Eco-friendly period products? Is it a step too far in our quest to be eco-friendly and sustainable? I think we can all agree that period products are an absolute necessity and with an estimated, 1.5 billion period products flushed down toilets in the UK every year. We can all do our bit to help the planet by making the switch to eco-friendly period products.
When it comes to eco-friendly period products, we certainly know a thing or two with over eight years of industry experience. So without further ado here is our ultimate guide to the weird and wonderful world of eco-friendly period products.
Organic disposable pads & tampons
Suppose you’re not quite ready to give up on the convenience of disposables. Then switching to organic disposables is a surefire way of reducing your environmental impact. There are some fantastic brands of organic, biodegradable disposables such as Natracare which have been making certified organic pads and tampons since 1989. And DAME, which was the first company to create a reusable tampon applicator which you can use with their organic tampons.
Natracare has an extensive product range including maternity, breast pads, both applicator and non-applicator tampons and incontinence pads. Hence, it is very likely that you’ll find a product that will meet your needs. Did you know that most tampons contain plastic fibres called rayon? Tampon and pad manufacturers are under no legal obligation to disclose the ingredients of their products.
When purchasing make sure to check the label carefully, some tampon and pad brands have jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon because it’s good for their PR. And have brought out so-called eco-friendly versions of their products which are nowhere near the same standards of brands like Natracare.
Certified organic, better for the planet. Disposable so may be more convenient for some.
More expensive, still produces waste and requires resources such as water and electricity to manufacture for a single-use product.
Sea sponge tampons
Sea sponge tampons have been making a comeback in the last few years as an eco-friendly alternative to disposable tampons. Some people find them less drying and more comfortable than tampons as the sponge is inserted wet into the vagina. It is then left in place for up to 8 hours removed rinsed out and re-inserted. Companies claim that the sponge can last up to 6 months before needing to be replaced. You can also wear them during sex. A 1995 inspection of sea sponge tampons by the FDA with testing conducted by the University of Iowa and Baltimore district laboratory found that the sponges contained bacteria including staphylococcus aureus (the bacteria responsible for TSS) sand, grit and various other particles of sea debris.
The thing is it is impossible to sterilise a sponge and remove all the grit and particles of sand from the sponge without destroying it.
Biodegradable and natural, some people find them more comfortable to use than tampons. Can be worn during sex.
Still carries a risk of TSS and you will never be able to get all the particles of sand out of them. You can’t boil them to sterilise them.
Crocheted or Cloth Tampons
These are a small square piece of fabric or crocheted square with a string attached. That you roll up and insert like a non-applicator tampon, you can adjust the size and length of the tampon as you roll it, ensuring the best fit for your body. There are a couple of brands and many Etsy sellers selling these kinds of reusable tampons. There are even a few patterns on the web and YouTube tutorials if you are handy with a sewing machine or crochet hook. They are left in place for up to 8 hours, and I removed by pulling on the string as you would with a traditional tampon. You then wash them with your other laundry in a laundry bag and reuse. They are better for the environment as there is no plastic packaging or applicators to dispose of. However, detergents used to wash your clothes are not designed to be inside the vagina and could lead to irritation and infection.
We are not sure if these are safe to use as there has been no formal safety testing. In the EU and UK, tampons are not required to undergo any safety testing before coming onto the market; however, countries like the US classify them as medical devices. As of yet, the FDA has not evaluated the safety of crochet or cloth tampons, and there is currently incomplete data regarding the risk of TSS. There is also some concern over how to best clean reusable tampons to prevent the buildup of bacteria that could pose a threat to women’s health.
Reusable and eco-friendly, some people report that they are more comfortable and provide better absorbency than traditional tampons. Cost-effective.
Definite question-marks over their safety. There is still a risk of TSS. Our advice, like sea sponge tampons based on safety we recommend giving these a miss!
Menstrual cups & Menstrual discs
Menstrual cups have to be one of the top eco-friendly period products out there. They’ve been around since 1937 and offer a very cost-effective way of managing your period with up to 12 hours of leak-free protection. A menstrual cup is a small reusable cup typically made from soft medical grade silicone, rubber or TPE. The menstrual cup collects the blood when inserted into the vagina rather than absorbing it like a tampon.
