Free school period products could hurt sustainability goals

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

After a year of free period products in schools, around 2000 are involved, and 200,00 students are benefitting. But the products supplied by the Government initiative could mean a step back for our sustainability goals.

Around 40 million items went out to students last year to tackle period poverty, but that success comes at a cost, all those products being single use plastics that have ended up in our landfill.

“Every pack of sanitary pads contains the equivalent of four plastic grocery bags and they’re just not biodegradable,” says Organic Initiative founder Helen Robinson.

Her brand provides biodegradable pads and tampons that are made here in New Zealand, but instead of utilising local products like hers, the Government procurement went to an international company Essity, which contains the brand Libra, and Office Max for the purpose of distribution.

“They already had an idea of how to run this because one of the companies had done this really well in Victoria in Australia,” said Jan Tinetti, Associate Minister for Education and Minister for Women.

Robinson however says that’s not fair to give the deal to a multinational company with plastic products simply due to logistics saying, “that’s disappointing for the health and wellbeing of our tamariki”.

And it’s not just about the plastic waste but for the general health of menstruators in New Zealand. “We know a lot of people react to synthetic products,” says Robinson.

The Government initiative excludes the variety of reusable products made here as well, like period cups, reusable pads and even period underwear.

AWWA was the first Kiwi brand to come out with underwear which are washable, can hold up to five pads or tampons worth, and last for years.

“It’s probably going to cost a lot less for the Government in the long term if they roll out a reusable option,” says the co-founder of AWWA, Kylie Matthews.

Tinetti told 1News they’re open to kKwi brands in the future procurement processes, and they’d like to offer more sustainable options going forward but claims that schools have told her “that it’s not quite right at the moment”.

“I don’t want to tell someone that this is what you should be using. It’s an individual choice,” says Tinetti.

The problem though, there isn’t choice being offered right now and she says they’re looking at how to improve that. And it’s also what some students are wanting to see.

“Obviously some of the brands use quite a bit of plastic so it'd be nice to have ones that are better for the environment,” says Year 13 student Phoebe Cotter from Epsom Girls Grammar.

Their school is one of many that recently got a dispensable unit placed into the bathrooms.

“It has helped students because it’s not interfering with school like being uncomfortable or knowing you haven't got something to get you through the day,” says Year 13 student Stella Holloway.

“We don’t choose to have our periods it’s just natural so I reckon everyone should get access to free period products,” says Year 13 student Avana Hagai.