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Month: May 2019

The Battle to Bleed Green

reusable menstrual Cup vs washable period pants and pads

Tamara vs Emma

tamara: The Menstrual Cup

My menstruation journey started when I (Tamara) was eleven years old and continues to this day. It has included bleeding through my trousers when travelling solo aged 16 on a flight to Trinidad, tying a sweater around my waist and hoping that no one would notice, to being put on the contraceptive pill to try to calm my cystic acne, to always being surprised by my period every month and never understanding the myriad of tampon and pad options available to me. Too much choice = overwhelm!

Organic disposables

In my mid-20s, as I became aware of the environmental footprint of my period, I started to experiment with ‘alternative’ options. For a while, I used Natracare’s tampons and pads which are made from organic cotton and FSC and PEFC certified sustainable wood pulp. But I was the Goldilocks of periods -I was still generating waste every month and it just wasn’t right. I would often forget to stockpile when I saw them and so would often end up with a high street brand purchase.

Image by PatriciaMoraleda from Pixabay

My First Menstrual CUP

In the late 2000s, on impulse, I bought a menstrual cup for dirt cheap when a friend’s eco store closed down on Marmion Road.  

A menstrual cup is a small silicone/ rubber cup that you insert like a tampon which catches and collects your menstrual blood. You empty the cup, rinse and reinsert and after each period clean it by boiling in water.

The cup I bought was very big and plastic-y and back then I was ever so squeamish about my body. Ah, past me had to unlearn so many anxieties caused by society. I used it off and on but just found it terribly uncomfortable, it slid down all the time and I was always hyper-aware of it when I was using it. It took me many years of alternating between disposable tampons and pads and this uncomfortable cup before I decided I’d had enough.

MY FAVOURITE CUP

Reader, I am a bloody idiot! (yes, pun intended). A few years ago, I finally did some research. I spent about 20 minutes internet searching ‘tilted cervix’ (which I was told I had at a cervical smear test) and ‘menstrual cup uncomfortable’ and soon realised the menstrual cup had evolved significantly since I bought my original cup many moons ago (yes, again pun intended!).

My period has been revolutionised by one small product: the Me Luna Shorty cup. For a vertically challenged person (ok fine, I’m short!), who has not birthed any babies and who has a tilted cervix, this very specific and highly affordable menstrual cup is perfect! I think it cost me about £15. It is comfortable, hygienic and waste-free and I have not looked back.

DISPOSAL

On writing this article, I realised I do not know how to dispose of it when it comes to the end of its life as it is made of Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) which can be used as an alternative to latex, silicone, PVC, or rubber. A quick internet search suggests recycling menstrual cups may be tricky. However, I feel the reusable aspect of the cup makes it a sustainable option. I messaged Me Luna to inquire about this. They confirmed that TPE can be recycled and suggested some creative upcycling at the end of the cups life.

One advantage of the TPE is that you can actually recycle it very well. In contrast to silicone rubber, the TPE can be melted down again. This is also practiced industrially. But you should always consider that a menstrual cup consists of only 10 grams of material. So if you drive to a collection point by car, you would have produced so much CO2 that the environment does not benefit from it. If you have no way to recycle the cup, then it depends on which country you live in, which is the most reasonable disposal. Within the EU, a menstrual cup can be disposed of with household waste because there are modern waste incinerators here.

Me Luna Facebook Response (April 9 2019)

From my personal perspective, I hands-down recommend using a menstrual cup if you have a uterus that sheds its lining once a month. But don’t be like me, do a bit of research first to find the right fit for you. I can’t believe I was such a ninny.


So Emma, have I convinced you to give the menstrual cup a try? I did look at buying reusable pads but I am so lazy – extra washing just seems like a hassle. How have you found it?


Alternatives to plastic-wrapped, single-use menstrual products do exist!

emma: Reusable Menstrual Pads and Pants

Hey Tamara, I also got my period aged 11 and ever since then I (Emma) have pondered how best to end the damn process altogether because I could not cope with the pain, the staining of clothes, and the inconvenience of it all.

