Free the Toiletries: Grant encourages new hope for accessible hygiene supplies on campus
The grant would ensure products are available across campus, free of charge. // Photo by Kenzie Mahoskey
Affordable and accessible hygiene supplies have been scarce on campus for years. However, environmental science student Hanna Bridgham plans to change that reality for Western students and faculty.
A Sustainability, Equity and Justice Fund grant currently in the works would provide free organic cotton pads, tampons and other sanitary supplies in women’s, men’s and gender-neutral restrooms. If instituted, these supplies would be available for approximately two to three years in academic facilities and the Wade King Recreation Center.
As for funding, Bridgham said the instillation period would be dictated by the grant budget, which all registered Western students contribute to through quarterly fees issued at 90 cents per credit up to a $9 maximum, according to the Western sustainability webpage.
Refills on supplies would be paid for through the custodial budget. Bathrooms would be equipped with labeled cabinets that look similar to first aid boxes, Bridgham said.
Two years ago, a group of students campaigned for a similar reform with a movement called “Free the Toiletries.” Fast forward to February 2018, Bridgham joined forces with the Associated Students Environmental Center as part of the first-annual sustainable period event.
An estimated 600 people filled out a registration form to receive menstrual cups, cloth pads and other organically-sourced, reusable products after attending the community engagement event. Bridgham noted the large reception as a positive demonstration of student interest and a high demand for these products, despite exceeding the allocated budget.
According to Bridgham, the student store locations on campus currently offer hygiene products available for purchase at competitive prices compared to larger retailers in Bellingham.
“My friend Gwen Larned, the Zero Waste Coordinator at the time, sent me an article about Pomona College giving away free [menstrual] cups and we thought, ‘We can do that,’” Bridgham said.
Bridgham and Larned collaborated with a number of student clubs and divisions within the university to make the joint educational seminar and giveaway event possible, offering products to sample at no charge. Prevention and Wellness Services, the Associated Students Environmental Center, Womxn’s Identity Resource Center and Days For Girls International, a nonprofit organization that provides personal hygiene products for periods, were among the contributors who partnered with Bridgham and Larned.
“The more I learned, the more passionate I became about the idea,” Bridgham said.
Previously, the initiative to supply free personal hygiene products on campus had seen resistance due to health regulations and and lengthy negotiations, among other issues, Bridgham noted.
“Three years for free period products is not bad comparatively to institutions with similar bylaws, bureaucratic structures and size,” Environmental and Sustainability Programs Director Katie Winkelman said. “This project entails talking with facilities, janitorial staff and building managers for the entire campus, which is no small undertaking.”
Bridgham discussed the problematic existence of the consumer cultural phenomenon called the “pink tax,” which poses an equity issue for all people who menstruate and denotes these sanitary products as luxury items. Additionally, the associated terminology that markets hygiene supplies as “feminine” excludes other folks from the narrative, Bridgham said.
Winkelman said the project recognizes diversity within the community of people who use menstrual products.
“Not all people who experience periods are women, and [the program] offers necessary support to people who experience periods who are non-binary or not femme-identifying,” she said.