Pressure mounts on government to provide plastic-free period products to schools
In less than one weeks’ time, on July 15th, the government tender for brands to supply schools with period products closes. Currently there is no obligation for period products to be plastic-free, or for the supplier to offer reusables. Ensuring schools are provided plastic-free products could prevent the equivalent of 90 million plastic 1] flooding schools just months after the government challenged UK schools to go plastic-free by 2022 .
Plastic pollution campaigning organisation, City to Sea, are warning that there are only 7 days left to make sure all period products offered as part of the new Government initiative will be plastic-free. A statement was made by the Department of Education half way through the process in Schools Week saying that the successful bidder “will be required to offer environmentally-friendly sanitary pads as a are encouraged to provide further environmentally-friendly options (such as menstrual cups or eco-friendly tampons)”.
The government urgently needs to clarify that the ambiguously phrased ‘environmentally-friendly’ includes plastic-free requirements and ensure that all disposable products offered are plastic-free, not just pads, and not just as an opt-in. As a result, City to Sea are calling on the general public to sign a petition  to the Department of Education that requests they use joined up thinking in tackling social and environmental issues. So far City to Sea have successfully gained the support of 30,000 people and over 100 teachers have signed a public letter to the Department of Education .
Rachel Carson, a Primary school teacher said: “There is a gaping hole in general understanding of the plastic problem and school is a great place to start making a difference. Providing plastic-free period products to combat period poverty seems like a golden opportunity to lift girls out of embarrassment and shame whilst simultaneously investing in their future. Plastics are derived from oil, so why the government would not make this a priority having recently declared a climate emergency, is beyond me.”
Jasmine Tribe, Plastic Free Periods campaigns co-ordinator said: “This is a key opportunity for our government to show that they’re serious about tackling plastic pollution. Joined up thinking is so vital when tackling social issues like period poverty and environmental issues like climate breakdown.
She continued, “More pressure is needed now to make government clarify that ‘environmentally-friendly’ includes plastic-free requirements and ensure that all disposable products offered are plastic-free, not just pads, and not just as an opt-in. We cannot let the government miss this opportunity to provide a long term, financially and environmentally sustainable solution for students and the planet.”
Notes to Editor
1) Why is this so important?
The government has made three promising commitments recently:
To tackle period poverty by providing free period products to primary and secondary schools
To eliminate unavoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042
It seems that departments in government are potentially putting our schools on a collision course with the green targets that they have set them. They are turning this momentous moment for women’s rights into an environmental disaster. By ensuring all period products in English schools are plastic-free the Department of Education will be supporting future generations and targets for all schools to be single use plastic free by 2022.
This why City to Sea launched a 38 Degrees petition that has already received over 30,000 signatures. https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/plastic-free-schools-need-plastic-free-periods#
2) Further quotes available from social media influencers Flora Beverley and Sophie Hellyer and 2 additional teachers who have signed the letter. Please contact [email protected]
3) About City to City to Sea is an award-winning not-for-profit campaigning to prevent plastic pollution at source. Through their fun, solutions-focused initiatives they are empowering individuals to make a difference in their communities, working with companies and retailers to help them tackle plastic pollution and reaching millions of people with our digital content and campaigns. They are behind award-winning campaigns like Refill, a campaign to connect people to free drinking water and Switch the Stick.
City to Sea was founded by environmental campaigner, Natalie Fee in 2015. https://www.citytosea.org.uk/
4) About Plastic Free Periods – City to Sea’s Plastic Free Periods campaign aims to prevent plastic pollution from our periods by a) mainstreaming reusable and plastic-free disposable products and b) raising awareness that no period products should be flushed.
Plastic Free Periods was launched in 2017 with a video that was viewed over 3 million times in the few weeks after publishing on .
In 2018 the campaign was featured on Women’s Hour, joined the Coalition, ran online and offline events and reached 2 million people through the social media campaign. Our Women’s Hour slot saw sales from Honour Your Flow (reusable pads) triple in the 3 days following!
In 2019 City to Sea secured funding for a nationwide, unbiased program, are investigating a pilot scheme in NHS Trusts and continuing to target retailers and manufacturers.
5) Background information
 Government estimates that “of the 1.7m pupils/students who are eligible to benefit from the scheme, we estimate that 1.1m will access this provision” https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Notice/Attachment/78bdf755-9548-4261-b50e-30d4d3ae2a4b. The average person who has periods use 22 products per month and has 13 periods per year. A study by Natracare found the same plastic in a box of 14 period pads as 4 plastic bags. This means this scheme would use close to 23 million boxes of period products per year – or close to equivalent of 90 million plastic bags.
 Schools challenged to go plastic-free by 2022: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-challenged-to-go-single-use-plastic-free-by-2022
 The petition is here:
 Public letter signed by 120 teachers is here: https://www.citytosea.org.uk/more-than-100-teachers-sign-public-letter-to-the-department-for-education/
 The Government tender closing on July 15th can be seen here: https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Notice/[email protected]=NjJNT08=U
 Here in the UK a staggering 4.3 billion disposable menstrual products are used every year. Many people don’t realise that most period pads (including Always, and most supermarket own-brands) can contain up to 90% plastic – the equivalent of 4 plastic bags per box of pads and 90 million plastic bags sent to schools in just 1 year! Most tampons also contain a thin layer of plastic. What’s more, although no period products should go down the loo, it’s estimated around 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million pads are flushed down the toilet every day in the UK – many of which block our sewer systems and escape into our rivers and seas.
In addition to the environmental benefits of providing plastic-free period products, a reusable product option provides immense cost savings over time and reduces ‘period poverty shame’ – those who require free products find it more dignified to do so every 2-10 years, as opposed to every month. Research shows that over a lifetime an individual can save up to 94% of what would have been spent on disposable products, by switching to reusable ones.