Your Pads Are Unsustainable… What Now?: Exploring Eco-Friendly Menstrual Products

“It’s that time of the month again…”

You probably know what periods are. Even if you are not among the ~800 million individuals[5] who menstruate, you are likely aware of the numerous menstrual products used to make “that time of the monthmanageable. Unfortunately, tampons and pads are created with large amounts of chemicals and plastics. When disposed of, there are undeniable environmental consequences: the chemicals are absorbed into soil, and by extension, groundwater, while the plastics accumulate in landfills or bodies of water[5].

BOTTOM LINE, UP FRONT!

  • Disposable pads and tampons contribute largely to pollution, so it is important to explore more sustainable alternatives.
  • Period underwear, cloth pads, and menstrual cups are all sustainable and cost-effective substitutes for commercial menstrual hygiene products. 
  • Each product has its own pros and cons which may appeal to individuals who have different experiences with menstruation. 
  • It may be intimidating to switch to eco-friendly menstrual products, but making the change will be beneficial for the environment in the long-run. 

Unsustainable products contribute largely to today’s most pressing environmental concerns; however, some of these products are necessities, and many will find it hard to eliminate them from their lives. Such is the case for menstrual products.

“So I guess that’s it right? It’s not like we can give them up…!”

Many of us rely on menstrual products, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do! There are more sustainable alternatives to pads and tampons than ever before; it may not be easy to shift, but learning about eco-friendly menstrual products is a good start! With that said, here are three sustainable alternatives to menstrual products.

Period Panties

Period panties are a type of underwear you can wear while you are on your period, without necessarily having to wear sanitary napkins or other menstrual products. They consist of multiple layers that are leak-resistant and absorbent.[2]

  • Sustainable: The highlight of this product is its sustainability. Period underwear is reusable, so you will contribute less waste overall. Although, some period panties may require support from pads or tampons depending on your flow. 
  • Cost-efficient: The fact that period underwear is reusable also means it’s cost-efficient! You don’t need to buy new sets throughout your cycles. If you take care of them and wash them after use, they can last for about 6 months to 2 years.
  • Varied: Although period underwear may feel a bit more bulky compared to standard underwear, they also come in many styles. These various styles accommodate different levels of menstrual flow, offering multiple cuts to suit your comfort and lifestyle. 

Cloth Pads

Cloth pads are layered pads that absorb your menstrual blood. They work like your usual pads, but are made with cloth instead of the traditional synthetic materials you would expect from a napkin. They are not only more sustainable, but they are also easier to produce in areas where commercial menstrual products are limited.[3]

  • Sustainable: Cloth pads lack the chemicals and plastic that are present in commercial pads. They are also reusable, but they may not last as long as the other alternatives on this list. Regardless, disposing of them leaves significantly less harmful waste than commercially widespread synthetic pads.
  • Less irritation: Some individuals experience irritation because of the plastic backing on commercial pads. Because cloth pads are mostly made of fabric, they are often more breathable.[6]
  • D.I.Y.: You can make cloth pads at home, so long as you have a pattern, fabric, and the appropriate materials for layering. There are many tutorials for creating DIY reusable cloth pads that are as functional as their commercial equivalents.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are funnel-like cups made out of silicone, rubber, or latex. Unlike other products which focus on absorbing blood, menstrual cups are used inside the vagina to collect menstrual blood.[1, 7]

  • Sustainable: When cared for and regularly sterilized, menstrual cups can last for several years[7]. This means by using a menstrual cup, you will be producing less waste than if you were to use tampons or pads. 
  • Discreet: Since menstrual cups are placed inside the vagina, the blood is not exposed to the air. This means that it is less likely to give off odor[1].  Additionally, menstrual cups are not visible on clothes or underwear.
  • Convenient: Menstrual cups won’t hinder you from doing physical activity, and they can be worn over longer hours. You wouldn’t have to worry about packing extra pads or tampons.

Switching to eco-friendly menstrual products may seem difficult or intimidating; after all, many of us are already used to the common menstrual products. However, making this change will help us reduce harmful waste and will improve our environment. Even if you are not ready to change your habits, it is important to explore sustainable alternatives. Menstruation is not a universal experience, but the consequences of using unsustainable products are.

WRITTEN BY JES DE JOYA
EDITED BY HANNAH MANUEL
GRAPHICS BY BRIE ROMERO

REFERENCES

[1] Higgins, E. (2020, December 24). Tired of tampons? Here are pros and cons of menstrual cups. Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/tired-of-tampons-here-are-pros-and-cons-of-menstrual-cups/ 

[2] How do I use tampons, pads, period underwear, and menstrual cups?. (n.d.). Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/how-do-i-use-tampons-pads-and-menstrual-cups 

[3] Kaur, R., Kaur, K., & Kaur, R. (2018). Menstrual hygiene, management, and waste disposal: Practices and challenges faced by girls/women of developing countries. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 1–9. doi:10.1155/2018/1730964

[4] Scaccia, A. (2019, April 9). Everything you need to know about using menstrual cups. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/menstrual-cup#how-to-use 

[5] Periods don’t stop for pandemics – neither will our efforts to bring safe menstrual hygiene to women and girls. (2020, May 28). World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2020/05/28/menstrual-hygiene-day-2020 

[6] Garikipaki, S. (2020, June 25). The future of periods can now be sustainable and cheap. https://theconversation.com/the-future-of-periods-can-now-be-sustainable-and-cheap-133025 

[7] Van Eijk, A. M., Zulaika, G., Lenchner, M., Mason, L., Sivakami, M., Nyothach, E., Unger, H., Laserson, K., & Phillips-Howard, P. A. (2019). Menstrual cup use, leakage, acceptability, safety, and availability: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health. doi:10.1016/s2468-2667(19)30111-2

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