Let us tell you a story about our organic hero Susie Hewson, a woman who wanted to make a change in the world – a woman who saw something fundamentally wrong and infuriating and was driven to do something exceptional in order to change it. The story goes back a little, maybe even before your time, back to 1989. Imagine an old TV set – with those curvy screens and big backsides – the picture is a little fuzzy, and you give the aerial a twist, the picture is still a bit blurry and undefined and you’re not quite sure if you like what you see, another tweak here and there, there we go. But the clear picture is much dirtier that you would have ever even imagined…
On Susie’s TV screen a documentary called World in Action was showing. It was an exposé of the pulping industry focussing in on one chemical in particular – dioxin. Turns out masses of it were getting produced as a polluting by-product in factories around the world that were making paper, toilet roll and period products. A lot of our paper based products are fresh, clean and white. To get our paper based products to this ‘pure’ state, the pulp factories have to put the materials through a bleaching process.
What really concerned our Hero was that all these companies were using a chlorine based method of bleaching to get our nice, clean white toilet rolls using chlorine. Chlorine bleaching produces dioxin as its by-product. Dioxin is a real baddie in the chemical world which causes masses of environmental damage. The documentary showed that you really don’t want factories putting a load or any of it into our environment or near our products.
And our Hero thought “if all these factories are chlorine bleaching pulp which then goes into not only toilet paper, but also pads and tampons… all products which get used more intimately than nearly anything else, it meant those who menstruate are disproportionately and unnecessarily getting exposed to dioxin in all these hygiene products.”
Dioxin is reputably bad – classed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation. It is bio-accumulative, meaning once in the body it is really really hard to get rid of, if at all.
The health and environmental impacts of conventional period products appalled me. Toxic chlorine bleaching processes was and still is extensively used in the production of absorbent pulp and paper products. Conventional sanitary pads have a high petrochemical loading in that the cover next to the skin is often polypropylene, the barrier is polyethylene, all derived from crude oil so that they are often almost 90% plastic. These synthetic materials are implicated in vulvar dermatitis, increasingly reported by gynaecologists as being exacerbated by synthetics commonly used in period products.
Understandably, our Hero Susie thinks, “why would these big corporations produce in this way, seriously polluting our world and bodies despite there being much safer methods available!?” She complained to the big brands but they thought one little consumer is not going to change their cheap for-profit ways. Unwilling to listen to Susie’s voice of reason to put health at the forefront of product design, our hero’s path became clear – to make a safe alternative. To make period products designed on a sustainability principle that includes ethics, health and the environment.
Using Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) bleaching methods and natural materials 30 years ago, our hero created the first real natural alternative to conventional pads and tampons. The world’s first organic cotton tampon was born.
Natracare organic cotton tampons were the first of the Natracare products that I developed back in 1990. Conventional tampons are made from mostly viscose/rayon, and I considered the possibility of these synthetics being implicated in Toxic Shock Syndrome, a view later validated by the first and only independent research conducted in the mid 1990’s on the role of synthetic fibres in the increased risk for tampon related TSS, conducted by Philip Tierno, Prof of Microbiology at New York University Medical School.
Susie quickly went on to extend the range of tampons to period pads, and developed the first organic and natural light incontinence pads and panty liners. The Natracare story continues, and that’s why Susie is our organic hero, inspiring us to #ChooseOrganic this September, and forevermore. Thanks Susie!