According to the book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, the average woman throws away 250-300 pounds of disposable period products such as pads and tampons during her lifetime. On average, it amounts to about 0.5% of the total trash thrown away by that person.
Does it make a difference to switch to reusable period products? 0.5% doesn’t really seem like a big amount. But, I’m a believer in small changes equaling a big impact on the environment. Imagine the possibilities if a reusable period product was in the hands of every single menstruating person in the world?
There are three sustainable period products that you might consider making the switch to, including menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period panties. I’ll give you a rundown about each of these sustainable options to consider.
In all these cases, making the switch from a disposable to a reusable period protection option will allow you to have an eco-friendly, cheaper, healthier period experience.
A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped piece of medical grade silicone, thermoplastic elastomer, or latex that collects menstrual fluid. With proper care and cleaning, a menstrual cup can last for 5-10 years. This means that it can potentially replace thousands of tampons over a lifetime.
The bad news is that there is a bit of a learning curve with menstrual cups, and it takes most people a few cycles to really get the hang of things. The good news is that the vast majority of people do eventually figure it out, so don’t give up!
As far as which menstrual cup to get, there are more than a hundred choices, and it can be a bit intimidating to choose the right one. Here are a few tips to help you find the right one:
- Check customer reviews on Amazon before you do anything!
- Most period cups come in small and large sizes. The small is for younger people who haven’t given birth vaginally. The large is for people over 30, or those who have given birth vaginally.
- The cheapest cups aren’t necessarily a good buy. They are often poorly made and are so flimsy that they never really fully open when inside you. This means that they usually leak like crazy.
You could also check out this Menstrual Cup Quiz. There are a few simple questions, and then you’ll get a recommendation for the best cup for your body type.
Reusable Cloth Pads
The next sustainable period option is washable menstrual pads. They’re similar to disposable ones in how they work, but they’re made from cloth, bamboo, charcoal, or other natural materials.
Like menstrual cups, they can last for 5-10 years, and in some cases, even longer. They do require a bit of care if you don’t want them to stain. However, if you don’t care about that, just throw them in the laundry with your other clothes. It really can be that simple.
You probably want to know whether or not they actually work? The good news is that they have a leak-proof layer which means that cloth pads do a similar job at preventing leaks as disposables.
The bad news is that there is no sticky layer on the back, just snaps to hold them in place on your underwear. This means that they can shift around a bit during exercise.
My solution? I use cloth pads most of the time, but have a box of disposables if I need to use one during exercise.
A few tips to get you started:
- Check reviews on Amazon for the brand that you’re considering
- You can also make your own (look for patterns on Pinterest)
- There are organic options, but they can be quite expensive. You can just use normal ones which are fine but be sure to wash them first.
- There are a wide range of sizes and absorbency levels from panty liners to heavy, overnight pads
The final sustainable period protection option is period panties. They can offer a bit of extra protection for preventing leaks, but most of them aren’t really designed to replace pads or tampons. However, if you have an extremely heavy period, you could consider combining a menstrual cup, along with a cloth pad and period panties for the ultimate protection!
Some period panties have an absorbent layer, while others just have a leak-proof layer in them. Be clear about what you’re buying to prevent disaster on the first day of wearing them!
Some quick tips about period panties:
- Check reviews on Amazon first (sound familiar!?)
- There are some very expensive period panties that are 4-5x more expensive than the cheaper ones, but they’re not usually 5x better. Consider a cheaper option for your first pair to see if you like them.
- Wash them before using the first time
Ready to Make the Switch to Sustainable Period Products?
Small changes can add up to a big impact. Consider making the switch to a more eco-friendly period option today. Then, tell your friends and family members about it too, okay? It’s good for the environment, your bank account balance, as well as your health.
This is a guest post
About the Author
Jackie Bolen is a tree-hugging friend of the earth that can usually be found on top of a mountain, paddling the rivers, or working on her website, Reusable Menstrual Cups. She hopes that a sustainable period product will one day be found in the hands of every single menstruating person in the world.