The average woman uses over 11,000 disposable single-use period products in her lifetime and each one, once disposed of, will last about five times longer on this planet than she will. That is a lot of waste. The problem isn’t just tampons either, the average sanitary pad contains up to 90% plastic materials (you know plastic, that famous absorbent material…) and each one is made using the same amount of plastic as four plastic carrier bags – something that along with straws we are thankfully managing to reduce rapidly. However, most of us don’t think about plastic in period products – I know I didn’t – there’s plenty of other things to think about; the cramps, the spots, the bad stomach, headaches, am I going to randomly leak at the worst time ever!? WHO KNOWS! That’s the fun of periods. Side note: if you haven’t already, please download Clue. It’s a free period tracker, marks roughly where you are in your cycle (period, ovulation, PMS etc) and tracks your personal patterns. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now and aside from just knowing when you’re going to come on, it really helps me understand my mental health in relevance to my cycle so I feel less crazy.
However, it’s 2019 and there are plenty of companies now stocking zero waste, low waste and at the very least plastic-free period protection. Varying from cool indie brands to stuff available in your local super markets so there really is no need to be putting chemical and scratchy plastic-infused rubbish inside your body. Some options might take a little getting used to (the cup everyone’s terrified of, for example), some are new, innovative ideas (period pants) and some are just exactly the same as what you’re used to but slightly nicer versions that are better for the environment, so hopefully by the end of this post you’ll have found something to suit your lifestyle.
1 – Menstrual Cup: OrganiCup
This has to be the number one choice as the most convenient and least waste producing item. A reusable cup can last you ten years+, saving you tonnes of waste and money. I’ve been using a cup I was gifted from OrganiCup for about a year now and I’ve written all about it in detail here! So if you’re curious about trying a cup, definitely take a look at that post. The cup is surprisingly easy to use and you can’t feel it at all when moving around – I’ve worn it for yoga, boxing, squats, anything! You can even use them for swimming as they are worn completely internally. A cup also holds three times more than a regular ‘heavy’ tampon and most people leave them in for 8-12 hours before needing to empty. The only downside really is if you are squeamish as you may have to fully get your hand in there to get the cup in and out, which can be a different experience for everyone depending on where your cervix is. Though there is a stem on the end of the cup to make this far less traumatic than it sounds. You can find the OrganiCup for around £15 on Amazon and various other UK stockists. Even if you only use the cup sometimes, such as in the home whilst it’s most convenient for you, you’ll be saving a lot of money and waste.
2 – Reusable Pads: Red Queen Cloth
Your first instinct is probably something along the lines of ‘omg, ew’ but like cloth nappies, reusable sanitary pads were once very, very normal, not all that long ago. Since then, our consumerist culture and the media have turned them into something dirty and disgusting, insinuating that only single-use disposables (full of crap chemicals and plastics) are going to keep you clean when, really, the opposite is often true. I was gifted the above pads from Red Queen Cloth who I got in touch with because I just knew my followers would love her amazing prints. Not only are they a much more eco-friendly and plastic free option but they function much better and are super soft. No more crinkly, scratchy plastic in your knickers! I used to use pads all the time before I went to the gym and had to switch to tampons because, not only are pads super uncomfortable to wear – think nappy rash – but you can literally hear them crinkling and sticking/unsticking when you move, never mind the fact that they shift around and sometimes aren’t even really doing the one job they are meant to. These reusable versions however are much more trust worthy because there’s a little popper to hold them in place. I’ve never really understood why disposable sanitary pads are made with a plasticcy surface, not exactly the most absorbent choice of material. These pads are made with super absorbent fleece and topped with a soft cotton jersey layer, with a variety of unique designs – you’ll become a collector before you know it. Cass custom makes these in different sizes and absorbencies – so something small and slim would be perfect for anyone who just has spotting but she also makes super thick pads for night time use with a heavy flow. The smaller pad is great during the day though and not noticeable even when wearing leggings. Many users of reusable products like these even report shorter cycles, lighter flow and a reduction in menstrual pain so it’s gotta be worth a try, right? She sells starter sets with a selection of four sizes/absorbencies for £30 or you can buy them individually starting from £4.50.