I once got my period on a 12-hour flight to South Africa at age 12 and hadn’t packed any pads in my carry on. At 13, asked my mum if I could have a hysterectomy because I was in so much pain, which resulted in a hasty trip to the doctors for prescription painkillers that I was on for six years around my period. I didn’t honestly think about the eco-aspect of my period until my early 20s because I was far too concerned about the searing pain that I had every month. (If any younger period-havers are now freaking out, it did get better with age, but go see a medical professional if you have any worries.)

At roughly 23, I bought a menstrual cup online that was recommended for uterus owners under 30 who hadn’t given birth vaginally. And I had a similar first experience to Tamara, where I was like “this is uncomfortable”, except I could never really get it inserted properly at all. It has sat unused in a drawer ever since.

Photo by 🐴chuanyu2015 from Pexels

pERIOD pANTS

At 25, a friend started using Thinx period pants, which work by absorbing the blood into a secret chamber in the pants through a process that they scientifically explain on their site, but I believe is some sort of magic. They claim to hold between 0.5 and two tampons’ worth of blood depending on the style that you go for.

I was sceptical because I often am. Doesn’t it leak? Doesn’t it smell? She assured me that they didn’t and I took a shot because I trusted her. I ordered two pairs (they have bundles available for better value). And I was amazed. It was a freeing experience not having to worry about the pad shifting or my tampon leaking and ruining the lower half of my outfit.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. They can leak and/or smell if you wear them for too long. (The same as with regular pads.) You need to change them every four to eight hours depending on your flow. If you’re using them in conjunction with tampons/cups, then you can probably stretch this out to a day.

REUSABLE MENSTRUAL pADS

Just last month, at a package-free larder event in Southsea, I also bought some reusable menstrual pads from Ngozi Sews, that work in the same way as Thinx, except you can use them in any underwear. Now, I’m covered for every day of my period and I don’t have to buy disposables anymore.

Image by Brenda Geisse from Pixabay

wash-a-dub-dub, pants in the tub

“What about washing them?”, I can hear Tamara cry. Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s really simple.

  1. Soak them after using to rinse off the majority of the blood. I soak them in the “greywater” that we use to flush the toilet in our house. (I realise that is a weird as fuck statement, so here’s a blog post to explain.)
  2. Wash them at 40 degrees or lower without fabric conditioner (it affects the absorbency) and then air dry. You can put them safely in with the rest of your washing, but I toss mine in with a darks wash just to be safe.
Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

dISPOSAL

Now, how should they be disposed of? Well, I haven’t had to dispose of any of my items yet, but I believe that you should wash them and put them in with the “rags” bag for charity shops.


Readers corner

One of the (many) reasons we love our reusables is the money-saving aspect. Once purchased, they can last years, if not a lifetime. Periods cost money. For many, this cost can be debilitating and dehumanising. Following sterling work by period charities such as the Red Box Project, the Government has recently announced that free sanitary products will be made available to secondary schools and colleges.

But why stop there? Anna T, a lovely Shades of Green reader, emailed in with the fantastic idea for secondary schools to introduce students to reusable sanitary towels and nappies by incorporating the making of these items into Design + Technology and Textiles lessons.

The sanitary products would be something that young girls can take home, or donate to the period poverty cause. In the long term, hopefully, this will become mainstream and making disposable sanitary products the alternative.


The nappies could be donated to the food/baby bank which would really help low-income households as disposable nappies are very expensive and not good for our environment.


I really believe that some of the other benefits would include boosting skills for young people, understanding and tackling period poverty, help demystify periods for all genders, and positively contribute to our community.

Anna T. (Shades of Green reader)

Thank you, Anna, for writing in with your thoughts. Locally, earlier this year, Zero Waste Portsmouth and Nina of Ngozi Sews hosted a free make-your-own-reuseable-pad workshop. Get workshops like these into schools and empower and educate our young people. This is the future, people!

