Across the world, from the largest city to the most far flung backwaters, there’s a universal truth that unites women. We. All. Bleed. The magnificent malady of menstruation and the many ways of stemming the flow is something we all have to deal with every month but the truth is, the Earth is paying a high price for our convenience. It’s true that when you’re sore, bloated and cranky, it’s hard to turn your thoughts to the well-being of the planet, but since an average woman will contribute approximately 11,000 non-biodegradable tampons and pads to landfills in their lifetime, perhaps it’s time to take a second to reconsider.
One team from Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden has embarked on a mission to make a change. Julia Strömberg, Angelica Bergman, Denise Aloandersson, and Antara Madavane (an exchange student from Srishti Institute, Bangalore) were working on a project for their Visual Communication + Change class when the idea for the ‘Bloody Waste’ project was planted. The aim of the program is to leverage design expertise to enact social change and through it they decided to highlight the lametable waste situation in the world and the dangers of unsustainable menstruation products.
They explored various mediums and finally settled on the use of video to communicate their message “As visual communicators our roles in projects are not set in stone; we work with everything from research and content development to the design, and on this project that was definitely the case. We worked together equally as a group, creating and exploring visuals, to make the video we had envisioned.” Over the course of 8 weeks they reflected on the core causes of waste in the modern world and the way they can be tackled. “Since we are all passionate about feminism and women’s health, the discussion naturally led to menstrual sanitary products, the amount of waste they usually create, and why. We felt that this is a topic we all need to address since it affects so many people, yet we don’t really talk or hear anything about it.”
We caught up with the team behind Bloody Waste to find out more about sustainable menstruation.
Watch the full cut of their video ‘Gross’ here.
Homegrown: What was the core aim of The Bloody Waste Project?
Bloody Waste: The aim of Bloody Waste is to create awareness about the harmful effects (both to the environment and to our bodies) of conventional sanitary products like tampons and pads. We wanted a call for action and so decided to feature the menstrual cup as one sustainable alternative to these products. Our other primary aim with Bloody Waste was to be involved in breaking the stigma around menstruation, which is something we believe is crucial for a sustainable and period-positive future.
HG: Why do you believe women are still hesitant to use menstrual cups? What would be the greatest misconception you’d like to dispel about them?
BW: Often it’s a matter of habit; most people with access to sanitary products begin using pads or tampons when they first start their periods and switching to an alternative might seem like an unnecessary effort. As menstruation is not something talked about enough, many people don’t know about other options like the cup. Even when they do have that information, people find the idea of seeing menstrual blood in a cup gross. There are doubts about whether it will leak, if it’s convenient to use, how it might be more time consuming than using a pad or tampon. In many societies, and this is certainly true in an Indian context, people are uneasy and uncomfortable with the idea of inserting a sanitary product.
As with anything else, it takes some time to get comfortable with using the cup, but we believe it’s ultimately worth the effort - for our bodies and our planet.
HG: How do you believe conversations about menstruation can be normalised?
BW: By encouraging people to talk about it and keeping the conversation going. The more we talk about something, the more normal it becomes. We need more information about menstruation and the ways it is and can be managed. At the same time we also need periods to be portrayed positively in the media. Menstruation needs to be seen as something natural and normal instead of something gross, the way many see it today. Using euphemisms when talking about menstruation or resorting to blue liquid in advertising adds to the stigma around it and reinforces the belief that periods are dirty and something to be ashamed of. All of this is constantly informing our design choices so we can show menstruation in a different light.
HG: If people (for medical reasons or otherwise) choose not to use cups, how do you suggest they could tackle period more sustainably?
BW: The menstrual cup offers many benefits as opposed to commonly used disposable options and that’s why we chose to feature it in our first video, but we understand that there can’t be one universal sustainable choice that works for everyone. We encourage people to read about and try out other options like period underwear, reusable pads, and organic biodegradable options to see what works for them. It’s not only a matter of reducing plastic waste but also understanding the harm we’re causing our bodies by using products that contain so many chemicals. Another aspect we would love others to consider is that not everyone has the means to use sanitary products. There are many organizations doing incredible work in providing sanitary products to those without such access so they are able to menstruate in comfort and dignity. Donating, volunteering, purchasing products from such organizations are other ways in which we can work towards a sustainable and equal world.
HG: What role do you hope Bloody Waste Project will play in changing the global narrative surrounding menstruation?
BW: Discussions about menstruation have been silenced for too long and have remained in the hands of capitalist corporations and the mainstream media. We believe this contributes to a continued stigmatization and so by inviting conversation and visualizing the issues, we hope Bloody Waste can make a change for menstruating people globally. Though we know changing stigma takes time, this is a way to start and sustain a more open discussion about it.
With the ‘Gross?’ video we tried to make it as inclusive as we could, with the hope that a lot of people could recognize themselves in it and continue the discussion of menstruation no matter where they are located in the world. We hope that by starting this ourselves, the conversation can shift from what mainstream media often dictates to how people are actually affected by these issues and that this will contribute to healthier and more environmentally friendly bleeding. In the long run we hope our role will help bring about a better environment for both our planet and period flow!