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If you’re looking for ways to reduce your waste and environmental impact, then your period is a great place to start!
While disposable single-use period products, like pads and tampons, are convenient, they are also causing huge amounts of waste to end up in landfill every single year.
Did you know pads can take up to 500 years to break down? This means every pad you’ve ever used still exists in landfill and will continue to do so for 400 years or so after you’ve left this earth.
When there are so many fantastic reusable period product options to choose from, there’s no reason not to switch to reusable period products!
- A Note on Period Product Choices
- Doing Zero Waste Imperfectly
- Why Does Period Waste Matter?
- How Many Period Products Do You Use Every Cycle?
- A Lot of Bloody Waste
- What Are Disposable Period Products Made From?
- Disposable Period Waste – A Visual Representation
- Every Pad You’ve Ever Used Still Exists in Landfill
- Beware the Biodegradable Green-Washing
- Reusable Period Product Options
- Reusable Menstrual Pads
- How Do Reusable Menstrual Pads Work?
- Changing Reusable Pads in Public
- How to Wash Reusable Pads
- Cost of Reusable Pads
- Period Underwear
- A brief history of Period Underwear
- Period Underwear Goes Mainstream
- How Does Period Underwear Work?
- Period Underwear Absorbency
- Period Underwear for Teens
- How to Wash Period Underwear
- What is a Menstrual Cup?
- How Does a Menstrual Cup Work?
- How to Insert and Remove a Menstrual Cup
- A Menstrual Cup Cannot Get Lost Inside You!
- Menstrual Cup Cost
- Fun Fact – Menstrual Cups Are Not a New Invention
- Choosing a Menstrual Cup
- On Your Way to a Plastic Free Period
A Note on Period Product Choices
Before we go on, it is important to acknowledge that having a choice, when it comes to which period products to use, is a privilege. It’s a privilege that so many in our own communities, our own country and in countries around the world, do not have. That’s a whole separate topic of period poverty which you can read about here.
The most important thing when it comes to period products is that you have access to products that are safe, hygienic and comfortable for you.
Using disposable period products is not something to place shame on. We do not want to make someone feel bad about which period products they choose to use.
There is already enough shame and stigma around menstruation, we do not need to add to it!
Doing Zero Waste Imperfectly
As Zero waste Chef Anne-Marie Bonneau said in 2019:
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Just because I use reusable period products doesn’t mean I’m living a perfect plastic free life in other parts of my life. And likewise, just because someone is not using reusable period products doesn’t mean they aren’t already reducing their waste in other areas of their life.
BUT, if you are able to make the switch to reusable period products, you’re lucky there are some great options available to you. Reusables will give you a better period, not just for the environment, but also for your overall period experience.
Why Does Period Waste Matter?
As we become increasingly aware of the issues of climate change, the unsustainable consumption of resources and the ever increasing pollution to our natural environment, we are looking for more sustainable ways of living.
This is what’s driving our change from plastic bags to reusable bags, cling wrap to beeswax wraps, saying no to plastic straws and the list goes on.
Something you may, or may not have considered, is the amount of waste being generated from using disposable period products.
How Many Period Products Do You Use Every Cycle?
If you have a period, I invite you to take a moment to consider how many period products you use every cycle.
Yes, do the calculation! What’s your number?
Let’s use me as an example:
Hi, I’m Ellie. I first got my period at age 14 and it usually lasts for around 4 days every cycle. When I was using disposable pads, I would use approximately 5 pads per day. (1 x overnight, 4 x during the day – changing every four hours).
Over 4 days of my cycle, that equates to 20 pads per period.
Statistically speaking, my period should last for around 40 years.
After doing the calculations, I worked out that if I were to use disposable pads for all of my menstruating years, I would end up using 9,600 disposable pads!
And that’s just me, I’m just ONE person!
And you’re just one person. But on any given day, 800 million people around the world, have their period. Every single day!
A Lot of Bloody Waste
When we think about how many people are menstruating at any given time, the period waste adds up to a lot.
While all of those people around the world won’t necessarily be using disposable pads or tampons to manage their periods, a lot of them will be. So we can see, just how much period waste is potentially being generated on our planet every single day.
According to the Sustainable Period Project:
Over 1 billion pads & 700 million tampons are discarded every year by Australians & New Zealanders.
What Are Disposable Period Products Made From?
While the sheer volume of waste is a concern, it’s also what the disposable period products are made from that make them even more problematic for the environment.
Conventional period products, especially pads, are made from a lot of plastic. And one thing plastic likes to do is… hang around.