3 – Period Pants: Cheeky Wipes
These are another favourite option of mine, I have a few different pairs that I was gifted from Cheeky Wipes and they are so fab to wear over night as a back-up to whatever protection you usually use, or to use on their own when you have a lighter flow. They have a few different designs now, the original lace top pair which whilst you can notice they’re not normal pants (theres internal padding from front to back for full-coverage absorbency!) they still look great and are pretty stylish for period wear, you don’t have to feel like a weirdo if someone sees you wearing them whilst you’re getting undressed at the gym or in front of your partner. You also avoid that awfully embarrassing crinkling sound as you walk that you get with disposable pads – I’ve always been really embarrassed wearing pads when sleeping in the same bed with a partner, incase it makes the dreaded crinkly ‘i’m wearing a nappy’ sound. Well, these don’t do that. The lace bit means they’re not so low-cut and are actually pretty flattering, but I prefer to wear their sportier bikini pants as I live in leggings so they fit better underneath. PSA, they recommend that you size down when ordering. These are £9.50 and I’d definitely recommend them.
4 – Tampons: OHNE
Are you one of the many people that comes on your period, having nothing in and then have to panic buy a bunch of different absorbency products for different days? Or send your partner down to the shop to buy what will almost definitely be the wrong thing? OHNE are here to save the day with an amazing mix and match toxin-free tampon subscription service that will stop you wasting the average 355 hours of your life buying period products. Let me take a second to just say what an amazing brand this is, run by fantastic women who are quite obviously period positive but also extremely sex positive and women positive in general so just somewhere you should definitely be putting your money instead of the frankly embarrassing ‘blue liquid’ commercial brands. You simply set up a subscription, choosing your order between applicator or non-applicator tampons as well as mixing your box up with different absorbencies and then decide how often you’ll want them! They come as boxes of 8-24 and they are incredibly cheap as a service, £4.90 – £6.25 (depending on the box size) including delivery. You can adjust, pause or cancel at any time – especially useful if you have an irregular cycle. They’ve also recently released their own CBD oil, specially formulated to help with period pain either externally via applying to the lower back or abdomen, or by soaking a few drops onto your tampon. You can try their aptly named ‘anti-teardrops’ by purchasing them here.
The skin of your vulva is the thinnest and most delicate of your entire body, yet there’s absolutely no regulations for tampons to list any ingredients on them. This means they get away with plastics, pesticides and even bleach – lots of which have been said to increase period pains, and many synthetic fabrics that have been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome. TSS was honestly one of my biggest fears growing up, I went to an all girls school so I think I learned a lot more about it a lot sooner than most and it absolutely terrified me, I avoided tampons for as long as possible but there’s currently been no linked cases from purely organic cotton tampons. None, this has only ever happened with the mainstream brands and to be honest I think it’s actually quite disgusting and dangerous that so little has been done to change this and the threat this life-threatening condition can bring. Obviously the naked tampons are the most ‘zero waste’ options (though with OHNE the applicators are cardboard, not the usual plastic, so they are biodegradable along with the wrapper) but I know a lot of people struggle to get on with these, in which case it might be a good idea to purchase a reusable applicator as compromise, I haven’t tried it myself but this one from Dame seems to be very popular.
