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If you’ve ever been wilderness hiking, you know how inconvenient and messy “that time of the month” can be when you’re far from modern conveniences. It isn’t at all like the tampon commercials featuring smiling women in crisp white dresses waltzing through fields of wildflowers.
What will women do about their periods in a shit-hits-the-fan situation? Can we survive without easy access to our favorite over-the-counter pads and tampons?
While the easy answer to preparing for an event so catastrophic that it shuts down the local Wal-mart, is to stockpile Tampax and Always, the truth is a lot more complicated than that.
What About Disposal of Used Products?
If you are lucky enough to have a good supply of feminine hygiene products on hand should your local stores shut down, that’s great. But let’s not forget that whatever event shuts down the grocery and drug stores is probably going to affect your local garbage collection, too. And who wants to get caught holding that nasty bag of garbage?
Yes, our periods are occasionally inconvenient, but modern women have been spoiled by the convenience of disposable products that get whisked away to unknown and unseen places by large garbage trucks. What is even more inconvenient than going to work during “that time of the month” is figuring out what to do with our soiled bio hazard sanitary napkins when the routine visits of our garbage truck saviors ceases.
Currently, most women flush soiled products down the toilet or toss them carelessly into the waste bin at the rate of about 442 pads and tampons a year. That’s a lot of bio-hazardous waste. Used feminine hygiene products can quickly become a breeding ground for microorganisms like E.coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, and the pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus.
Feminine hygiene products are bulky and non-biodegradable. Those blood-soaked, plastic-lined pads take 500 to 800 years to fully decompose. In case you were wondering, that is five times longer than the average aluminum can. Archaeologists of the distant future will be pulling out used sanitary pads from landfills when studying our culture. If you think us ladies aren’t leaving our mark on this world, you’re dead wrong. Although, I’m not so sure that is how we want to be remembered.
Why You Shouldn’t Burn Your Disposable Pads
The World Health Organization recommends burning all health-related waste at temperatures over 850 degrees. This is one of the safest means of disposal, because it curbs the spread of disease. In a disaster situation, you can burn garbage late at night in order help conceal your location and keep from advertising that you have supplies to burn. However, here are several reasons you don’t want to burn your disposable feminine hygiene products.
First, ensuring your homestead or bug-out location garbage burn reaches an adequate temperature, especially without broadcasting your position, is near impossible. But potentially worse than being discovered is the serious health risk associated with burning these products. When polymer plastic products like disposable menstrual pads are burned at lower temperatures, asphyxiant and irritant gases are released. Dioxins and furans, among the most deadly toxins known to science, are also released as these products are burned.
This is not smoke you want billowing anywhere near you are your family.
Other Reasons Disposable Feminine Products are Just Not Practical
Burying used pads and tampons is the only safe and practical method of disposal. While a remote location will afford you this option, it will be all but impossible to find a place to bury waste in an urban environment.
Another thing to consider is transporting supplies should you need to move locations. Pads and tampons are bulky, and stuffing an adequate supply into a backpack or other travel bag takes up precious space. That is space that could better be used to pack life-saving medical supplies, food rations, or other important tools and gear.
Better Options for Feminine Hygiene
While having your usual products available during a stressful short-term situation will soothe some potential anxiety, a long-term survival situation is going to require something more practical. Basically, you need something to deal with monthly menstruation that is reusable and doesn’t require any special disposal.
Alternative Solutions for Sanitary Napkins
Disposable sanitary napkins (or pads) didn’t catch on until well into the 1960s. Up until that period in time, most women used cloth pads or “rags” during their time of the month, especially among rural and low-income populations.
Reusable cloth pads can be purchased from various online sources. Some are made from organic cotton and feature wrapping “wings” for extra protection and comfort. They even come in pretty patterns that seem like overkill but are probably meant to make you feel more feminine.
Washing cloth menstrual pads is much easier than you might think. First, it is recommended you rinse them in cold water immediately after use. If possible, soak them in a mixture of water and white vinegar until they can be laundered. Then wash them with your regular laundry soap or detergent either by hand or in a washing machine.
Here are a few popular cloth pad options.
These 100% cotton, made in America, cloth pads come in an assortment of attractive prints. They are easy to launder and come with detailed care instructions. Glad Rags are comprised of a holder with snapping wings and an absorbent insert that fits inside like a letter in an envelope. Much more comfortable and absorbent than you might think, these are a great natural alternative to disposable menstrual pads.
These menstrual pads feature a bamboo charcoal layer that is absorbent, hypoallergenic, and naturally neutralizes odor. The dark color of the bamboo fabric is also forgiving when it comes to staining. The waterproof outer liner helps protect your outer clothes from nasty leaks and spills. Heart Felt Bamboo cloth pads will leave you feeling both comfortable and confident, even in a stressful situation.
While cloth pads aren’t particularly expensive in the grand scheme of things (They are even cheaper in the long run than using disposable products.), if you want a more budget-friendly option, you can always make your own. The Hillbilly Housewife offers patterns for creating your own homemade cloth menstrual pads. She even has a no-sew variation, and suggestions for using whatever materials you may already have on hand.
Alternative Solutions for Tampons
Many women prefer tampons over menstrual pads for their convenience, comfort, and discretion. But what’s a girl to do when the local drugstore is no longer an option?
Here are a few convenient, comfortable, and discreet alternatives to drugstore disposable tampons.
Menstrual cups are usually made of silicone. Inserted into the lower vagina, these bell-shaped reusable cups collect your monthly flow. They can generally be worn for up to 12 hours. All you have to do is periodically remove the cup, empty the contents, rinse, and reinsert. With most menstrual cups you can run, dance, swim, and sleep without worrying about slipping or leaking.
The Diva Cup is probably the most popular menstrual cup on the market today. However, the LENA Feminine Hygiene Cup gets better customer reviews. Both come with detailed instructions. They can take some practice to use so be sure to practice before you find yourself in a stressful disaster situation.
Natural Sea Sponges are another reusable substitute for tampons. While any firm, dense natural sea sponge will do, there are some available specifically for women’s menstruation.
Before using a sponge to collect menstrual blood, it first needs to be sterilized. You can do this by soaking the sponge in hydrogen peroxide and then allowing it to air dry.
To use your sponge during your period, first dampen and squeeze out any excess water. Then insert the sponge just like you would a regular tampon. When necessary, remove, rinse, squeeze out excess water, and reinsert.
After your period, resterilize with hydrogen peroxide and allow to dry completely.
A typical sea sponge will last for about six months before it needs to be replaced. They are lightweight and compact easily. In fact, you can store a full year’s supply of sea sponges in less space than a one-month supply of disposable tampons.
You know what they say: “Luck favors the prepared.” Whatever reusable menstrual products you choose, be sure to practice using them when you don’t have to. It is a lot easier to get comfortable using these products in the comfort of your own climate-controlled bathroom in the course of your typical routine. Don’t wait to try to figure them out under dire circumstances.
Also, be aware of the needs of your daughters. Even if they aren’t currently menstruating, it is only a matter of time before their first visit from good ole Aunt Flo, and they will need their own supplies.