There are many ways people who menstruate can make impactful purchasing decisions that reduce their environmental impact. From skincare products, to maternity clothes, and sunglasses, there is always a way to be more conscious when it comes to the products we use—and that certainly includes period products. The average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of “pads, plugs, and applicators” in her lifetime. A lifestyle change as simple as switching up the menstrual products we use can have a huge impact on the environment.
Here, we share how these products create waste, sustainable alternatives, and lifestyle changes you can make for a zero waste period that’s better for your body and Mother Earth.
HOW DO TRADITIONAL TAMPONS AND PADS CREATE WASTE?
The waste from disposable tampons and pads is significant, contributing to landfills and plastic in our oceans. According to a Harvard Business School report, close to 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons, and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year. Because the plastics found in traditional pads and tampons can’t be cleaned and recycled, they go straight to landfills. There, it can take hundreds of years or more for some of these materials to break down. Additionally, flushing applicators can pollute waterways, and plastic from tampons can be harmful to marine life once they make their way to the ocean.
SUSTAINABLE MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS FOR A ZERO WASTE PERIOD
Fortunately, there are sustainable alternatives to traditional tampons and pads. While some may seem intimidating at first, it’s worth making an effort to determine whether any of these alternatives can fit into your lifestyle. The more environmentally conscious we all try to be, the more we can reduce unnecessary waste. Here are a few environmentally friendly period management options; read on to see which might be best for you.
Period underwear is an excellent alternative to single-use period care. It’s comfortable, easy to use, and most importantly, reusable. Period underwear has an absorbent lining to prevent leaks, smells, and moisture, and can hold up to four tampons worth of liquid. Many people with periods choose to use period underwear as backup with a cup, disc, or tampon on heavier flow days, or as their period product on lighter days. With proper care, one pair of reusable period underwear can last up to two years.
If a major switch makes you nervous, an easy swap to make is to look for tampons and pads that are biodegradable and limit the amount of plastic in packaging. One of the main environmental issues posed by tampons are the plastic applicators, so even swapping to applicator-free tampons can have a huge impact.
Menstrual cups can last up to 10 years and can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time. They are perfect for traveling, exercising, being in the water, and for everyday activities. Cups can hold up to five tampons worth of liquid. Because of the way a menstrual cup fits into the vaginal canal, it can be kept in much longer than a tampon without the risk of leaks. (Although, as with any period product, it’s important to be aware of risks and signs of Toxic Shock Syndrome.) Those who swear by the menstrual cup often mention that you can’t feel it once it’s in your body, and while removing it can take a bit of trial and error, it quickly becomes easy to use with a bit of practice.
Reusable pads are usually made of soft cotton, bamboo, or fleece, which you wash after use. They adhere to underwear with silicone grip that grasps to the material. Unlike traditional pads which you throw away after one use, these are designed to last at least five years if taken care of properly. Reusable pads are estimated to replace 120 disposable period products.
Menstrual discs are similar to menstrual cups, the main difference being the shape and where they sit once inserted. Menstrual discs are shallower in design and sit higher in the vaginal canal (making a big perk that sex is still possible while it’s in place). Menstrual discs can typically be worn for up to 12 hours and can hold up to five regular tampons worth of liquid.
OTHER WAYS TO HAVE A MORE ECO-FRIENDLY PERIOD
Selecting period products with the planet in mind is a massive step towards a more environmentally conscious period. If you want to be even more conscientious with your menstrual cycles you can opt for the following:
– Dispose of tampons and pads in a way that’s marginally more eco-friendly: biodegradable miniature bags are now available to use for disposing of sanitary products. They’ll do better in the landfill than they would inside a plastic trash bag.
– Look for tampons/pads packaged in cardboard boxes. When the box is empty, just recycle the carton.
– Spread the word! Sharing your newfound appreciation for sustainable products and a zero waste period with friends and loved ones can help shatter long-held taboos on the topic of menstruation. The more we all know, the better choices we can make.