Two students in a gender neutral bathroom

A note: This article was written by two cis women and we would really like to invite any trans men or non-binary people who would feel comfortable discussing any green or eco period products that they use to get in touch for a future article. You can speak anonymously if you wish or we can link to your socials, business, etc, as we do work with all other contributors.

Green Death #2: Demystifying Body Disposal

Welcome to the continuation of my personal investigation into Green Death. For the last few months, I (Tamara) have been trying to figure out what is the ‘greenest’ option for my funeral and body disposal as well as generally empowering myself with end-of-life research and planning. I have spoken to funeral directors, cemetery staff, visited a natural burial site and even seen ‘behind the curtain’ of two local crematoriums.

However, trying to figure out which is the most earth-friendly option sent me spiralling down the internet rabbit hole. Dudes, I have to admit I got bogged down with stats and info on energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions in body disposal. I opened ALL the links and it was tab city all up in here!

So, as this is about my personal green journey, I hope you will enjoy my statistic-lite ramblings on Body Disposal and feel free to do your own due diligence if anything sparks your interest, and let me know what you find in the comments below.

So much choice in body disposal! Which door to choose?

The Demystification of Body Disposal Options

To be buried or to be cremated, that is the question! Actually, there are a few other interesting options I considered. But I’ll start with the most traditional option of burial.

The Traditional Option: conventional Burial

Milton Road Cemetery, Portsmouth

In my introductory post on Green Death which you can read about here, I visited the South Downs Natural Burial Site and found it an inspiring and peaceful place. Elements that appealed to me such as the rough and ready nature of the site, the lack of headstones and grave adornment and the openness to coffin-free burial are not features that will appeal to all – I’m thinking of my mother and mother-in-law particularly here. A friend of mine spoke to me about their in-law’s burial in a Hampshire churchyard a few years ago – the family viewed a traditional coffin, headstone and all the conventional add-ons as being the respectful, loving and dignified choice. Being able to visit the grave has also been essential in their grieving process.

Green space in Portsmouth is an ecological and emotional necessity on our densely populated island. Portsmouth’s cemeteries are oases of calm amid our urban landscape – the working cemeteries of Milton Road and Kingston and the historic Highland Road cemetery offer green and reflective spots to stroll and for the bereaved to visit loved ones. However, as Portsmouth is so densely populated, I have never really considered it as an option for myself or my family, especially as we do not have any particular leaning towards traditional burial.

This impression was reiterated when I met with a Portsmouth cemetery staff member to talk through the burial process. With approximately 20,000 burial spots available, Portsmouth’s two cemeteries could be full in approx 20 years.

Blossoms at Milton Road Cemetery, Portsmouth

Unlike at the natural burial site, my visit and questions were unusual to cemetery management who are more used to dealing with funeral directors.  This was made clear by management’s strong preference that a funeral director is used by the bereaved, with some religious exceptions.

Family cannot be involved in the grave preparation with only trained staff allowed to lower the body or ashes into the ground. Use of a shroud or alternative coffin-free funeral would be at the discretion of the cemetery manager and cremated remains must be buried in a wooden casket.

I left much more informed and very clear that this would not be the right option for me. There are some faiths where the deceased must be buried – as an agnostic, I am happy to leave those spots in Portsmouth’s cemeteries to those who prefer traditional burial and require it in the next 20 years.

Green Death Pros: Both Portsmouth’s cemeteries are located within the city. This means minimal emissions in transporting my body and the mourners, and for my local friends and family to visit my graveside over the years. As my husband has expressed the desire to have a spot to visit, a clearly marked graveside for the duration of the plot lease is a positive.

Green Death Cons: Portsmouth cemeteries are running out of space and so I cannot justify being buried there.  The leaching of toxic embalmed fluids into the soil and waterways can prove a danger to groundwater. Fuel and energy would be used for the long-term maintenance of my grave and the cemetery, including the use of fertilizer and pesticides. As DiY funeral elements are discouraged and the use of coffins are preferred with shroud usage unconfirmed, the element of involvement in the process would be missing.

