The disposal process of women’s sanitary products at Ithaca College.
I shouldn’t be embarrassed, but I am. People will tell you that “it’s a natural thing” or, heaven forbid, “we’re all girls here!” But there’s still something so daunting about having to slam dunk your used sanitary product into the garbage can while someone is brushing their teeth a foot and a half away. The disposal bags only make the situation worse, with their deafening crinkle and exaggerated graphics that do nothing but scream, “Look at me! I’m filled with BLOOD!” Perhaps I got too used to the boxes in the stall. Sure, there was still the crinkling and the creaking of opening the box, but at least there was no eye contact involved.
For those who don’t have to worry about this on a monthly basis, it is common for public women’s restrooms to have a small box in every stall designated for disposal of used pads and tampons. However, in a majority of Ithaca College residence hall bathrooms, there is an absence of these boxes. Instead, small bags are provided, and we are expected to place it in the bag and then throw the bag in the general bathroom trash. The act of doing this takes less than a second but does not make it any less of an awkward time. Apparently, I am not alone in these feelings. Upon bringing the topic up to some of my friends, they shared similar sentiments.
“It’s awkward to make eye contact with someone else in the bathroom while holding a dirty sanitary product,” one shared.
“And sometimes they run out of the bags which can make it really embarrassing,” another adds.
Of course, maybe not everyone is embarrassed by this action. However, it is no secret that from a young age, girls are often made to feel ashamed of their periods. Starting from before we even get them, it becomes a taboo subject. In fifth grade, rather than also educating boys on a perfectly normal process of the human body, we are whisked away to the nurse’s office and sent back to walk into a room full of whispering boys, menstrual “goody bags” clenched in our fists. Then the “it’s her time of the month” remarks every time we’re not smiling begin, making us girls feel as though it is something we need to feel guilty about. All of these effects from early on in our lives have the potential to cause our need for privacy surrounding our experiences with our menstrual cycles.
Upon arrival at the college and a quick tour of my freshman dorm’s bathroom, I immediately noticed the lack of boxes. In a scene straight out of a soap opera, I said to no one in particular, “Is this even sanitary?” I had always assumed there was a sort of health code requirement forcing sanitary waste separate from the rest of the trash in order to keep those handling the garbage safe, similar to the glass boxes present in our high school chemistry classrooms.
Upon further research of this, I discovered that, at least in the United States, there are no laws allowing sanitary products to fall under the umbrella of regulated waste. This essentially means each individual business or institution has to make the decision of how they would wish to dispose. So maybe there are no laws defining the most productive method of disposal, but I think there’s still an important factor we have not mentioned yet.
According to Be Prepared Period, 141,666 trees are used solely to supply the toilet paper we use to wrap up our tampons and pads. Many public bathrooms on campus have both the boxes and the bags, thus eliminating the excess toilet paper waste while also remaining discreet. Just having the bags alone with no box often requires us to still have to wrap up the product before putting it in the bag to avoid bleeding through, therefore leading to even more additional wasted resources. There was a time where I did see in my dorm’s bathroom that someone just threw their used pad, not even folded up, for the entire bathroom to see and all the power to you, but I’m not sure if that’s the move for most.
While the state of the environment is something I am quite passionate about, if I had to be completely honest, the main driving force in my support of installing boxes in all dorm bathrooms is the awkwardness of the situation. The big question for many may be: why do I care so much? Periods ARE natural things and are not something that should be labeled as “gross.” In addition to being better for the environment, due to the societal stigmas surrounding periods placed on us from a young age, many people are just used to being more discreet about it, and therefore being allowed to do so allows a level of comfort for residences in our living spaces. The boxes are already offered in many of the bathrooms in Campus Center, academic buildings and other public places, so we especially deserve to feel comfortable in the place on campus we call home. Oh, and to elementary schools — start teaching your boys about periods too.
Sarah Diggins is a sophomore writing major who always disposes of her sanitary products in a neat and tidy fashion.