The government’s pledge to provide free sanitary products in all secondary schools and colleges across England is welcome news, but does not yet go far enough to eradicate period poverty and will not solve the environmental crisis of incorrect disposal of sanitary items.
LanesForDrains.co.uk, a national drainage firm that deals with fatberg removal, urges the government to extend the new funding to primary schools, where many young girls struggle to afford basic sanitary items.
#FreePeriods – a petition to take legal action to end period poverty, led by student Amika George – gained thousands of signatures and led to a protest outside Downing Street. Speaking after the chancellor announced the funding in his Spring Statement, Amika said: “The policy announced today would cover only secondary schools and colleges, leaving thousands of children behind. For example, there can be no good reason to exclude children at primary school, who may begin menstruating from as young as eight or nine, from the scope of this scheme.”
Lanes Group also stresses the importance of educating girls at primary and secondary school age on the correct disposal of sanitary products, as many pupils are instructed to flush tampons, applicators and wrappers, which is having a huge environmental impact and polluting the nation’s waterways with microplastics.
A survey of 1,200 people conducted by Lanes Group in 2018 found that more than a third of respondents (39%) have flushed either a sanitary towel, panty liner or tampon down the toilet in their lifetime, which amounts to as many as 20 million women when you apply that to the female population across the UK.
The research found that just 3 per cent of women consider environmental impact when choosing sanitary products, while 46 per cent prioritise comfort and 17 per cent believe cost is the most important factor.
Some 52 per cent of women said they use sanitary towels more than any other period product, while 49 per cent use tampons most, only 3 per cent use eco-friendly mooncups and 1 per cent use sanitary underwear.
Michelle Ringland, Head of Marketing at Lanes Group, said: “The chancellor’s decision to provide free sanitary products in all secondary schools and colleges in England from the next academic year is a great achievement for all those who have campaigned over this, but there is still a way to go if we want to fully address period poverty among young children.
“Firstly, I would like to see the funding extended to primary schools, as many young girls start their periods at that stage and could have already suffered years of period poverty before they reach secondary school.
“Next, I would like to see much more education overall about the use of sanitary products, which is currently missing from the school curriculum. Young girls should be taught about all the options available to them – including eco-friendly products which are increasingly popular – and how best to dispose of sanitary items.
“It is shocking to hear that many girls are told that the best way to get rid of a used tampon, applicator and wrapper is to flush it down the toilet, when none of these products are biodegradable and either cause blockages such as fatbergs or release microplastics that are released into the waterways and prove fatal to marine life.”
When asked whether they agree that people in the UK need to be more aware that sanitary products should not be flushed down the toilet, some 63 per cent of survey respondents said they “strongly agree”.