5 – Pads: TOTM
If you’re more of a ‘but I need it now!’ person, then you’re in luck! TOTM have recently made it onto the shelves of Tesco, so you can easily get hold of this organic product at a local super market. They sell organic cotton, plastic-free pads and liners as well as a variety of tampons, cups and other bits and bobs. The pads are made with breathable organic cotton and without the addition of fragrance, deodorants, wood pulp or chlorine bleach…Yup, those things ARE included in a lot of other high-street brands. The pads are naturally absorbent, soft and comfortable to prevent irritation. The natural element of this product means you are less likely to suffer from those nappy-rash-type irritations the classic pads can cause, plus, each pad is individually wrapped in a compostable and biodegradable biofilm meaning they are a great low waste option for anyone who doesn’t want to use a product that needs to be inserted. Using breathable materials is important as plastic-coated pads can actually cause you to sweat more (ew) leading to further irritation and potentially even infection as bacteria becomes trapped against your skin, so these are better for your vagina as well as the environment. Cotton is the most intensively sprayed produce on the planet, so organic cotton means not only are you and your vagina spared the exposure to these chemicals but so are the people that work to grow and harvest the cotton, this also means 94% less greenhouse gas emissions during the production. So much more goes into the sustainability of the products you buy before the point of purchase and I think we forget that sometimes! Let’s also take a moment to point out the amazing ‘Be Kinder to Your Vagina’ products they sell, including this purse which I’ve been going on about forever but is finally back in stock. One of my fave things I’ve ever been sent and only £4.95.
Until now, I’ve bought the same brand period care throughout my whole life, not just because it’s the one you see the most adverts for (so it must be the best, right?) but because they purposefully cultivate brand loyalty from such a young age, giving women such a fear of leaks that they don’t want to try brand elsewhere as it feels like they would be ‘compromising’ on quality. I for one never bought the cheaper options because I just assumed they wouldn’t work and the risk was too much for me, I was embarrassed buying pads in the shop let alone having to deal with a public leak. Even when I was young, magazines were filled with adverts so I grew up feeling like I knew that brand because they act like they’re you’re friend…They’re not. This was only intensified by the fact we were given free ‘starter kits’ from this brand when at school, which at the time I just thought was necessary (like the way health clinics provide free condoms) but now that I’m older and more cynical I can see that it was just a promotional opportunity – and it bloody well worked!
I’m so happy to see so much more available now and they all exist for different reasons and different situations, so I’d totally recommend picking up a few different bits so that you can always make the right decision for you when each day comes! Lot’s of women prefer to use tampons or cups as they are more discreet (especially if you live in leggings like I do!) but I’ve also heard from a lot of you that when you’re at the worst part of your period, usually in the first two days, that there’s no way you’re going to be putting anything up in there as it’s just too sensitive and painful so treat yourself to a few different options and make your period a happier time for you, your vagina and the planet. I’m just so happy to know I will never again have to give my money to companies that don’t care about my vagina and my health.
More from my Zero Waste series:
6 thoughts on “Zero Waste – Period”
Gemma, such a brilliant post. It is so interesting to see how much we can use now without using excessive amounts of plastic! I’ve always been nervous about the cup, but have seen so many positive posts recently around the cup that it’s definitely something I’m up for considering!
Same here – I’ve ignored my friends for at least six years because I have struggled even with tampons and how uncomfortable they can be at times, so seeing the size of a cup in comparison I could not fathom how that could be comfortable but you can’t feel them at all! It might seem gross at first but it’s so much better in every single way.
It’s the period pants I’d quite like to try next but I like my period pants HUGE so they’re super comfy and I assume you wouldn’t be able to return if they’re not right? I may need to investigate a little further xx
They are pretty descriptive on site with the sizes and you can always email and ask them for advice, the ones I have (the bigger ones with the lace top) come up a little big anyway, so I think you’d find them comfy if you ordered your normal size or could even size up if you wanted, they’re super comfy though and I’d 100% recommend them.
I loved reading this post – definitely a topic that isn’t talked about enough! I’ve never tried any of these reusable / plastic free products before, but I’ll definitely consider trying a few of these out. I really like how you’ve explained each product in a simple, non-scary way.
Thank you – yeah, it’s definitely not as scary or gross as it seems at first. I ignored my friends for YEARS when they bigged up the cup ’cause I just thought they had to be exaggerating, but you really just can’t feel it at all. It’s definitely great to have other options as well, though.