Eco Burial Tip: Go for low-impact elements that are within your control such as a cardboard coffin, local (or no) flowers and a monument (or no) made from British stone.

the popular option: Cremation

My favourite spot at The Oaks, Havant

Now cremation is another familiar concept to most of us and is the most popular body disposal option with 77% of all deaths in the UK resulting in cremation[1]. Judging the environmental impact of cremation vs burials is not one I have found easy. Cremations use fossil fuel energy to incinerate the body and release carbon emissions and pollutants into the environment. However, burial takes up valuable land space and with an ever-growing population, we certainly can’t all be buried!

A side note is that I intensely disliked all the cremation funerals I have attended so far due to the conveyor-belt vibe. Crematoria are busy places, for example, Porchester Crematorium is a high-volume crematorium with more than 3000 cremations take place there a year.  Most crematorium services are only 20-30 minutes long, though some offer the option to book a longer slot (at a cost).

As cremation is my mother’s top choice for her body disposal, I needed to gain some clarity and address my conveyor-belt concerns. I visited my two local crematoriums – Porchester Crematorium and The Oaks in Havant, both of whom have an open-door policy, an attitude I found very refreshing in comparison to my cemetery visit.

I was given a tour around the facilities which included ‘behind the curtain’. My friend Chris, who has been with me on my death planning journey, accompanied me on this behind-the-scenes tour of Porchester Crematorium. She remarked how comforting it was to see the process, as both her parents were cremated there.  Reader, I recommend everyone does a behind-the-scenes tour of a crematorium. It was so interesting, educational, respectful and not at all frightening or macabre.

Image from Funeral Wise

Both Chris and I found the process of cremation fascinating and were walked through the stages. Here’s a debrief of the cremation process:

  • After the committal – the concluding rite of a funeral service – the crematorium has 72 hours within which to cremate the body.  
  • The body is cremated in the cremation chamber (also known as a crematory, crematorium, cremator or retort) which is essentially a large industrial furnace. 
    • Using fossil fuels (most likely natural gas), the cremator is pre-heated to around 1,400 – 2,000 degrees Farheight.
    • The coffined body is slid into the cremation chamber where it will self-ignite, taking approximately 2-3 hours for the body’s soft tissue and the coffin to burn, leaving the remains of bone fragments and metals.
    • Emissions are filtered through a flue system, collected in barrels and then disposed of as hazardous waste or recycled (though I am not sure how it is recycled or if that was green wash).
    • A magnet is used to collect metals from the bone fragments and the remains are then ground into ‘ash’. I had always assumed the body burns away completely and that the ash is like when you burn a wood fire. Boy was I mistaken – the ash is essentially ground-up human bones.
Eco Cremation Tip: I recommended these two videos of many by my death positivity crush, Caitlin Doughty of Youtube channel‘Ask a Mortician’ and founder of death-positivity movement 'The Order of the Good Death'. She is both hilarious and informative!

* All About Cremation!  
* What Happens to a Body During Cremation?  

Can cremation be eco THOUGH?

But back to the environmental considerations around cremation – technological advancements mean mercury and carbon emissions can be more effectively filtered out and by 2020, as part of the Oslo-Paris Commission (OSPAR) agreement on eliminating mercury emissions from crematoria, all crematoria within the UK (roughly 240 facilities) will need to have a zero emissions rate. This means either installing entirely new cremation equipment, and/or integrating mercury abatement systems.

With Environment Agency targets, regular monitoring and reporting and strict rules for crematoria to limit emissions, mercury emissions seem to be contained to an acceptable level.

The crematoriums can even utilise the heat generated by their cremators through a waste heat recovery system. I was inspired by the story of Redditch Crematorium – in 2011 ish, when installing new equipment  to meet the laws to reduce mercury emissions, they also installed a system to divert the waste heat, produced by the cremators that escapes from the cremator chimney, to heat a nearby swimming pool, reducing the leisure centre’s gas bill by aver 40%, equating to a saving of about £15,000 a year.

