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24th February 2024

Why I won’t be paying an ‘eco-tax’ on my period products

Periods are expensive. Eco-friendly period products are even more expensive. Given the climate crisis, what is a student meant to do?
Why I won’t be paying an ‘eco-tax’ on my period products
Credit: Natracare @ Unsplash

Yes, I care about the future of the planet. No, I won’t be buying sustainable period products until they are easier to use, cheaper, and don’t inconvenience me more than pre-existing products.

As the climate crisis worsens, we see more and more companies suggesting planet-friendly swaps and compromises that we should make. I participate in this: I recycle, I use my reusable water bottle, and overall do my best to minimise my impact on the environment. I also must contend with the cost-of-living crisis which, as a student, I am all too aware of, as well as knowing that no matter how many environmentally conscious decisions I make, they will be offset by the carbon emissions of massive companies and fast fashion contributions to landfills.  

It is for these reasons that I think the expectation of spending tons of money each month on environmental period products is unreasonable and the wrong way to be focusing our efforts. As a student, my funds are already stretched between paying rent, groceries, and other expenses incurred; many of which are unavoidable if I’d like to have a social life.

I am not alone in this; a recent study shows that the average student receiving a maintenance loan ends up with 50p after they pay their rent. On top of this, I’m expected to pay for my period – an unavoidable expense that comes around every month. As someone who menstruates, my period can range from mildly inconvenient, meaning I must change my pad at an inopportune time, to excruciatingly painful and debilitating with mood swings, breakouts and many pairs of trousers ruined. Having to pay for it every month already feels like a kick in the teeth; even more so when I have to pay extra on top of it as a sort of ‘eco-premium.’

All this serves to highlight why, for students especially, it is very hard to afford essentials – never mind invest in sustainable period products. 

The main reason that I won’t be subscribing to the sustainable period movement is the price difference between more eco-friendly period products and regular ones. In an average menstruator’s lifeline, they approximately spend between £5,000-£18,000; accounting for just materials at the lower end, to other expenses incurred such as painkillers, snacks, and ruined clothing on the higher end. Clearly, this is too much to pay for a natural bodily process which cannot be avoided.

Across the globe, many menstruators can’t even afford to pay for the basic period products, which can result in many being forced to skip out on important, everyday events such as going to school and work. We already must handle the gender pay-gap – meaning that we are often in lower paid roles than men – and the pink tax, which makes our toiletries much more expensive than men’s versions, despite there being very little difference. 

Many of the products on the market for sustainable periods are much more difficult to use and much more expensive, even though they are a one-time cost. For example, a menstrual cup can cost anywhere from £9.99 to £304. It will admittedly last you many periods, but it is a large one time-cost; especially as many menstruators will have to figure out which cup works for them, incurring extra expenses at the beginning of using them, and the cost of losing one.

I know that I’m constantly forgetting where I put my pads and tampons, but this can be remedied reasonably easily, while a menstrual cup would be much more expensive to replace. Furthermore, menstrual cups are much harder to use, as the reviews on Superdrug’s website alone demonstrate. They require more effort to insert, and washing them often involves using kitchen utensils such as a dishwasher or a saucepan of boiling water – something that I can imagine wouldn’t appeal to the average student living in a shared uni house.

Other alternatives include period pants, which I’ve tried but I found that they began to feel uncomfortable after a few hours, because they aren’t absorbent enough and still leaked. Also, you cannot wear the same pair for more than four to six hours, which is a bit of a challenge given how busy and unpredictable students’ days can be. They range in price from £7 to around £20, which means that roughly 4 pairs are needed per day for a moderate cycle. This expense adds up very quickly; as well as the time, effort, and cost of washing them multiple times per cycle. 

More widely, the cost of sustainable products has been shown to stop many people buying sustainable products, and this becomes particularly clear when we compare different products directly across sustainable and not sustainable period products.  For example, the period supplier flo sells a pack of 14 differently sized tampons for £6.25, which includes two different absorbencies. Never mind the fact that I could get this for a fraction of the price from my local Boots, this number of tampons wouldn’t even last me three days, meaning I’d have to spend £13.50. Even though I would have a few extra for next month, it still wouldn’t justify the price.

In comparison, two packs of Tampax from Boots which handle the same absorbencies would last me for two cycles and cost £5.40. The comparison continues across pads. The website ‘wearefluus’ sells a pack of 12 pads at the same absorbency for £6.75, meaning just one cycle would cost at least £12. In comparison, I could get 22 pads of two different absorbencies from Boots for £5.49.

Combined, these figures explain why I won’t be making extra effort to make my period more eco-conscious anytime soon. While it’s easy to take other measures to help the planet, it’s less so for a student to spend money, time, and effort navigating new eco-friendly products. Aside from an individuals’ effort, attention should instead turn to stopping multi-billion corporations from pumping carbon into the environment, and to ending period poverty worldwide; rather than selling a small selection of average products at an expensive price point. 


Athena Thomas

Athena Thomas

student of history and ancient history at UOM

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