The UK Campaign For Plastic Free Periods

The UK Campaign For Plastic Free Periods

Today we’re joined by Jasmine Tribe from City to Sea, an award-winning not-for-profit based in the UK. Their mission is to end plastic pollution and protect oceans through inspiring change on the political, community and personal level. Their efforts are cheeky but very effective.

Seen by millions on social media we’ve been pulling plastic out of our knickers, prancing around to ‘Dirty Dancing: The Time of My Life(’ with amended lyrics about ‘Dirty Flushing: The Dump of My Life’ ) and sitting on the toilet with our pants around our ankles outside King’s College … the things we do to stop plastic pollution! 

Now, you might be asking “How on earth does all of that link to plastic pollution?”

Let us explain. Did you know that a staggering 4.3 billion disposable menstrual products are used in the UK every year? A conventional menstrual pad contains around the same amount of plastic as four carrier bags and conventional tampons (not the packaging or the applicator, just the tampons themselves) are made from 6 percent plastic. Depending on where the period product ends up as waste, it will probably have a longer life-span than the person who uses it! 

As well as filling up landfills, menstrual products also pollute our beaches and ocean. Although no period products should go down the loo, it’s estimated that every single day in the UK, about 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million pads are flushed down the toilet. These items mix with other ‘unflushables’ (wet wipes, cooking oil, cotton buds, etc) blocking our sewer systems and overflowing into our rivers and seas. These flushed items make up 8.5 percent of beach plastics found on UK beaches.

We decided to do something about this plastic problem, and in true City to Sea style we made sure that it was fun, bold and inclusive. Check it out our video here, and the first 5 seconds might give you an idea as to why so many people clicked play. Within just six days the video had been viewed by over one million people and has now been seen over three million times, generating a LOT of discussion around the topic. 

Prior to this we’d made a video to try and combat flushing behaviour around wet wipes which, again are mostly made of plastic. All wet wipes sold as “flushable” in the UK have so far failed Water Industry standard tests and make up 93% of the matter that causes sewer blockages. Although wet wipes exploded in the media towards the end of 2018, our 'Flushable' Wet Wipes: The Dirty Truth’ video was news to thousands of people in 2017. To help reduce plastic pollution from our bathrooms we promote the phrase: Only Flush Paper, Poo and Pee, Plastics Don’t Belong in the Sea’. It’s bog standard!

After raising awareness about how flushing behaviour links to plastic pollution, we chose to focus on increasing understanding around the wide range of plastic-free period products available. Most people with periods grow up thinking that mainstream branded, disposable pads and tampons are the only options out there. We ran a pilot program with 12 schools to test an unbiased period education and reached more than 600 students with these lessons. Most people aren’t aware of the waste problem that disposable products pose or that non-organic disposable products have been found to contain toxic chemicals like BPA, BPS, and petrochemical additives. In addition, people are shocked when they hear that over a lifetime you can save up to 94% of what you would have spent on disposables by switching to reusables!

We set out to change the narrative around Plastic Free Periods and in Environmenstrual Week 2018 we released a new video using poetry and inspirational people to share the positive message about reusables. We discussed Plastic Free Periods on BBC Women’s Hour and heard from one reusable pad company that sales tripled in the three days following the feature! We also created a short film with four women giving an honest review of a variety of reusable products, and a comprehensive FAQ page for people with questions about reusable products (let’s admit it, there are a lot of them!).

All in all, we’ve reached more than 4.5 million people with our Plastic Free Periods campaign and had lots of funny, profound and inspiring feedback from our supporters. There’s lots of good news out there proving that campaigns like ours, WEN’s and Ella Daish’s are having an impact … The number of Google searches for ‘menstrual cup’ has increased by almost 300% in the last five years. Disposable tampon, pad and pantyliner sales have dropped by £5.7m since 2016. Sales of reusable period products are rising year on year and we’re seeing more and more innovation in this area. Here’s to the Rise of the Reusables!

 

Jasmine Tribe is the Campaigns Co-ordinator at City to Sea and extends thanks to their supporters Anglian Water. To learn more about City to Sea, Check out their Plastic Free Periods video here and learn more about their campaign here or via their social media channels: @citytosea_!

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