I was delighted, therefore, to read The Oaks have a heat exchange system but was disappointed to hear that it was not in use. Talks have been ongoing for four years with the nearby hospital to utilise and heat the hospital but I am not confident given The Oaks has been open for five years!

In the UK, the body must be cremated within 72 hours after the service of committal. This enables the crematorium to ‘hold over’ coffins, which basically is a more efficient way of utilising the energy generated through the pre-heating and using of the cremators by putting through as many cremations in one day as possible, rather than cremating the bodies on the same day of the funeral. 

After the cremation, metals are separated from the cremated remains for recycling. This can include hip joints, pins/ nails from the coffins and precious metals. Porchester Crematorium raise £5,000 to £6,000 a year for charity from recycling these metals.

I was interested to learn that the cremated remains are basically everything that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process following the removal of any metal and is essentially barren material. Though scattering of ashes takes up no land space and ashes can be buried in urns made from 100% biodegradable materials, in large amounts and scattered in sensitive ecosystems, there is an ecological impact to consider.  

Green Death Pros:  Disposing of my body by cremation means there is minimal land usage and there is no long-term maintenance of a grave and cemetery. Regulations mean mercury emissions are being more effectively filtered and with innovations in Waste Heat Recovery systems, the heat generated can be utilized somewhat. The Service Hall at The Oaks was simply breathtaking with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the semi-natural woodland beyond. And they have bees!

Green Death Cons: At the end of the day (no pun intended), I can’t get away from the fact that cremation involved high energy consumption with the burning of natural gases and fossil fuels that releases carbon emissions and pollutants into the environment. Added to this, most crematoriums insist that the body is in a coffin when incinerated. The Oaks in Havant was open to a body being cremated in a body pouch/ shroud if it is sealed from any leaks and mounted and secured onto a hard-combustible board.

Eco Cremation Tip:
Best to dress the body in natural fibres. The more synthetic the clothes, the
more emissions.

Bequeath My Whole Body to Science

I am very tempted by the idea of bequeathing my body to science as this practical use of my corpse will enable medical students and researchers to study anatomical sciences. If my body can be of use after I’m gone, well why not! Surgeons gotta learn somehow! And to parrot my dear marmar ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead!’

Conveniently, I could donate my body fairly locally to the Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences (CLAS) at Southampton University. Here my body would be embalmed and then utilised for anatomical examination. When that is complete, the University of Southampton can arrange and pay for my remains to be cremated and have my ashes returned to my next-of-kin, or to be scattered in Southampton Crematorium’s Garden of Remembrance. If I wanted a private funeral, they will return my remains to my next-of-kin/ executor.

Green Death Pros: There are a plethora of pros in choosing to bequeath my body to science:  benefiting research and humanity, being useful even after I’m dead, a no/low cost cremation with my next-of-kin receiving my ashes. If I changed my mind, withdrawing consent is simple and easy.

Green Death Cons: There is no guarantee that my bequeathed body will be accepted post-death, so I’d need to have a back-up plan. I also couldn’t both donate large organs for transplantation and also bequeath my body to science. My hubby, The Dutchman, considers it more valuable to donate his organs for transplantation than to donate his body to science – but his organs are probably healthier than mine, to be fair! My donated body would be embalmed, which I am not keen on, and (most likely) cremated. Donating my body to science means my friends and family may miss having a traditional funeral with the body present. A contender, but I am not completely sold on the option for myself.



THE WILDCARD OPTION: Alkaline Hydrolysis


Photo by Samad Deldar from Pexels

Also known as “Water Cremation”, “Flameless Cremation” or ‘Aquamation’, alkaline hydrolysis is a new body disposal system and a challenger to flame cremation.  

