Wednesday, June 3, 2020
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Feminine hygiene products available in IL schools

Beginning with students’ return to school after January 1, a new law in Illinois requires schools to make feminine hygiene products available, at no cost to students, in the bathrooms of school buildings that serve students in sixth through 12th grades.

House Bill 3215 was introduced in February by state Rep Litesa E Wallace, a Democrat from Rockford, and signed by the governor in August. The new law took effect yesterday.

The law can be expected to reduce some of the cost involved in purchasing tampons and pads, which cost the average US woman about $70 a year, according to a report by the Reuters News Agency. This expense is made more insurmountable for poor women by the fact that federal assistance programs don’t cover these products.

As a result, many homeless women, some of whom may be students, are left to cope with their menstrual cycles without pads or tampons.

I say it’s about time. Condoms can be purchased in many states without sales tax, and supplies like that have been available in public restrooms for years. But not tampons or pads. At least female students won’t have to worry about this anymore in Illinois.

And since more students will have access to tampons and pads, thanks to this law, it’s time for schools to think about a few associated issues:

  1. More sanitary products could be dumped into landfills
  2. Transgender students may need the supplies, too

The use of biodegradable tampons

Researchers at the University of Utah say they have developed a material that is thinner and more comfortable than standard maxi pads—and it’s made out of algae, so it’s completely biodegradable. This is more of a problem in other countries than in the US, but helping the environment can be a good thing.

“In Guatemala, there’s no public sanitation system. All the rivers are black because they are so polluted,” materials science and engineering assistant professor Jeff Bates said in a press release. “So there really is a genuine need for people in Guatemala to have biodegradable options.”

How did he and a few of his students come up with the idea?

“One day we were eating dinner with white rice, and my daughter spilled it all over the floor,” he said. “The next morning, when I was cleaning it up, it was all dry and crusted. I drove to work and thought, ‘What was it about rice that does that?'”

The SHERO pad, as it’s called, has four layers: An outer layer of raw cotton similar to a tea bag to repel liquid, a transfer layer of organic cotton to absorb the liquid and pull it from the outer layer, the super-absorbent layer made of agarose gel (a polymer from brown algae), and a final layer made of a corn-based material that keeps the moisture inside and prevents leakage.

Placement of the supplies

The law doesn’t specify whether the supplies need to be provided in just the women’s bathrooms or in all bathrooms, but I would vote for putting them in all the bathrooms. This will make them more easily available to transgender students who may need them.

This insight comes from the student newspaper at James B Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Illinois:

“The passage of HB 3215 is an important milestone in the process of ending the taboo around menstruation and allowing all students to thrive,” writes Sarah Yamaguchi in the Conant Crier. “Although there is still much progress that must be made before all women have access to these essential products, Illinois has made a wise choice, and states that have yet to adopt similar legislation should follow its example.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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