With proper care, they can last up to 10 years and will typically pay for themselves within a year or two, making them an excellent choice for students. Some of the best-known brands include Moon cup, Lunette cup and Diva cup though there are well over 50 different brands on the market now. You can wear them overnight, during exercise or swimming and at the beginning and end of your period even when you are very light in complete comfort.
But you’ve heard horror stories about them getting stuck! Which is why we continuously are banging the ‘don’t buy a cup without making sure it’s right for your body first’ drum! In our experience, 99.9% of problems are caused by having a cup that doesn’t work for your body. So it’s incredibly important to do your research before buying one. Thankfully we’ve got you covered with a FREE PDF and informational video which will walk you through step-by-step choosing the right cup for your body. You can access it here.
Menstrual discs sit in the vagina similar to a diaphragm. They offer an excellent alternative for those of us that have struggled with a conventional menstrual cup, particularly for people with a high cervix that may struggle to remove their cup. Like menstrual cups, they can be left in place for up to 12 hours however because they are made from finer silicon they typically don’t last as long so you will need to replace your menstrual disc every three years or so. Unlike menstrual cups, menstrual discs come with a little extra perk as you can have penetrative sex while wearing them.
Reusable period pads- Cloth pads
Cloth pads are an alternative to disposable sanitary towels. You wear them just like you would with a disposable with the exclusion that they don’t have any adhesive backing and are usually secured in place with the use of two poppers around the gusset of your underwear. You change them as frequently as you would with a disposable; however, many people report that they are more absorbent and breathable than disposable towels. People with sensitive skin and allergies have found them to be much more comfortable and less irritating. Reusable cloth pads are available in a multitude of fabrics such as athletic jersey, bamboo, flannel, cotton, Minky, to name just a few. Pads can range from 6 inches right up to 15 inches and every shape and size in between, with some makers, even offering custom embroidery on the cloth pads. There really is a reusable cloth pad for everyone!
However, we would recommend staying away from cloth pads that have been made in China. Though their low price point may be tempting, these pads are nearly always made from highly synthetic fabrics such as microfibre that are not eco-friendly at all. Why would you want to buy a pad that is entirely made of plastic fibres? It kind of defeats the purpose of making the switch to reusable cloth pads. The manufacturing conditions are also less than optimal for fair wages and workers rights. Doesn’t everybody deserve a fair wage? We certainly think so.
If you’re looking to start with cloth pads, we would recommend buying a trial kit as many brands, including ourselves, offer these at a discounted price. If you’re worried about dealing with the blood, then why not try reusable pantyliners? They’re straightforward to care for, and you won’t have to deal with any blood while giving you an excellent opportunity to give reusable cloth pads a go.
With proper care, they can last for years. A wide variety is available at varying price points.
More comfortable and breathable than disposables.
An initial upfront investment is required. Some brands can take a while to dry. You can get addicted to buying them! Seriously, it’s a thing.
Period underwear has been getting a lot of attention recently! Period underwear work by having a built-in absorbent layer, so you don’t have to wear a pad or tampon. They are eco-friendly and super comfortable to wear, seriously you won’t even realise you’re on your period while wearing them! They last for around 4 hours, depending on your flow. You simply rinse them out and throw them in the wash and hang dry. To make it work, you’ll need to invest in several pairs which can be rather expensive as they don’t dry quickly so you may struggle with only one or two pairs. They can be somewhat awkward to change in an out of particularly if you have a heavy flow and need to change often. You’ll have to strip from the waist down in a public toilet to change them which isn’t ideal. They are great for sleeping in, especially if you move around a lot, and there is no uncomfortable pad shifting to have to deal with.
Period underwear, in our opinion, is best suited as a backup to tampons or a menstrual cup or for your lighter flow days when changing them promptly isn’t such an issue.
They feel like just wearing your regular underwear.
Expensive, they don’t dry fast, and they are awkward to change in public toilets.
Have you tried eco-friendly period products? If so let us know in the comments below.