My basic understanding, which comes straight from…surprise, surprise….my death guru, Ask a Mortician’s Caitlin Doughty, is that the body is placed in resomation machine that contains a high-pressure mixture of 95% water and 5% lye (potassium hydroxide/sodium hydroxide) which is heated to 365 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to the 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit of flame cremation).

The process, which takes about three hours, mimics the chemical decomposition the body would undergo if buried and leaves behind bone fragments (about 30% more than a flame cremation) and an inert neutralised liquid of amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts, with no human DNA. The bone fragments that remain are ground down to a white ash and returned to the family, while the liquid can be repurposed as fertilizer or flushed down the drain.

The eco credentials (according to Caitlin’s sources of the Funerals Consumer Alliance), alkaline hydrolysis uses an eighth of the energy used in flame cremation.

However, though legal in 16 American states as well as three Canadian provinces, it has yet to reach the UK, though applications have been made.

“A public crematorium operated by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council at Rowley Regis, central England, was the first to receive planning permission to offer the process but in March 2017 the local water utility, Severn Trent Water, refused the council’s application for a “trade effluent permit” because there was no water industry standard regulating the disposal of liquified human remains into sewers.”

Wikipedia

‘Ask a Mortician’s Caitlin talks about the misconceptions behind water cremation here and here and the BBC has a fascinating essay on ‘Dissolving the Dead‘.

Green Death Pros: Water cremation results in lower emissions than flame cremation and also uses fewer fossil fuels.

Green Death Cons: It’s new technology and regulation hasn’t yet caught up. The eww factor of disposing of the inert liquid is a barrier that will need overcoming.

This raised the question for me about the disposal of the blood and bodily fluids removed from a body in the embalming process. In the USA, according to my guru and LA mortician, Caitlin, it is disposed of down the drain. Try as I might, I couldn’t find out what happens to the blood and fluids in the UK. Methinks it is probably the same!


So, dear Reader, you might be wondering, where am I in my green death process? There are a few more factors I need to consider around the death acrutements – coffins, embalming, flowers, monuments/ remembrance but the actual body disposal is the main decision. Now I have done my due diligence, I’m taking some time to consider my options, chat with my family about what I have discovered and I will report back soon.


In the meantime, as you wait with bated breath for my concluding post, check out these upcoming events.


Green Death Events in Pompey

  • May 18th 2019: Free Screening of Griefwalker film at The Coastguard Studio
  • June 4th 2019: Nights of Grief and Mystery tour at The Groundlings Theatre
  • November 14th 2019: Greener Funerals with Emma Collins at Green Drinks Portsmouth at The Southsea Village

Grief Whisperer Emma Collins, is offering a free screening of the film, Griefwalker about the life of Stephen Jenkinson on May 18th at The Coastguard Studio. Click here to book a free ticket and for more information about the event.

Jenkinson, whose work in palliative care and wonderings about what might be in the way of people dying well in our culture has been very meaningful in Emma’s life. He is the author of Die Wise, the founder of the Orphan Wisdom School in Ontario, and who for five years headed the counselling team Canada’s largest home-based palliative care facility.

You can see Jenkinson on his tour Nights of Grief and Mystery in Portsmouth on June 4th at Groundlings Theatre. To book, click here.

And finally, Green Drinks Portsmouth 14th Nov @ The Southsea Village (back room).  We’ll be joined by Emma Collins who will be inviting us to dive into a discussion about what we might want to do about our own and our loved ones bodies when we die. We will be exploring the options for greener funerals and the rules about how caring for our loved ones after they die, both in the immediate hours and days after and our options for where and how we bury our dead. We will explore the costs associated with funerals, both environmental as well as financial, and wonder about whether having greater involvement with caring for the bodies of those we love might support us in our grieving and loss.


[1] According to the Cremation Society of Great Britain 77% of deaths (in 2017) resulted in cremation. https://www.havant.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Infrastructure%20Delivery%20Plan.pdf

Enjoy this solo footnote. Never to be seen again.