustainably used by women dating back to Cleopatra. These are imported from the Mediterranean.
Giving back dignity to young women
It is an unfortunate reality that throughout Africa there are young women who do not attend school or work over their monthly menstruation for one week each month. Many women in South Africa so not have access to adequate sanitary pads over their monthly menstruation.
Statistics reveal that as many as 40% of women in Africa cannot afford menstrual sanitary ware.
In an effort to be natural and kinder to the environment, Ladies Own Sanitary Pads have been designed to be light-weight and slim, yet highly absorbent. It draws moisture away from the surface of the pad and the natural fabric is soft & comfortable against your skin.
The Reusable Sanitary Pads Set Packs in a bucket make a wonderful charitable gift to a young women in need.
Best news of all is that many women who switch to eco-friendly sanitary products report less painful and shorter periods and an absence of thrush. What did my daughter say? What goes around comes around. Makes sense. Please pass this information to all the women you love.
By Elma Pollard