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This week Paula McIntosh writes for The Leak on the Eco Friendly Periods 4 Vic Schools petition that she is running and her work with her students at Melbourne Girls’ College to reduce the school’s carbon foorprint and help students manage their periods in a sustainable way.

My name is Paula McIntosh and I’m a teacher at Melbourne Girls’ College. My school has had a big emphasis on sustainability and waste reduction for a number of years now. We’ve got about 50 students who are dedicated to acting on to reduce our school’s carbon footprint. 

In October 2020 I saw a Facebook post by the Premier Daniel Andrews announcing that single use period products would be provided for free across all Victorian public schools. I knew that this was a step in the right direction for reducing period poverty, but that it was going to be incredibly wasteful and I knew it didn’t need to be. That’s why I set up the Eco Friendly Periods 4 Vic Schools petition and Facebook page. It’s great that Governments want to help reduce period poverty and help relieve the cost burden periods place on many Victorian families, but it is also very true to say that this could be done better. 

Firstly, young people should be given a choice about what sort of products they want to use to manage their period. Given a choice, many young people would opt for reusable options. 

Secondly, providing young people with a reusable choice will help them safely manage their period throughout their school years and beyond (reusable menstrual products if looked after properly can last more than 10 years) and arguably, using reusable menstrual products adds to the self-care message. These products need to be cared for just like our bodies need to be cared for. The nature of the product means a gentler experience of the act of menstruating itself. 

Through my research I’ve discovered that single use pads and tampons have a huge environmental impact. As well as their contribution to plastic pollution, a year’s worth of typical menstrual products impacts the climate too, with a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalent per individual. The average woman who menstruates throws away 200 kg of menstrual products in their lifetime. Unfortunately, some period products enter the sewage system. Over time their plastic content breaks down into smaller pieces, known as micro-plastics and fibres. This poses a further threat to vital ecosystems where they can enter the food chain from the bottom, up. Eco friendly options save girls and their families lots of money over time and keep heaps of waste out of landfill.

A clear bonus of reusable menstrual products is cost savings. The estimated cost of a period over a lifetime is around $6,500* if single use products are used.  I’ve worked out you only need to have your period 7 times to cover the cost of a moon cup ($42) plus a pair of period undies ($15). After 7 full moons you would have recouped your money. I’ve based this on using 4 single use tampons per day and two single use pads per day and times that by 5 days (the average length of a period). I used the retail price of the Libra Girl brand pads and tampons from Coles Supermarket:

Packet of 12 pads = 0.35c / pad Box of 16 tampons = 0.23c / tampon

So, the numbers don’t lie. It would be cheaper for the Victorian taxpayer if the Victorian Government offered young people a sustainable period pack to manage their period.

In other great news, period underwear manufacturer Modibodi is partnering with Melbourne Girls’ College in an Australian first project. As part of this project, 60 Melbourne Girls’ College students will receive 5 pairs of Modibodi period undies to help manage their period in a sustainable way. Students get to keep the undies and they will be able to use them for many years to come.

The project will run for four months. Data from surveys will be collected and feed this information into our petition sponsor in the Victorian Parliament, Dr Samantha Ratnam. The surveys are completely anonymous, and the project is completely voluntary.

This project is about showing the government there’s a better way than single use and that it is possible to roll out reusable period products in Victorian schools. Much cheaper for the taxpayer and better for the planet in the long run. It will also help foster sustainable life habits in young people.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Modibodi for their generosity and commitment to young people and the planet. 

If you haven’t added your voice to the petition, please do here:

You can keep up to date with what’s happening with the project by following the Facebook page Eco-Friendly Periods 4 Vic Schools and or @zerowasteschoolsaustralia

*Note: all prices are in Australian Dollars

Paula McIntosh

Science teacher, Melbourne Girl's College

Paula is a science teacher at Melbourne Girls’ College Richmond. Paula has worked as part of the Melbourne Girls’ College Sustainability team and has lead and initiated some ground breaking projects whilst in this role. She has the ability to lead behavioural, cultural and organisational change as evident in the school’s commitment and progress towards a zero carbon and zero waste future. Paula has a strong commitment to Public Education and ongoing professional learning as evidenced by her 25 years of teaching in public schools and tertiary qualifications including a Master of Education. You can follow the day to day work Paula does at @zerowasteschoolsaustralia