It’s somewhat difficult to obtain a list of ingredients that are contained within pads. But I did manage to find this component and ingredient list in reference to some U by Kotex ultra thin pads.
Polyethylene and polypropylene are fancy words for plastic. So you can see there is plastic in almost every component of these pads. It’s in the liner, the absorbent core, the pad backing and the pouch wrapper.
Not to mention then disposing of the pads into another plastic bag itself. When I used pads I had that little bin in the bathroom – you know the one – lined with a plastic bag. I would fill this up with pads every period.
Disposable Period Waste – A Visual Representation
Based on my calculations I’d be disposing of about 20 pads in one cycle. Then, filling up one small plastic bag full every month. Multiply that by 12-13 cycles a year over 40 years of my life. I’d be throwing out around 500 plastic bags full of disposable pads over the course of my menstruating years. It’s a lot.
All of this menstrual waste ends up in landfill, or our waterways when disposed of incorrectly. And because of all that plastic, it takes a long time to break down, if at all.
Every Pad You’ve Ever Used Still Exists in Landfill
Estimates currently stand that plastics can take up to 500 years to break down. Although plastic hasn’t been in existence for anywhere near that long yet for us to really know for sure.
Just like all plastic, it’s pretty safe to bet that every pad you’ve ever used is likely still in landfill. Not even a third of its way to breaking down.
If we keep using single-use disposable period products the waste problem will just continue to compound.
Beware the Biodegradable Green-Washing
Before we get into talking about reusables, let’s discuss biodegradable period products.
You might have seen a number of different pad and tampon brands stating their products are biodegradable.
Which is great, but somewhat irrelevant until the way we dispose of biodegradable products catches up to the possibilities offered by the products themselves.
Interestingly, if you’re disposing of your biodegradable pads or tampons in with your normal household waste, they will just end up in landfill like normal pads and tampons.
While they might break down a little bit quicker, once they’re in landfill you don’t know what conditions or what environment they’re going to be in.
Biodegradable products need specific conditions in order to biodegrade properly.
Often when a brand states their product is biodegradable, you need to read the fine print, or even contact the brand to find out the real information. A lot of them don’t provide adequate information about what biodegradable really means in the context of their products.
Imagine thinking you’re doing the right thing by paying more for biodegradable tampons, but then finding out the only way that tampon will properly biodegrade is if it is disposed of in an industrial composting facility. Which you do not have access to.
Sadly that’s the reality of biodegradable pads and tampons in Australia right now.
With this in mind, I would really encourage you to look beyond biodegradable disposable single-use products if you can. Really you’re still using the pad or tampon once and then disposing of it.
It’s still generating a lot of waste and the potential for that waste to not actually be biodegradable.
Reusable Period Product Options
Okay, now you know the huge impact disposable period products have on the environment. I bet you’re interested to find out more about the reusable period options available.
Let’s talk about reusable menstrual pads, period underwear and menstrual cups.
Reusable Menstrual Pads
Reusable menstrual pads are similar to disposable pads but they are designed to be washed and reused.
They are often made from a fabric such as organic cotton or bamboo that is soft and comfortable against your skin.
Reusable menstrual pads provide the familiarity of disposable pads but with more comfort and less exposure to toxins and irritants that may be found in the disposable pads.
Being made from fabric means they feel more like your underwear, than an irritating, bulky disposable pad.
How Do Reusable Menstrual Pads Work?
As mentioned, reusable menstrual pads work just like disposable pads and have a similar wear time too, with most brands recommending to change them as often as a disposable pad – around every 3 – 4 hours.
If the reusable menstrual pad starts to feel damp, this is a good indication the maximum absorbency has been reached and it’s time to change.
Reusable pads attach to the underwear by wrapping the wings underneath the underwear and clasping together with a snap fastener.
Some brands, like Hannah Pad, have additional grips on the fabric to grip to the underwear and hold in place. Think of the little grips on baby socks – they are just like that!
Changing Reusable Pads in Public
Changing reusable pads when out in public is not an issue. Just invest in a wet bag to store your used pad in until you get home.
Simply remove your reusable pad, fold it up and store in the wet bag. Once you get home remove from the wet bag for washing.
How to Wash Reusable Pads
Washing reusable pads involves a few steps.
- Remove the pad after use and rinse in cold water to remove deposits;
- Lather using probiotic soap or natural laundry detergent;
- Soak in cold water overnight, or up to 48 hours, changing water daily;
- Pop into a cold machine wash or hand wash;
- Finally, hang them out to dry, and in the sun if possible. Be sure they are completely dry before storing away.
