Most people get their period around age 12, and they’ll probably continue to have a period until they’re 45+. That’s a LOT of menstrual products! Most women use around 11,000 tampons total over their lifetimes, not to mention pads and panty liners. Twenty billion (that’s Billion) disposable tampons and pads end up in U.S. landfills, every year. OMG.
And they’re often made out of plastic, rayon, bleach, and other chemicals that aren’t good for you. For instance, bleaching with chlorine leaves dioxin behind, which is linked to cancer. The FDA says that trace amounts of dioxin are fine — but they don’t account for our cumulative exposure. Not good! Also, plastic applicators are everywhere: Landfills. Roadsides. Rivers. Oceans.
Did you know that eco-friendly products used to be the norm? But then disposable pads (late 1800s) and tampons (in 1929) were introduced, and here we all are.
But here are some ideas to green up our periods and make them more environmentally-friendly, from “easiest” (imo) to “eco-goddess”:
Organic Tampons and Pads
The easiest way to make a positive change is to switch to organic cotton tampons and pads (ideally without applicators). Many standard brands of tampons are chlorine-bleached or coated in plastic — and the cotton has been grown with lots of pesticides. Organic brands don’t use chlorine, plastic, or dyes (and the cotton hasn’t been treated with pesticides, either!). Common organic-cotton brands include Seventh Generation, NatraCare, and Cora, among others.
But of course, even organic cotton tampons and pads are disposable products, and therefore pretty wasteful. Fear not: There are ways to get even greener…
You’ve probably heard of the Diva Cup by now, but there are many other brands on the market. The basic principle is that a soft, pliable silicone cup is inserted into the vagina to catch the menstrual blood, then removed and washed out as needed. Rinse and repeat! Silicone is an unfriendly environment for bacterial growth. And menstrual cups can last for years and are therefore very environmentally friendly — not to mention cheaper than buying tampons and pads over and over. Another fun fact: They’re said to hold up to 3x more blood than a tampon!
Other brands to look into besides the Diva Cup: Moon Cup, Instead, MiaCup, and Lunette. MenstrualCups.Org gives a nice, comprehensive overview of positives and negatives of usage, plus reviews.
These are pretty much what you think they are. Cloth pads absorb more blood than regular pads, and you can buy them in cool prints. Etsy crafters, in particular, make some spectacular ones. I’m partial to this one: Shark Week!
Also, if you sew: These are pretty much as simple as it gets (unless you put sequins on it or something).
One obvious drawback here is the cleaning aspect: You have to soak it in cold, wash, dry, etc. Which you could argue is wasteful of water — not to mention labor-intensive.
One option: Some women wear cloth pads at home, and then switch to a menstrual cup when they go out into the world. Advanced!
Period-proof underwear, such as Thinx, can be used on their own (if your period is light) or in conjunction with other methods (if your flow is heavy and you want a little extra insurance). They are marketed as being highly absorbent, leak-proof, and anti-microbial — plus, they come in a large range of sizes and styles. I read about one that had a “kangaroo pocket” where you could put a heating pad!
Thinx gets rave reviews, but there are other brands out there. Here’s an article that rates many brands of period-panties.
I hesitated to include this one, because the idea of putting a sea creature into my hoo-ha seems…. awkward. But many women swear by it. In fact, women have been using sea sponges as tampons for Thousands of years, it turns out! Women.are.so.clever. Even Cleopatra is supposed to have used them. ELEGANT. Sea sponges are biodegradable and said to be sustainably harvested: When they’re collected in oceans, divers leave a piece of the sponge behind and it regenerates. Sponges are also said to be very comfortable.
But note that not everyone agrees sponges are safe, as they’ve come from the ocean and are therefore dependent on the health of that ocean (and the cleaning process of that particular sponge). Caveat emptor.
Note also that they’re difficult to rinse out and re-use if you’re in a public bathroom — much like the menstrual cup or anything you need to wash and re-use.
If you’d like to try a sea sponge tampon, here’s a site that reviews different types.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or an endorsement by Planned Parenthood. Check with your health care provider to discuss what is best for you.