A world of easily accessible and sustainable period products is a dream Lydia is pushing to make a reality. Taking time out of her day, Lydia kindly answered my questions on the education system around menstrual care and sustainable period products, including her recommendations!
Follow Lydia's journey: @sustainabilitybitch
What sparked your interest in sustainable living?
Sustainable living has always been an interest of mine! Purchasing from small and local businesses, going veggie (now vegan), trying to reduce plastic waste, etc. I think my journey started in the “aesthetic” sustainability – buying wooden bowls, glass jars, and all that jazz - which is fine. I soon realised that sustainability is not always aesthetic or buying new glass jars but about reusing and reducing in the first place!
Why was creating your sustainability account so important?
I started my sustainability account in 2020 to hold myself accountable and learn as I go, but it turned into educating. I then started to delve more into sustainable living, and my passion skyrocketed from there! I now study an MSc in Sustainable Business where I do my best to live a sustainable lifestyle, documenting on Instagram, ensuring that everyone knows they're okay to live IMPERFECTLY sustainable lives as it's impossible to be 100% perfectly zero-waste.
You are an advocate for sustainable period/menstrual care. What influenced your decision to venture into this industry?
YES! I'm incredibly passionate about Sustainable menstrual care. Right now, I am working on an online space for period care and sustainability - both go hand-in-hand. I first started to learn more about it in one of my modules for my undergraduate I think! We were looking into social enterprises and came across HeyGirls, which works towards combating period poverty and offers more sustainable options for menstrual care. From doing more research about this, I decided to start a monthly series (unfortunately, I've not been so good at keeping up recently for various reasons) on Instagram where I spoke about; alternative options for period products, my experience with different products like the menstrual cup, organic cotton pads, and period underwear, and then ventured into the creation of my website – which will be coming out very soon!!!
As a fellow period person! How can we educate, especially young people, about sustainable menstrual care?
I think the most important thing is beginning the conversation. When my period started, I told nobody and never really spoke about it until I was a lot older. Everyone has drastically different relationships and experiences with their period. The importance of; making everyone feel comfortable discussing their experience and what they’re going through. Having safe spaces where there is no stigma to talk about these things and having products and discussions more accessible in schools and universities can make a huge difference. I want to take more action on making this happen!
What was your personal experience with the schools education around menstruation? And how would you change the current situation, which keeps encouraging young people to feel ashamed about having periods?
Honestly, I don’t think I had any education about periods. I had the typical biological side of things where I learned about hormones etc. But never the other side of it; how it affects us every month, things that come with it, how we can take care of ourselves, and how it can affect the larger society with things like period poverty. The only time I ever really spoke about my period at school was when I lost it! By that point, it was too late. I was already facing issues without even knowing what they were!
Having a more well-rounded education on sustainable periods, rather than just the biological side, could be beneficial. Offering support to those struggling with severe mental health issues surrounding their periods, those struggling to maintain a healthy period, or those that have super painful periods.
I remember going to the school nurse and getting a heating pad to help with my cramps. I would hide them in my bag and make sure that no one saw them when I was carrying them around school or wearing them – even simple things like this feed into the idea that periods are shameful. Having period products readily available in bathrooms is so important (I know numerous universities are doing this now, which is amazing!) as you never know someone’s situation and whether they can afford certain products.
What are your opinions on the current menstrual care industry?
I think that things are improving for sure. Period care falls under a myriad of things; stigma to sustainability to poverty, and I think, in general, people are becoming more conscious of these issues. But things could be better! In terms of stigma, things have mildly improved.
I mean not long ago, adverts would use blue liquid rather than red
demonstrating the ‘uncleanliness’ of what goes on. As I said before, more universities are offering period products for free, which is great, however only in the female toilets as far as I’ve seen, which creates other issues as not all people that have periods use the female toilets - the alienation of trans and non-binary people within the period industry is another topic which I’m passionate about and conscious of, but that’s a subject for another day and something I will be covering on my website!
Sustainability is still a big ‘?’ in terms of period care as sometimes it can seem quite daunting to switch something so intimate, which you may have been using for years, to something completely new. I try to show as many options as possible on my Instagram and website because I understand why someone who has just started their period would not want to go straight to a menstrual cup. With more education and hopefully reducing stigma, sustainable period products will become more mainstream as well as the first option.
Up until recently, I was never aware of the damages single use products have on the environment, and how much plastic is in them! How has the period care industry changed, regarding making sustainable products more accessible?
Since being more aware of period products myself, they seem to have come a long way!! Now supermarkets have a whole section for sustainable products from brands like TOTM (Time of the Month), Dame, Wuka, Yoni, etc. I’ve also received much positive feedback from all my period posts, with people trying new brands and products and loving them!! It is a daunting sustainable switch, but with more people in-person and online sharing information, it can make it easier. I know many people, including myself, who are more than happy to converse with anyone looking to switch! As I mentioned earlier, universities are now also giving access to products in public bathrooms - another vital step to making sustainable products more mainstream (in my university they had TOTM products!! You can imagine how excited that made me haha) as well as giving people more access to products that they may otherwise not be able to get.
Do you notice a difference in your mental and physical wellbeing since starting using sustainable products?
YES, 100%!! I tried a few sustainable products that made me feel so good, not just because I knew I was doing something good for the planet! Period underwear and the menstrual cup I found amazing - they made me forget that I was on my period! I didn’t feel super groggy and period-y (if that makes sense!) because I didn’t feel like I was wearing anything other than my ordinary underwear.
In terms of mental health, I think switching products and becoming more conscious of my period did improve my mentality. I became more in tune with my body, which meant I could give myself the proper treatment I needed knowing that I wasn’t putting plastic and chemicals into my body!
What are your top 5 sustainable period products?
Omg I don’t even know where to start!!
I absolutely love TOTM products! I’ve used their pads and liners before. They’re so much softer than conventional products! Their mission and message behind the brand line with my passions and values. It feels like home to support them!
Period underwear is also a game changer – especially if you’ve just started your period, or just starting to make the switch, or just for being super comfy! I bought the Modibodi ones, but there are so many on the market – Wuka, Flux, and Thinx - to name a few.
The menstrual cups I’ve used are from Sea & Flo and Organicup – Researching the types of silicone (harder, softer) and what will work best for you is essential in getting a comfortable transition.
HeyGirls is another super important brand within the period care industry. They work with the buy-one-donate-one scheme, combatting period poverty with every purchase! Their products are made from bamboo, organic cotton, and cornstarch (making them chemical-free and good for the planet)!!
Reusable pads - similar to period underwear - reusable pads can be used, washed, and used again. They’re amazing for a softer transition to the world of sustainable periods, I recommend Floco!
OMG, I know this is number 6! I’ve recently seen menstrual cup applicators (!!!) from Sunny Period to make it less scary – they look fabulous!