Environmentally conscious decisions can be made across a variety of different life situations, but you may not have considered the eco alternatives when it comes to menstruation. As with many things, products for periods contain single use plastic, which contributes to an accumulation of waste over time.
According to WEN (Women’s Environmental Network), people in the UK use an average of 11,000 disposable products for periods in their lifetime. Multiply that by the number of people who menstruate and there is a problem. Undoubtedly, these products are a necessity, but when sanitary pads can be made from 90% plastic, we have to consider the benefits of other alternatives.
The solution can be fairly simple because there are so many alternative products out there. Some of the main ones are listed here:
Organic/plastic-free disposables (pads, tampons and pantyliners)
The easiest transition between single use and eco products for periods is to use disposables that are plastic-free. Most are made from cotton, which is soft, breathable and contains no plastic. The packaging is often biodegradable too. Many companies offer subscriptions, so you’ll always have products to hand. Some examples include:
There are few cons to plastic-free sanitary wear, however the products are still disposable and so create some waste. Despite this, they are much less wasteful than regular products, so it is a great start.
Reusable tampon applicators
A simple, environmentally friendly swap could be to use reusable tampon applicators instead of plastic ones. You can buy any non-applicator tampons (though there are lots of plastic-free options) and use your own applicator. DAME pioneered this product and their applicators are available to buy in some supermarkets and high street stores.
The downside to reusable applicators is that there could still be some plastic waste if you use regular tampons. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction to making period care more sustainable.
Reusable sanitary pads
Reusables are usually made from cotton or bamboo and are more absorbent than disposables, so will need changing less frequently. The great thing about reusables is that they do not require any additional packaging, so you throw nothing away. They should be rinsed after use and then can be washed with other laundry. Additionally, a lot of reusable pads are handmade, so you can support someone’s small business while doing your bit for the environment!
Again, there are not many downsides to this product, but some reusables may be a little thicker than disposables due to the difference in material. However, different products suit different flows so you can experiment with what works for you.
The menstrual cup is favoured by a lot of people; one reason for this is that it can be used for much longer (usually up to 12 hours). A cup can also last around 10 years, making this a worthy eco investment. There is very little wastage and a variety of different sized cups to suit your body. See some popular brands of menstrual cups below:
The downside is that menstrual cups are not for everyone – some people say they are not comfortable for them, so an alternative product could be more suitable in this case.
Another option is underwear for periods, which removes the need for any separate products at all. They are easy to use, last a long time and create very little waste. There are lots of styles and price ranges too, depending on what you are looking for. They can be washed after use, just like reusable sanitary pads, and will be ready for when you need them next. Here are a few suggested brands:
With such a range of styles, there are not many cons to period underwear. They may appear expensive at first, but just like the other reusable products you only need to buy them once and they will last a long time, so could be a worthy investment.
Find out more
For more information on how to make your period more sustainable, WEN (Women’s Environmental Network) has some great resources from its ‘Environmenstrual’ Campaign. The organisation are raising awareness of period education, promoting eco-friendly products and are trying to break down the taboo surrounding periods. They even have some discount codes for sustainable period products if you sign up.
With so many alternatives to disposable period products, there is something for everyone. Whatever decision you make, you’re well on your way to having a more environmentally-friendly period. Do you have some tips or suggestions for what works for you? Let us know your thoughts.