Menstruation is one of those things that society is really uncomfortable talking about even though it happens to roughly 50% of the population and is a necessary part of our ability to continue as a species. Periods are at best a minor inconvenience and at their worst, they prevent young girls from accessing education or isolating them from a society because they are seen as “impure.” Periods can also wreak havoc on the planet because of the products we use to manage them. The average person will menstruate for 40 years and use approximately 20 tampons per cycle, a total of 9,600 tampons in a lifetime. Not only is that a lot of waste, it’s also a lot of money. Fortunately, there are a myriad of products on the market that will make your cycle easier on the planet and your wallet.
1: Menstrual Cup
The Diva Cup has been my product of choice for over 4 years now and I don’t think I could ever turn back. At this point I’ve converted at least 4 friends to the Dive Cup life and chances are if you know someone that uses a menstrual cups you have heard how amazing they are. There are a number of menstrual products on the market, but they all function in the same basic way. You fold the cup and insert it and then can leave it in for up to 12 hours. Menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone that is non-toxic and doesn’t come with the risk of toxic shock syndrome associated with tampons. A lot of people are put off by menstrual cups at first due to the lack of applicator and the removal process, but once you get the swing of things it’s not only a mess-free process it’s also a great way to become more comfortable with a reality of your body. To clean the cup between changes just wash it with warm water and an unscented soap like Dr. Bronner’s (you can just wipe it with toilet paper if you need to change it in a public restroom) and then boil it between cycles.Because you only need one cup, they particularly convenient for traveling and you don’t have to worry about running out of them during the day. Menstrual cups run for about $30 but can last up to 10 years if cared for properly, meaning they are a great zero waste swap. Want to learn more about the menstrual, there are tons of Safe-for-Work review videos on YouTube.
2: Reusable Pads
For people that aren’t fans of internal period products, reusable pads could make a great swap. Reusable pads are shaped like a traditional pad with wings but are typically made from some combination of cotton, fleece, and/or bamboo with a snap closure to keep them secure. I found quite a few people that sell reusable pads on Etsy, so they’re a great option if you want to support a small business (or you could make your own if you’re crafty). The care instructions varied across vendors, some indicated that they should be soaked in salty water until wash day and others said you could just wash them like any normal clothing item, so pay attention to the specific instructions from the vendor you choose. These are also supposed to last a year, but one drawback is that you would have to have quite a few on hand to get through a cycle and so they will end up generating waste when they need to be replaced.
3: Period Underwear
The brand Thinx comes to mind anytime I think about zero waste period products. Thinx are underwear that remove the need for an additional period product by combining them into the underwear. They make underwear in a variety of styles for different levels of flow as well as activewear gear. I couldn’t find information online about how long Thinx are supposed to last and they run from $24-$39 per pair so they could be an expensive option to use for your entire cycle, but they could be a good backup for the heaviest day.
Having a period doesn’t have to wreck havoc on the planet. It’s also not something we should be embarrassed to deal with or talk about. While it may seem like an icky zero waste swap at first, I’ve found that it is one of the best swaps I have made in my zero waste journey. Gone are the days when I have to rush to the store because I wasn’t prepared with disposable tampons on hand. Now, instead of dreading my period it’s just another fact of my zero waste life that is pretty unremarkable.