Cost of Reusable Pads
The cost of reusable pads varies depending on the brand as well as the absorbency. Reusable pads can cost anywhere from $12 – $35. You can look to save money by purchasing bundle packs.
You can find a range of reusable menstrual pads at the Nourished Life online store. Click here to shop now.
Reusable menstrual pads are a great option but they don’t offer much of a new experience to disposable pads. If you’re looking for something similar to a pad but with that next level of innovation and improved period experience then you’re going to love period underwear!
Period underwear is underwear that looks and feels just like normal underwear but contains special absorbent technology in the gusset. This absorbs the menstrual flow, wicks away moisture, and kills bacteria and smells.
It comes in different absorbency levels and with the right absorbency for your flow, can be worn on its own, as a standalone solution to managing your period.
A brief history of Period Underwear
Period underwear first came onto the market in 2013. The two original brands and still the biggest players in the market launched within a couple of months of each other. They were:
Modibodi – an Australian company; and
Thinx – a US company.
Since then, a number of other brands have launched like Love Luna, Mynickerbot , Wukawear and Ruby Love.
Period Underwear Goes Mainstream
More recently, period underwear has gone mainstream with existing brands adding period underwear to their product range. Brands like Bonds, TOM Organic and even Libra are now selling period underwear.
I don’t believe that all period underwear brands are equal at the moment, there are definitely some that I feel more trust in their product development and the quality of their product.
When a product market is going well, lots of brands are going to pop up and try to replicate that success.
However, the more brands we have making period underwear, the more mainstream it becomes and that can only be a good thing. It’s also good to have a variety of brands at different price points to choose from.
When talking about period underwear in this article, I will mainly focus on Modibodi. This is for ease and because I use and trust their products.
But please be aware there are a range of brands you can choose from. They come in at different price points and some of them are really accessible, being available now at Woolworths, Coles, Chemist Warehouse and Big W.
How Does Period Underwear Work?
Modibodi period underwear has an absorbent gusset that contains three layers of protection.
1. TOP LAYER (closest to your skin)
Made from merino wool (except in the vegan range) which wicks away moisture, repels odour, is naturally antimicrobial and soft on skin. Leaving you to feel fresh, dry & comfortable.
2. MIDDLE LAYER
This middle layer is made from quick-drying microfibre that absorbs fluid and odour – and locks it away. Plus, the antimicrobial technology fights bacteria to keep you fresh.
3. BOTTOM LAYER
The bottom layer is waterproof, breathable and provides additional leak-proof protection. This completes the exclusive technology combination.
All of this absorbent layered technology is combined into a super thin lining which is only 3mm thick. It’s hardly noticeable, only minimally thicker than normal underwear and a far cry from the discomfort of bulky, rustling pads.
But guess all you really need to know is that you can bleed straight into period underwear and it will keep you protected!
Period Underwear Absorbency
Most period underwear brands come in a range of different absorbencies. Modibodi has a great range from Super Light, which can hold up to 1 tampons worth, all the way through to Maxi 24 Hours, which can hold up to 10 tampons worth. This is the most absorbent on the market as far as I’m aware.
See the graphic below which summarises the different absorbencies and how much each can hold.
The heavy to overnight absorbency has a longer gusset all the way up the back to the waist band, which is similar to an overnight pad. Longer at the back to keep you protected while laying down sleeping.
The maxi 24 hrs absorbency also has a longer gusset at the back but also extends all the way to the front waistband as well to keep you totally protected all over. Great for the front bleeders out there!
How Much Menstrual Fluid Do We Lose During Our Period?
For context when talking about absorbency or capacity of any menstrual product, it can be helpful to know what the average blood loss during a period really is.
The average person loses 30 – 50 ml of menstrual fluid over their whole period. That’s over ALL the days, not each day individually.
Here is a great visual that helps you see the menstrual fluid lost during the average period. It’s not really all that much.
Period Underwear for Teens
Don’t you just wish period underwear was around when you were a teenager? I know I do! How much better would it be to wear comfortable, discreet period underwear rather than having to worry about hiding a pad or tampon up your sleeve as you go to the bathroom at school.
Red by Modibodi is a great range of period underwear for teens and tweens. They come in plain colours which is great for under school uniforms as well as fun and bright coloured patterns.
How to Wash Period Underwear
A common concern with period underwear is around the washing process. The good news is, washing period underwear is simple.
It’s really as easy as Rinse, Wash, Dry.
But for all the details, read this post How to Wash Period Underwear.
