Under Threat: eco-friendly alternatives to pads and tampons

At Lifestyle, we are starting a series exploring the issue of sustainability and how small changes can result in us leading more sustainable lives. Each article will cover a different area of everyday life and what changes can be made to limit your individual impact on the environment. We aim to make these changes as simple as they can be and at least the same cost or cheaper than the normal alternative.

You can take your tote bags to the supermarket and carry a KeepCup everywhere you go, but if you have a vagina there’s one time of the month where plastic waste seems inevitable. But struck with period cramps, curled up and cursing Mother Nature, we forget that she suffers from our periods as much as we do. Disposable period products and their packaging generate over 200 000 tonnes of waste annually, posing a huge threat to the environment. Fear not, fellow period-havers, here are some sustainable alternatives to conventional pads and tampons that won’t fill up landfills and oceans.

First up, period-proof underwear. If you’re a seasoned tampon or pad user, the idea of free bleeding into your underwear might seem a step too far, even for the sake of the planet. However, leading period underwear brand THINX have engineered leak-free, totally absorbent underwear for that time of the month, with four protective layers of natural fibres. They hold up to two tampons’ worth of blood, meaning you can put them on and forget about them for at least a few hours. Starting at £18.98 per pair, they aren’t the cheapest alternative out there – but a high initial cost comes with the benefit of never even having to think twice about your period, and never having to bust out those time-of-the-month granny pants again.

Next up, the controversial menstrual cup: a small cup made from medical-grade silicone which you insert just below your cervix to collect the blood. Although you have to get pretty well-acquainted with your anatomy to use one, cups are not only greener than pads and tampons, but so much more convenient. They only need be emptied every 12 hours – just take it out, pour the blood away, rinse and repeat, boiling the cup in between cycles to keep it sterile. With next to no risk of toxic shock syndrome with proper use, they are also much, much safer than tampons. There’s a learning curve, but with dozens of brands offering different shapes and sizes for every vagina, there really is a right cup for everyone. At the price of £15-£40 for a cup that lasts 10 years, it’s worth a try – especially when 10 years of pads and tampons can cost around £200.

For those who have difficulty getting over the ‘ick’ factor with inserting cups, reusable pads are more of a conventional alternative. Made with multiple layers of fabric, they absorb blood much like a normal sanitary pad does, but when you’re done you rinse them out and put them through the laundry. As you’d need several to see you through a whole period, they can have a fairly expensive upfront cost, but if you’re the creative type there are guides on the Internet showing you how to make your own.

If dealing with the reusable alternatives seems like a bit of a bloodbath, then rest assured that there are other choices that resemble conventional period products but designed with the environment in mind. Conventional period pads are around 90 per cent plastic, but companies like Natracare sell organic tampons and pads made from entirely compostable materials like wood pulp and cotton. However, while these are in principle better for the environment, it really depends on how you dispose of them. When biodegradable waste gets sent to landfill, it rarely has the right conditions to break down safely, producing harmful gases like methane. So if you go down the biodegradable route, make sure to get a compost bin for your tampons rather than just chucking them away.

It may be a change of routine, but knowing your period isn’t harming the planet is really empowering. There’s a sustainable period option out there for everyone; it’s all about finding what works for you. And once you do, go forth and menstruate in peace.

Image Credit: Menstruationstrasse.net via Flickr 

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