How To Have an Eco-Friendly Period
I am so excited to share this guest post with you. How to have an eco-friendly period was something I had never considered before a few years ago when I learned of the impact commonly used feminine hygiene products have on the planet, our bodies and our wallet. One of those 'once you see it, you can't unsee it' things, I'd never go back to using 'conventional' products. Read on for some detailed insight by the brilliant Jackie Bolen on how to have an eco-friendly period and why you'd want to.
Here’s something that I wish I had known years earlier: there are eco-friendly feminine hygiene products. I’m not sure how I didn’t know this, maybe I was hanging around with the wrong people, or perhaps the companies making these products didn’t have huge advertising budgets? Whatever the case, I’m happy that I did eventually make the switch.
I’m going to talk about a few of the reasons you might consider ditching the disposables for a reusable option, including health benefits, money savings, and environmental considerations. Then I’ll get into some of the alternatives you might want to consider.
Reason #1 to Make the Switch: Health Benefits
In the USA, pads and tampons are classified as medical devices by the FDA (that’s the US food and drug administration FYI). This is bad news for consumers because it means that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose what’s in them. According to Time Magazine, what is in them are pesticides and chemicals. Although there are only trace amounts, it’s thought that repeated exposure can have some pretty serious side effects, including cancer.
It’s well known that tampons can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) too. Although it’s quite rare, it is very serious. That’s why tampon instructions always include warnings to use the least absorbent tampon possible, as well as to change them frequently.
Reusables, including menstrual cups and cloth pads don’t have these health risks associated with them. Cups (get a top quality one) and cloth pads (go organic if possible) contain far fewer chemicals, as long as you wash them before using. To date, there has only been one reported case of TSS being associated with menstrual cup usage.
Reason #2 to Make the Switch: You'll save money
I’m sure you know this already, but pads and tampons are expensive. I get a bad feeling every time I go to the drugstore to buy them. This is particularly true if you have a heavy and/or long period and require more pads or tampons than the average person.
Estimates vary, but it’s thought that most people will spend £1500-3000 on these products over a lifetime. Ouch.
Menstrual cups cost around £20 and last for up to 10 years. Cloth pads are approximately £3.50 per pad (you can make your own for cheaper) and last a similar length of time. You can save thousands of pounds by making the switch away from disposable pads to reusable ones.
Reason #3 to Make the Switch: Environmental
Due to the nature of pads and tampons, they cannot be recycled. It’s estimated that around 300 pounds of them go straight into the landfill for each person, over a lifetime. This says nothing of the packaging that they’re sold in. A portion of these products is plastic (even OB tampons without an applicator are wrapped in plastic) which does not biodegrade. Those plastic applicators will still be hanging around, thousands of years from now!
Alternatively, you could use 4-8 menstrual cups and around 50 cloth pads instead. It really does make a difference and can go a long way toward reducing waste.
Alternatives to Disposable Products
If you want to save some money, limit your exposure to pesticides and chemicals, avoid the risk of toxic shock syndrome, as well as reduce waste, then consider making the switch to reusable feminine hygiene products.
I’ve already briefly mentioned menstrual cups and cloth pads, but I’ll give some more details about them here. I’ll also introduce a third option, period panties.
Option #1: Menstrual Cups
Menstrual cups are bell-shaped cylinders that are designed to replace tampons. They’re inserted into your vaginal canal and collect menstrual fluid. When full (or every 12 hours), you take it out, empty, and then reinsert it. With proper care and cleaning, it will last for years.
When buying a menstrual cup, you need to consider the size and length of your vaginal canal, whether or not you’ve given birth vaginally, and how heavy your flow is.
You should also be sure to avoid the cheap cups from China that are so flimsy that they leak like crazy (on Amazon for £3-10). Instead, go with one of the reputable ones for £15-30. Here are a few good picks: Diva Cup (Canada), MoonCup (UK), Lunette Cup (Finland), FemmyCycle (USA), and Lena Cup (USA).
Option #2: Cloth Menstrual Pads
The next reusable option are cloth menstrual pads. Similar to their disposable counterparts, they fit inside your underwear and collect menstrual fluid. They also come in a wide range of sizes and absorbency levels. The main difference is that you can wash, and then reuse them.
Cloth pads last for years, and most people find that 6-8 of them is enough to easily get through a cycle. A quick tip: don’t buy all six at once! Try a few different brands to find your favourite one. Hesta Organic is a good place to start.
Option #3: Period Panties
Period panties are designed to replace your regular underwear. Although they’re quite similar, they contain absorbent padding. They are best used in combination with a tampon or menstrual cup, because they’re not super absorbent. They are however, good at offering a bit of extra protection.
Period panties offer some serious money-saving potential, health and environmental benefits when compared to something like panty-liners.
Ready to Make the Switch?
It can be a bit overwhelming to make the switch from disposables to reusables because there are so many options. For some solid advice, and unbiased reviews, check out Reusable Menstrual Cups. There are reviews of menstrual cups, cloth menstrual pads, period panties as well as details on how to use these products effectively.
Get ready for some period awesome in your future!
Jackie Bolen is a tree-hugging, friend of the Earth who can usually be found paddling the rivers, on top of a mountain, or drinking organic coffee around Vancouver, Canada. Her hope is that one day, a reusable feminine hygiene product will be found in the hands of every single menstruating person in the world.