Along with taking a toll on the environment, disposable menstrual products and diapers take a toll on the wallet — creating a budgetary burden for those already struggling to make ends meet.
Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough is looking to kill two birds with one stone by launching a two-year pilot project that could save families hundreds of dollars annually while reducing waste.
The new project, which starts in mid-October, will subsidize the cost of reusable diapers and feminine hygiene products, offering citizens up to $200 a year for cloth diapers and $100 every two years for menstrual products like reusable pads, sponges and cups.
"There are two things we're looking at here: we want to do all we can for the environment, but we also want to help families save money," said borough Mayor Sue Montgomery.
In late June, the borough agreed to launch a diaper subsidy program in the fall — a program adopted by a number of municipalities across the province, including Verdun and Mercier—Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
Adding menstrual products to the subsidy is an "exciting initiative" because of how expensive they can be, Montgomery said. The initiative follows the lead of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, which already has a similar program in place.
Angie Torres-Ramos, a spokesperson with the non-profit organization Plan International Canada, which has studied the issue nationally, says her group has never seen a subsidy program for reusable menstrual products anywhere else in the country, though there are some on the international level.
The two-year project will cost the borough $60,000.
How the project will work
Starting in October, anyone interested in claiming the subsidy can file a request with the borough along with their receipts for reusable products. The subsidy will be offered on a sliding scale, with more to lower-income families.
The subsidy can also be used to cover the costs of used cloth diapers and material purchased to make cloth diapers or reusable menstrual products.
Before approving the measure, the borough compared the use of 1,000 disposable diapers to 1,000 reusable diaper changes — studying the impact from production to landfill.
Overall, cloth diapers use considerably less material, water and landfill space, producing 27 kilograms of solid waste versus the 200 kilograms produced by disposable diapers.
Cloth diapers, the borough found, have the potential of saving parents more than $2,500 in the long run despite the added laundry costs.
Young Canadians struggle to afford menstrual products
The borough says feminine hygiene products can have a similar environmental impact, as women use an average of 290 products a year, throwing away 10,000 to 15,000 in their lifetime.
These products also come at a substantial cost to Canadian women.
According to Canadian Menstruators, a group that fought to eliminate federal taxes on feminine hygiene products in 2015, Canadian women between the ages of 12 and 49 collectively spent nearly $520 million on products in 2014.
In May of this year, Plan International Canada released a national study in partnership with Hill+Knowlton Strategies that interviewed 2,000 Canadian women in early 2018 about menstrual cycle issues.
One third of women under 25 they spoke to said they struggled to afford menstrual products for themselves or their dependents.
Reusable feminine hygiene products slow to gain traction
Reusable diapers, now quick and easy to use, have been growing in popularity in recent years, but reusable feminine hygiene products are still slow to gain traction in Montreal.
Annie Hamilton works in a Montreal health store that sells reusable menstrual products and, she admits, they're not very popular.
Single-use products like tampons, she said, are damaging to the environment in a time when environmental issues are "the biggest problem that we're facing."
She praised Montreal's increasing efforts to combat single-use products with measures like the new pilot project.
"It's very, very important we started with the plastic bag ban in Montreal, and this is part of the next step," she said.
With files from CBC's Kate McKenna