The real zero waste hero of the reusable period product world is the humble menstrual cup.
One tiny cup can manage your period on its own for up to ten years! That’s right, you only need one cup and it can be inserted, filled, emptied and reinserted as many times as you need during your period. Then it can be reused again for every period over the next ten years.
What is a Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup is a soft, reusable cup, usually made from medical grade silicone or thermoplastic elastomer (TPE).
I describe it as a reusable alternative to a tampon because it’s folded and inserted into the vagina.
On first appearances the menstrual cup looks much bigger in comparison to a tampon, however when folded, the insertion point is really a similar size.
How Does a Menstrual Cup Work?
A menstrual cup is inserted into the vaginal canal where it will ‘pop’ open to form a leak-proof suction seal against the vaginal walls.
The cup sits below the cervix to collect the menstrual fluid.
The cervix is the opening to the uterus which opens slightly during menstruation to let the menstrual fluid pass through from the uterus and out the vaginal opening.
How to Insert and Remove a Menstrual Cup
This video created by The Hello Cup is a fun and helpful visual on how a menstrual cup is inserted and removed.
My best tip for an easy removal is to remove the cup in the shower where possible. You can relax in the privacy of your own shower, you can empty the contents of the cup straight down the drain, and any mishaps can be washed away without a worry!
A Menstrual Cup Cannot Get Lost Inside You!
I repeat, a menstrual cup cannot get lost inside you!
The cervix is the ceiling of the vagina and there is literally nowhere else inside your vaginal canal that a menstrual cup can escape from. And it certainly cannot pass through the small opening of the cervix that the menstrual fluid flows through.
If you do experience the feeling of your cup being lost inside you then you may just have a naturally high cervix or a menstrual cup that is not long enough.
If your cup is too short, it can end up quite high inside the vaginal canal and therefore be difficult to reach up and remove. That’s why it’s important to choose the right menstrual cup for your anatomy.
Menstrual Cup Cost
A menstrual cup from a reputable brand will cost around $30 – $50 (AUD). This is a higher initial outlay but since it is going to last you for up to ten years, the investment will pay off in the long run. One single cup will be much more economical than paying for disposable products every single month.
You can check out some of my favourite menstrual cup brands below:
A range of menstrual cups are also available on Nourished Life.
Fun Fact – Menstrual Cups Are Not a New Invention
The menstrual cup is not a new invention, it was first invented way back in the 1930’s by an American born actress, inventor and writer, Leona Chalmers. Leona was the first to patent and market the device which was made from rubber.
It didn’t find much popularity in the 1930’s and then the war impacted upon rubber supplies which stalled production.
The menstrual cup faded away until the 1960’s when it was relaunched but again didnt receive much support.
The Keeper cup was launched in the 80’s, made from latex rubber, and is still sold today.
But menstrual cups gained real traction at the turn of the century, when medical grade silicone was integrated into the design.
With improved design, menstrual cups started popping up again and have been gaining more and more popularity until today where we have SO MANY brands on the market.
Choosing a Menstrual Cup
Honestly, choosing a menstrual cup and getting started could possibly be one of the best things you do for your period.
Don’t let all the different menstrual cup brands overwhelm you to the point where you put it in the too hard basket.
Everyone’s anatomy is unique so I don’t usually recommend one cup in particular for everyone.
Although I do think the funnest menstrual cup on the market is The Hello Cup so definitely check them out and consider in your menstrual cup choices. Click this link to shop Hello Cup and use the code THEBETTERPERIOD for 10% off your order.
Choosing a menstrual cup doesn’t have to be overwhelming, I suggest to start by narrowing it down to a couple of brands you’re interested in and like the look of and then doing a bit more research to work out which of their cup sizes will be best for you.
I have a great post here that talks about how to choose a cup that is right for you. Take a look and let me know if you have any questions.
On Your Way to a Plastic Free Period
Congratulations! You now know all about the reusable period product options available for you to have a plastic free period.
You may find one product suits you best or a mix of products works better for you. It’s your period, so you call the shots!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me, I’d be happy to help. You can leave a comment on this post, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram @thebetterperiod_ where you can send me a direct message.
Good luck and I hope you enjoy your plastic free period!
The Better Period
Ellie Heasman is a period blogger and founder of The Better Period. Ellie helps people on their journey to a better period through introducing them to the world of menstrual cups and period underwear, and sharing knowledge about the menstrual cycle and fertility awareness. You can join in the better period conversations on Instagram @thebetterperiod_ or find out more about Ellie here.