Menstrual hygiene is costly for people and the planet. But it doesn’t have to be.

"Period poverty" — being unable to regularly afford menstrual hygiene products — affects people around the world.

For the millions living in poverty, affording menstrual products is a huge challenge. And it's not just those living in developing countries who struggle. Advocacy group Plan International estimates that 1 in 10 girls in the U.K. — a wealthy, developed nation — are unable to afford sanitary products. In the U.S., 42 million women live at or near the poverty line, and since many public benefit programs consider menstrual products "luxuries," menstrual hygiene is unaffordable.

Countries are battling period poverty in various ways. India recently eliminated its 12% "luxury tax" on sanitary pads and tampons after a widespread campaign put pressure on the government.


In New York state, all public schools now provide free tampons and pads to students, and some schools in the U.K. are offering the same.

But the question of disposable sanitary product affordability also raises questions of environmental sustainability — is providing one-use pads and tampons really the best way to go?

Disposable menstrual products are an environmental blight.

In the U.S. alone, people use and throw away 7 billion plastic tampon applicators per year. According to the book "Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation," the average menstruating person will throw away 250 to 300 pounds of disposable menstrual products during their lifetime. Considering that's about half the population, that's a whole lot of period trash flowing into landfills and polluting our oceans — trash that will long outlive the people throwing it way.

Image via AFP/Getty Images.

And it's not just the disposal of tampons and pads that's an issue. The production of non-reusable menstrual products also uses plastic, rayon, and other materials that cause harm to the environment.

Environmentally friendly menstrual products are also more affordable in the long run — potentially solving both economic and ecological problems.

There are three main reusable options for people with periods: washable pads, period underwear, and menstrual cups — and all three cost far less than pads and tampons in the long run.

Washable pads work the same way cloth diapers work and can be reused until the cloth wears out. Period underwear works similarly, with an absorbent pad built into panties. Both the pads and the undies can be washed in the washing machine.

Sun’s out, pads out. #gladragspads #breezy

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However, access to washing facilities may limit their viability for people living in poverty. Unclean pads can increase risk of infection.

Menstrual cups are another sustainable option. Inserted like a tampon, these silicon or latex cups collect blood; however, unlike a tampon, they can be worn all day or all night. And because they require a minimal amount of clean water to maintain, they are a good option for people living in places with limited sanitation.  

“We have done a small pilot project at a refugee camp in Malawi. And another of our projects in a drought stricken area of Kenya showed that cups were a better option than cloth or washable pads due to the much smaller amount of water required to keep them clean and use them safely," a representative of The Cup Effect told Passblue. "If there is enough water to sustain life, there is enough water to use a menstrual cup safely.”

However, the cup is not a panacea for period poverty either because it does have limitations for certain people, including those who have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM).

So while there's no one perfect solution, looking beyond simply supplying more disposable sanitary products to those living in poverty may be a smart move both economically and ecologically.

Where people and governments can help is defraying the upfront cost of reusable products.

Reusable menstrual products do cost more out of the gate, but the cost is quickly recouped and long-term savings are significant. Product needs and usage varies widely. However, The Penny Hoarder estimates that using a menstrual cup can save $100 per year. And since menstrual cups can be used for 10 years, their environmental impact is minimal and tiny compared with disposable products.

However, that upfront cost makes reusable options out of reach for people who are struggling to make ends meet. A community-led initiative in New Zealand is battling period poverty by making menstrual cups more accessible. The initiative has given out more than 80 menstrual cups in the community since September 2017. Such projects can have a significant effect on people's lives.

Again, there is no single best solution to period poverty as each person will have specific circumstances and needs. However, a good percentage of the population — and our planet — could benefit from providing people sustainable, affordable options for managing menstruation.

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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