The Health Hazards Lurking in Sanitary Products


I need to talk about tampons. Not the prettiest subject but that’s probably why we don’t talk about them very much. And why I haven’t thought about them very much.

Sanitary products have been around since the 1930s and women everywhere are forever grateful, but the materials they are made of have barely changed in that time. Conventional products are made of Rayon – the man-made fibre created from cellulose wood pulp (cue the slaying of many trees), non-organic cotton (bad for farmers, waterways and wildlife) and synthetic materials like polypropylene (non-biodegradable). That’s not to mention the widespread use of plastic tampon applicators that take 25 years to biodegrade, littering our seas in the meantime.

So I think it’s safe to say sanitary products are bad for the environment, but that’s not all. Conventional products are also treated with a whole host of nasties. These can include chlorine to increase absorbency and make the products white and chemical fragrance. Rayon and viscose fibres can shed in use, leaving behind dioxins that cling to the vaginal wall. Not something I want in my intimate parts. The World Health Organisation claims that dioxins are highly toxic, interfering with the immune system and hormonal balance. The crazy thing is there is no in-depth scientific research on the impact of using these sanitary products (or is it that surprising really?) but for those of us who like to avoid toxic chemicals wherever possible there are alternatives.

TOTM make organic tampons and sanitary towels, 100% free from pesticides, chemical fertilisers, perfume and bleach. They only use cardboard applicators and their products are 95% biodegradable. Healthier for the planet and the women using them, they offer a subscription service so you can have supplies sent straight to your door (or you can submit one-off orders). A box of 10 regular applicator tampons cost £2.80 – more expensive than cardboard applicator Tampax but about the same as their fanciest pearl compak.

I’m converted.

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Why I Went Veggie

About six months ago I woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. If you’d said to me even seven months ago that that would happen I’d have been incredibly sceptical. A life without meat? Why would I want that? Half a year later and the transition has been remarkably easy. I can’t entirely say I haven’t missed meat, but I’ve certainly never been tempted to actually put it in my mouth.

And this is the thing, it doesn’t really feel like a conscious decision of mine to not eat meat. I’d long considered the benefits of being vegetarian for environmental and sustainability reasons. According to the Soil Association 35–40% of all cereals produced worldwide are fed to livestock, and this could rise to 50% by 2050 if meat consumption continues to rise as predicted. But if all cereals were fed to people not animals, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. With this in mind I do think it’s irresponsible and unnecessary to eat a lot of meat. For these reasons and of course due to the expense I haven’t eaten much meat for years. Maybe once a week at home and more often if I was eating out, so why didn’t I just continue like that?

It was an accumulation of factors I think. There’s so much evil in the world (and good as well), but it was the evil that got me thinking – how can humans be so dramatically different as a species? How can people who commit murder be in any way the same as me? Some animals show more kindness than some people. And that’s what got me; suddenly the divides of species-ism blurred and meat didn’t look like meat anymore, it looked like flesh. And I couldn’t eat it. I think I would be sick if I were made to eat meat. I do eat fish, although I’m not sure how long that will last.

Cultural norms, we follow like sheep

Culture is a strange thing. We balk at the thought of horse meat but routinely eat cows. They eat guinea pig in parts of South America, yet that horrifies us because we think of them as cute pets. People have sheep and pigs as pets, and they’re cute too, but pork and lamb are still staple foods for us in the UK. Men were selling their wives at auction right up until the early 20th Century. Not quite like animals, but they were still treated like meat. Our thoughts and behaviours are innately influenced by cultural norms. Vegetarianism currently goes against that cultural norm in the UK (although I’d anecdotally say it’s growing), but it’s perfectly plausible that in 200 years time people will look back and consider it primitive that we ate meat, such like we consider wife-selling barbaric.

Happy potato

I’ve been reading a lot of academic work on posthumanism over the last 18 months which does away with nature-culture/human-nonhuman dualisms. This led me to the philosophical thought of Spinoza, a philosopher who held a monistic worldview, i.e. nature is all things and unbiased towards all things, humans are no more important than the non-human. Spinoza is often cited as equating God with Nature, but this should not be confused with a religious God per say, but more that there is a unity of all that exists. I’m not religious anymore, but I am a spiritual person. We don’t know anything about life really which is why I do my best to put positive energy out into the world and limit the harm I do, to people, planet and animals.

There are lots of good reasons to not eat meat (like the facts listed below) but – having self-analysed myself – for me it has to about control, linked to what we do and what we don’t know as I’ve tried to explain above. I can’t control much in the world but I can choose not to contribute to the bad things, in this case killing animals for meat.

If I wake up one morning and decide I want to eat meat then fine, I’ll eat meat (ideally organic, certainly responsibly farmed) but that doesn’t seem likely soon.

Vegetarian resources

Going veggie will make you a better cook (with some effort).

I care greatly about health and fitness so it’s important to me to make sure my body is getting the fuel it needs. I went veggie just weeks before I ran my first half-marathon so that was an incentive to look into the nutritional values of various foods and make sure I got the vitamins and minerals I needed along with protein. I did get really run down and ill just before Christmas which I’m sure had nothing at all to do with going veggie but I started taking multi-vitamins with zinc to boost my immune system. Generally I don’t think supplements are necessary.

The Jamie Oliver website is brilliant for recipes. There are vegetarian and vegan sections filled with colourful images and easy to follow ideas (check out the baking too). BBC Food is a great go-to place for searching for particular recipes. I used their nutroast recipe for my Christmas dinner, see below!

Nut roast

If you really struggle with finding the time and enthusiasm to cook, you could sign up to one of the box-delivery services. Gousto (as seen on Dragon’s Den so I believe) deliver to your door everything you need to make delicious healthy meals. Just use their website to select the number of people you need to feed and which recipes you’d like to make. They have meat and vegetarian options. Click here for £15 off your first order with the code HOORAY.

Facts and figures

• In the UK over 2.5 million land animals are slaughtered daily and 600,000 tonnes of fish are killed each year (

• 760 million tonnes of grain are fed to animals on factory farms each year and it can take up to 16kg of grain to produce just 1kg of meat. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people. Basically, we can feed everyone on Earth for that (

• You can feed 20 vegetarians on the amount of land needed to feed one person on a meat-based diet (

• Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation (

Find out more

The Vegetarian Society – Friendly and non-preachy website with advice and information for going veggie

Peta – More preachy, but with loads of information

Farms not Factories – A campaign to encourage less and more ethical meat consumption if you don’t want to go veggie but want to create change

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