To Encourage Menstrual Product Innovation
Menstrual product advertisements have come a long way since the 1920s, when Johnson and Johnson printed slips in their magazine advertisements for their “Modess” brand of pads (which they actually called “sanitary napkins” — as if periods are dirty Women would cut the ad out and hand it silently across the pharmacy counter, receiving a nearly unmarked box in return.
While communication around periods is improving, the actual products don’t look much different than their original patents in the early 1900s.
Is your flow light, medium, or heavy? Do you want an applicator (for tampons)? Do you want wings (for pads)? These are the three criteria that disposable brands offer menstruators to decide which product to use. This is only slightly better than a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
As with anything else that goes in, on, or near your body (think: dentures, contact lenses, or socks for example), shouldn’t medical history, body shape, lifestyle, and/or abilities be considered when choosing a menstrual product, too? The menstrual care industry should be constantly innovating and have a diverse set of options available to choose from, since half of the world’s population needs these items on a cyclical basis for an average of 40 years of their life.
Re-usables like cups, discs, cloth pads, and period underwear are excellent alternatives, but with so many menstruators in the world, there is still room for more variation. Not only do needs vary person to person, but an individual menstruator can go through several changes throughout their life (think: pregnancy, pelvic prolapse, or using contraception, to name a few) that can affect which item will work best for them.
Plastic continues to be a prolific material in disposables. The wrappers, applicators, and even the products themselves all contain plastic, which take 500-800 years to break down after their brief usefulness has passed. There is innovation to be done in menstrual product materials science!
As for re-usables: Medical grade silicone is not biodegradable, so it will sit in a landfill for centuries if thrown in the garbage.
If a reusable period product does not work for its original user, it can be sterilized and sold to someone at a discount, though some people are hesitant to buy used in this instance.
Another option is to recycle it. When properly recycled, silicone can be downcycled into an oil that can be used as industrial lubricant, playground mulch, and other “lesser” products. To be properly recycled, the silicone must be sent to a specialized recycling company. These can be hard to come by, so I would like to see more reusable period product companies offering convenient take-back programs, in partnership with these recycling companies, to make sure that their products are used to their fullest potential.