Sustainable Menstruation in Canada
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
A research project in collaboration with Karen Farley and Maliha Tariq will be published Spring 2023 as a chapter in the Norther Blood Journal.
Each of the authors of the paper were interviewed about the paper and our own experiences with periods:
The Paper is titled - Sustainable Menstruation in Canada: bridging the gap between social and environmental menstrual issues
Sustainable menstruation encompasses the object of solving social problems as well as the environmental issues relating to menstruation. Current social issues – menstrual equity, period poverty, and the pink tax – have taken priority over environmental issues – climate change, resource depletion, ecotoxicity – in menstrual advocacy, policy, and academic research. Social and environmental concerns are not mutually exclusive, and the current menstrual landscape would benefit from nuanced critical analysis of their interconnectivity in problem-solving.
Using disposable menstrual products, a single menstruator generates around 300lb of waste in their lifetime (DivaCup, n.d.). The carbon footprint of the menstrual hygiene industry creates approx. 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions globally per year due to the rapid production cycle of disposable products (Salem, 2018). Reusable menstrual products - such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period underwear - can be reused for years, resulting in a significantly lower environmental footprint. Still, disposable products are considered the default option for most menstruators despite their global environmental impacts and the availability of reusable products in the market.
Government policy is the predominant influencer in menstrual product decision-making. Legislative changes pushed by advocacy groups and researchers focus on menstrual product accessibility to vulnerable populations through sales tax reductions and subsidized products. These actions fail to incorporate the use of reusable menstrual products as a viable alternative to disposable ones.
This chapter identifies socio-cultural and structural barriers to addressing both environmental issues and social inequalities in menstruation in Canada, which may prevent menstruators from choosing reusable products. Menstrual inequality is perceived by many as a mutually exclusive challenge from environmental concerns. Therefore, environmental issues often take a back seat, as these more imminent social issues must take precedence. Due to the patriarchal governing system within Canada, menstruators have historically fought for the recognition of wage equality, affordable and accessible childcare, and period-friendly policies within government policy.
In this chapter, the authors present the period poverty paradox - where the hyper fixation on period poverty by menstrual advocates and researchers neglects environmental impacts and contributes to larger systems of socio-environmental inequalities. The authors use a feminist and intersectional lens to examine why social advocacy campaigns for menstruators neglect the incorporation of environmental issues in menstrual activism. For examination of the paradox, a scoping review will be conducted, including academic papers, government policies, menstrual advocates, and reusable menstrual product suppliers' websites in Canada.
This chapter affirms that further government intervention is needed to address these barriers. From policy changes regarding labelling of environmental impact for single-use menstrual products to mandating period-friendly facilities, governments further need to partner with advocates, healthcare professionals, educators, employers, and researchers to promote the use of reusable menstrual products. Mandating some of these policies will help bridge the gap between social and environmental menstrual issues. Changes in government policy to address social barriers will also support menstruators in making a more positive environmental choice to manage their periods.