Image Description: Ella Daish
As our ‘Womxn on the Move’ series continues, I was lucky enough to interview Ella Daish, a pioneering environmentalist whose activism has led to the removal of plastic in menstrual hygiene products across various supermarkets and manufacturers. Last year she was recognised as one of the BBC’s 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for her continued work to reduce plastic waste and to end period poverty. I spoke to her about her activism, the environment and how we can all make a difference.
What inspired you to start your petition for manufacturers and supermarkets to remove all plastic from menstrual products?
Prior to starting the campaign, I was working a regular day job as a postal worker for Royal Mail in Cardiff. While on delivery, I noticed the amount of waste being disposed of each week increasing. This was just a few streets, but it made me think about how much we throw away on a national scale.
This prompted me to reflect on my own consumption and I started to make product switches. I felt positive about the steps I was taking, but then my period started, and I noticed, for the first time, the amount of plastic waste I was generating during just one menstrual cycle. Some on-line research revealed that conventional tampons and pads – the ones I had been using for many years – contain up to 90% plastic – I was horrified.
I went into my local supermarket to get an alternative, but there was no choice, it was either plastic or plastic. This irritated me, because without a choice, how can we truly make a decision about what we buy? I switched to eco-friendly period products and thought someone else would probably do something about it. I kept going over it in my head; it just did not make sense, if small companies could make them without plastic, then so could the big brands.
It began to really frustrate me, and I knew something needed to be done to raise awareness and bring about change. I kept thinking ‘what can I as a postal worker really do about this?’ I felt powerless, but had to do something because if I didn’t then who would? The success of other online campaigns like Laura Coryton’s Tampon Tax petition compelled me to take a stand against period plastic by starting my own.
What is the impact of these menstrual products on the environment?
There are numerous environmental impacts associated with period products. In the UK they contribute to over 200,000 tonnes of landfill waste each year and they can enter rivers, oceans and end up on beaches when wrongly flushed. It is estimated that 2.5 Million tampons, 1.4 Million Pads and 700,000 pantyliners are flushed in the UK each day, adding up to a whopping 1.5-2 billion per year!
After they are flushed, they enter the sewerage system and if they aren’t intercepted at the water treatment works then they end up in our rivers, flow into the sea and wash up on our beaches. This contributes to ocean plastic pollution and has catastrophic effects on marine life and sea birds. Overtime their plastic content breaks down into smaller pieces, known as micro-plastics and fibres. This poses a further threat to vital eco-systems where they can enter the food chain from the bottom up.
How has your work evolved since you have become a full-time environmental activist?
My work has evolved a lot. When I first started the petition in 2018, I was a postal worker; I had no campaigning experience at all! As soon as I got home and, on my days, off, I was putting everything into my campaign, sometimes I even had interviews on my lunch breaks! In 2019, I left my position to commit fully to the campaign and it has been going from strength to strength ever since. I have learnt so much in the last couple of years, figuring out what works and what does not, and I still am!
What has been your experience of working with various manufacturers and decision makers?
My experience of working with various manufacturers and retailers has been interesting to say the least, they are all completely different. In the first year, decision makers didn’t engage at all, but my persistence and tireless campaigning, the campaign’s increasing momentum and the actions supported by thousands of people paid off, and they started to listen.
Some are open, acknowledge that they need to do better, and share and discuss with me the steps they are taking to make a difference. However, others are very closed and continue to pump out unnecessary plastic with no consideration of the environmental impacts, which is why I will be taking action to put further pressure on them soon.
In December 2018 you launched the Eco Period Box campaign to address period poverty, donating reusable and plastic-free period products across the UK. How did this project come about and what has been achieved so far?
I have become aware of just how many issues there are surrounding menstruation including period poverty through the fantastic work of individuals and charities like Amika George and The Red Box Project. Period poverty should not be happening anywhere on Earth in 2020 and no one should miss out on their education or be discriminated against because of their natural cycle.
In 2018, I created the Eco Period Box as I wanted to address period poverty in a way that benefits people and the planet. It started off as a reverse advent calendar and evolved into an initiative that encourages people to support period poverty in a positive way by donating eco-friendly products.
In 2019, 20 shops across the UK and Ireland got involved by having a box in-store, with everything donated going to a local charity and earlier this year, I partnered with The Ethical Superstore to bring the Eco Period Box online. Customers had the option to donate tampons, pads, menstrual cups, or cloth pads, with everything collected at the end being given to the fantastic charity Changing Lives. By the end of the online campaign a whopping £14,628 worth of eco-friendly products were donated!
COVID-19 has turned our world upside down in many ways, how has the pandemic affected your work?
The pandemic has definitely had an impact. I had planned to take action on a decision maker, which understandably had to be postponed and it is meant that some of the changes that manufacturers were going to be making have been delayed. However, I have still been able to virtually meet and speak to decision makers, in fact, it is led to more coming to the table as they have had the time to engage.
In light of your work, what would you like to see happen in the future?
I want to see manufacturers putting people and the planet before profit, and to show leadership by bringing sustainability to the forefront by finding solutions to issues at source. We need drastic and collective action to be taken by governments, manufacturers, and individuals to create real change and make a better future happen.
Congratulations on being awarded the Climate Coalitions Green Heart Hero 2020 Award! Your work is instrumental, especially in light of the growing climate crisis that the world has faced and continues to face. What can we do to reduce plastic pollution and support your work?
Cutting down on plastic is a positive step that everyone can take. Making switches like using a reusable bottle and washable make-up wipes instead of disposable versions, eliminates unnecessary waste, saves resources, and saves us cash too!
You can help support the campaign by signing the petition and getting involved with the actions taken on decision makers. The more people that add their voice to the campaign, the bigger the impact. Starting conversations with those around you about the hidden plastic in period products is important. It has far-reaching impacts and when people find out, they tell other individuals about the issue. This flow of conversation creates a wave of awareness, action, and change. It is powerful!
Another way you can help to break the plastic cycle is to go green on your flow by opting for eco-friendly period products. There are plenty of options out there to choose from when it comes to period products, such as eco-friendly tampons and pads and reusables like menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period pants. I have put together an A-Z list of all the eco-period brands that are available in the UK and where you can find them in-store and online. You can check it out here
What is something every student should know?
Most banks invest in things like oil drilling and fracking, meaning without even realising it your money could be funding the fossil fuel industry. This is something I had no idea about and it shocked me to think that my cash might be used for something that is a polar opposite of my values, something I would never put money into for obvious reasons. I would recommend switching to an Ethical Bank.
What is something every student should do?
If there is something that I would encourage every student to do, it would be to take action and raise their voice for the issues they are passionate about. We really can all make a difference.
What is something every student should read/watch/listen to?
I would really recommend reading The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, it is one of the most inspiring books I have read. The film Dark Waters is worth a watch, it is a true story about an American lawyer who takes on chemical giant DuPont after they contaminated a town with unregulated chemicals. The Story of Plastic is a great documentary that connects you to all the issues surrounding plastic pollution and its causes, impacts, and what needs to change.
To find out more about Ella Daish and her activism, visit:
Image courtesy of Ella Daish
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