One for the girls…

A dear friend of mine tells a hilarious story about her cocker spaniel. Picture the scene: a family besotted with their cute pooch gathers round in horror as it poops out what looks like its own guts. When a little string finally appears it becomes clear that the now-slightly-less-cute pooch has in fact been nomming on a tampon.

As a co-owner of a dog who also loves to stick his little punk nose in the bathroom bin, this story is first of all familiar and pretty funny. But, as someone who cares about the environment, it highlights the remarkable resilience to degradation of the things us women will use many hundreds of during our lifetime.

Let’s take a minute to do the arithmetic. If a girl hits puberty around the average age of 11 or 12, she’s got at least 30, more like 40, years of menstruation ahead of her. For five days a month. Every month. And for each of those five days, every month for 40 years, a women uses around 20 sanitary towels or tampons. Ladies, are you also trying to picture how many you’ve used, and coming up with this?:

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A heap of sanitary products (probably).

A big problem is that towels and tampons don’t just end up on landfill sites. They get into rivers, and end up in the sea too.

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Is it a fish? Is it a crustacean? No, it’s a nasty ass sanitary towel. (River Chess Association)
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Innocent rockpools critters? NOPE.

It’s sort of semi-funny in a gross way when little Puppy comes trotting through with his prize snack, because if he’s going to ignore what’s in his bowl and go hunting through the bins then he deserves what he gets. But if you’re a seabird and you swoop down on something that looks tasty and get a sanitary towel instead, or you’re a big fish and you gobble down something that sort of looked like a little fish and get a mouthful of cotton – then that’s not cool. IMAGINE EATING A TAMPON BY MISTAKE. Disgusted yet?

Well, if not, have a read of this story by an Australian sailor who has noticed huge chances in the ocean when taking the same route he’d taken many times before. This time – no fish, just endless debris, plastic, and slicks of oil. Or this one, about the gray whale that washed up in the Netherlands after dying of intestinal blockage caused by ingesting plastics that it probably thought were food.

I’m sure anyone who’s come across this blog probably has an interest in the environment – I bet you all recycle and re-use and all that good stuff. But girls, if I could encourage you to do one more thing, why not reconsider how you deal with the monthly delight that is the crumbling of our uterine lining? The good news is that there ARE a number of alternatives to towels and tampons, well described here in The Daily Kos. I’ve used a mooncup for about six months now, and could evangelise at length about how easy, economical and practical it is. Utimately a money-saving way to reduce your carbon footprint AND your contribution to marine and general pollution – everyone wins!

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Smartphone apps for smartbiologists

Anyone else feel a little like this about their smartphone?

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Well, now that’s officially productive thanks to the hip kidsters at the University of Florida, who have put together this smashing list of apps for field biologists.

So, no longer feel ashamed of loving your iPhone more than your family! When did your family last help you identify leaves, generate random numbers, or provide you with instant access to the online interface of the USADA-NRCS digital soil survey

Seriously though, there are apps on here that are useful for any student in the life sciences. Here are some of my favourites – and best of all, most of them are free!

  • R Instructor
  • EveryTrail – tracks your route as you walk and maps it to Google Earth – really useful if you record this sort of thing/get lost easily!
  • National Geographic Birds – up to date range maps, journal feature, and apparently, info on more bird species (995) than any other app
  • MapInvasives – a GIS based system for recording sightings on invasives
  • Dropbox – all your documents etc there on your phone. Seriously, is anyone not using this??

And just for fun… 3D Molecules – I’ll be looking at these all day!