The campaigner and activist is now helping councils tackle period poverty sustainably
When we first met Ella Daish late last year, the environmental campaigner who had created a petition to remove plastic from period products was really starting to sense the momentum building behind the campaign. She had almost 200,000 signatures and had sat down with a handful of brands to talk to them about the problem of plastic in period products.
A reminder of the stats around period plastic:
- Conventional period products contain up to 90% plastic.
- Even though they are used for between 4-8 hours, they take over 500 years to break down. That’s over 7 times the average lifetime of the person using them.
- A report by the European Commission found that period items are the fifth most common waste washed up on beaches.
- People still don’t know that these products are not flushable – 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads and 700k pantyliners are flushed in the UK every day.
- Not only do these products add 200,000 tonnes to landfills each year, the ones that end up in oceans and rivers contribute to the deaths of 1 million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish.
We made a film with Ella showing her transition from a postal worker to a full-time activist, and at the end she spoke about continuing her campaign into this year. While the COVID pandemic may have altered how Ella has gone about her action, it hasn’t stopped her.
Since starting the petition, Ella has met with 10 out of the 14 decision makers she set out to target – both manufacturers and retailers. As a result of her action – and that of her now more than 215,000 supporters – Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Superdrug have all made the decision to stop manufacturing their own brand plastic tampon applicators. That has saved collectively 17 tonnes of plastic annually – 17 tonnes!
In addition to that huge step, several of the brands have developed their own eco-friendly products, giving us all more choice when we get to the supermarket.
‘There’s no excuse anymore,’ Ella said. ‘With more and more brands making these changes, it highlights the ones that aren’t being progressive and it puts more pressure on them to react and make changes too.’
When we caught up with Ella recently, she told us how the campaign has expanded in ways she didn’t anticipate.
One of the often-hidden issues in the UK is period poverty – girls who lack the funds to purchase period products on their cycle. According to a study by Plan International UK, 1 in 10 girls can’t afford period products while 1 in 7 struggle to afford them. That often means girls are missing out on school and other opportunities when they’re on their periods.
Ella said it’s thanks to people like Amika George and the Red Box Project that the government now make period products freely available at school and colleges. But she started thinking about what type of products were on offer.
‘I think everyone will agree that’s the right step to take. But I started to think – we know the impact these products are having on the environment. Let’s take the opportunity to not only tackle period poverty but to tackle the plastic problem and protect the environment simultaneously by spending that funding on eco-friendly products. Let’s be progressive in both senses.’
And so Ella set out to talk to the government, council by council. She found the councils in Wales ready and willing to have the conversation. After months of work, Caerphilly Council became the first local authority in the UK to commit to spending 100% of their period poverty funding on eco-friendly products.
‘That’s never happened before; that’s a world first,’ Ella said. ‘I remember crying at the end of the meeting because I was so happy and proud of the council just wanting to do the right thing, not letting anything stop them.
‘That was definitely one of my proudest moments on the campaign.’
And with the example of what’s possible in public view, other councils are now following suit.
Bridgend, Cardiff and Monmouthshire councils have also agreed to spend their funding on a mixture of of eco-friendly tampons and pads as well as reusables like menstrual cups, cloth pads and period pants.
The good news keeps coming – Ella announced today that the Welsh Government has stipulated that 50% of all period poverty funding in Wales must be spent on eco-friendly products. This is a huge win for the period dignity round-table, headed up by Jane Hutt MS.
Councillor Jane Pratt, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Neighbourhood Services at Monmouthshire Council said:
‘Monmouthshire County Council is constantly working towards becoming plastic free, so making sure that the products we distribute are as eco-friendly as possible has been really important to us.
‘It has been great to work with environmental activist Ella Daish to better understand the impact of period products on the environment, and the importance of spending our period dignity grant in the most eco-friendly and sustainable way we can.’
Ella’s campaign is going from strength to strength, and we’re constantly inspired by her passion and dedication. To learn more about the campaign, be sure to visit and sign the Make All Menstrual Products Plastic Free petition on Change.org.