Let’s talk about periods. Sometimes it may be considered a taboo subject but shouldn’t be. About half of the world menstruates and it’s time to talk openly and freely about it, and how to reduce period waste!
WHATS THE PROBLEM WITH DISPOSABLE PERIOD PRODUCTS?
Most people who menstruate have periods for about 40 years, or 2,400 days over the course of their lives. The average person who menstruates throws away up to 200kg of menstrual products in their lifetime. All that waste has to go somewhere, and nearly all of it ends up in landfills, or even worse in oceans, rivers and beaches. The Marine Conservation Society reveals that on average, 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste are found per 100 metres of beach cleaned. For every 100m of beach, that amounts to 4 pads, panty-liners and backing strips, along with at least one tampon and applicator.
The majority of the mainstream tampon and pad brands use a combination of bleached rayon, conventional cotton, and contain plastic. The average pack of pads contains the equivalent of four plastic bags! Tampons include plastic too, even in the string. Plastic applicators and the string are made from polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).
There is also the safety of materials used to consider! In addition to the plastic problem, traditional pads and tampons contain dioxins, furans, fragrance, all which are endocrine disruptors and can actually make your cramps and periods worse and have an unknown impact on long term health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some dioxins are known to cause cancer in humans.
And non-organic pads use conventional cotton, which is full of pesticides, which personally I wouldn’t want to use in such a sensitive area.
For many, the expenditure of monthly menstrual products may seem like just a fact of life, but there are many people who are not able to afford period protection. “In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, a UNESCO report found that 1 in 10 girls misses up to as much as 20% of school each year due to their period,” being afraid of going without suitable protection. But this problem also affects people in all countries for product that’s absolutely non-negotiable for menstruating people to exist comfortably.
In Italy, VAT on pads and tampons was introduced in 1973, as other goods and services, and over time increased from 12% to 22%. Fortunately, in January of this year, the VAT has been reduced to 5%, but only for reusable or biodegradable menstrual products. But this is not enough. Menstrual products are a monthly need, you cannot NOT use them. Menstrual products should be considered for what they are: essential goods whose unavoidable expense weighs unjustly on those who must use them.
WHAT ARE THE ZERO WASTE ALTERNATIVES?
There are fortunately several alternatives which result in nearly no waste, last years, and in the long run will help you save ~95% of expenses on menstrual products. That being said, let’s take a look at our options:
1. MENSTRUAL CUP
Almost everyone I know who has switched to the menstrual cup has said it has been a life changer. I can confirm that the same is true for me as well! They are:
- Super comfortable (barely noticeable!)
- Can be worn up to 12 hours without changing (depending on flow)*
- Last up to 10+ years, saving plenty of money
- Unlike tampons, menstrual cups don’t dry the vagina. This preserves the healthy bacteria that protect you from vaginal infections.
- Menstrual cups aren’t associated with toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is a rare, life-threatening condition linked to tampon use.
- Made from medical grade silicone with none of the harsh chemicals in traditional pads and tampons**
- Significantly reduces menstrual waste, benefiting the environment
* I am one of the few unlucky ones who has to change more frequently (still less often than a tampon) – more on that below!
** Advised to choose a reputable brand
Most menstrual cups come in at least 2 sizes, and some also offer soft and firm versions (such as Made in Italy Rainbow Cup). Here’s a handy chart with preliminary guidelines for how to make the choice depending on your body, flow and whether you’ve given birth. We’re happy to try to give more specific personal advice if needed! Just get in touch.
Menstrual cups are extremely safe and clean with proper care. Before first use, and then again before each use, be sure to wash with a gentle soap and then boil for 1-2 minutes. Store in a clean breathable cloth bag between uses. Be sure to also clear out the air holes to remove any blockages.
During your cycle, rinsing your cup (with clean hands!) is sufficient. Sanitizing is only required once per month.
HOW DO I DEAL WITH PUBLIC BATHROOMS!?
Relax! While less convenient, it is absolutely possible to leave your home and empty your cup in public bathrooms. First of all, don’t forget to wash your hands! Just remove the cup, dump it out into the toilet, and either wipe off a bit with toilet paper or just reinsert. Wipe off your hands with toilet paper then wash hands as normal.
While the vast majority of cup users report no leaks, leaks can happen. There are a number of tricks to help ensure the cup is inserted and positioned correctly and guidance to help find the correct cup. A quick google search or alternatively joining one on the very useful specialized Facebook groups will help give you the guidance you need.
In my case, despite my best efforts, I still inevitably have some leaks at some point during my period. For me, the winning combination is Menstrual Cup + Menstrual underwear. With these, I’m comfortable and secure for my entire cycle – and no waste!
And for those who don’t feel comfortable inserting a menstrual cup...
2. MENSTRUAL UNDERWEAR
As mentioned, these for me are lifechanging. They are extremely similar to the look and feel of normal underwear, but seemingly magically absorb an incredible amount of menstrual blood. They are not bulky and no they are definitely not just a pad sewn into underwear! The technology uses multiple layers of thin fabric to wick away moisture, absorb liquids and prevent leaks keeping you feeling dry. They are also breathable which makes them incredibly comfortable.
At green tribu we stock the Bikini and Hi-Waist models in both heavy and light versions and the Detachable version in light. The light versions hold up to 2 traditional tampons worth of liquid while the heavy versions hold up to 4 traditional tampons (depending on flow). We generally recommend to use the light version for light flow/light days or when used in combination with the menstrual cup or the heavy version alone and for nights.
When choosing menstrual underwear, it is important to choose a reputable brand using quality materials. FLUX undies, which we have chosen, use a TENCEL Modal which is an ecological material made from the beech tree for the main body, absorbent blend for the middle layer and breathable PUL to ensure no leaks. All fabrics are OEKO Tex which means they are certified free of harmful chemicals and are safe for your skin.
- Rinse quickly after each use
- Machine or hand wash COLD in a washing bag (such as the Guppyfriend)
- Hang to dry
- Do not use bleach nor fabric softener
Through their “By you for her” program, for every paid of menstrual underwear purchased, FLUX donates a reusable cloth pad to a girl in need in women’s shelters, girls’ schools and orphanages in developing countries.
3. CLOTH PADS
Reusable cloth pads are another wonderful options for those looking to find a sustainable alternative to disposable pads. We offer EcoFemme pads which are:
- Soft against your skin and breathable so they’re incredibly comfortable
- They use snaps instead of the sticky background so they are easy to position on your underwear
- They are eco-friendly as they reduce your waste and as fewer resources are needed to manufacture and transport reusable menstrual products. They also create less waste at the end of their life.
- Also a great compliment to the menstrual cup for those who have leaks or just want the extra security
- They use organic cotton which means no pesticides are used
- They are beautiful (just a bonus)!
Reusable pads are easier to care for than you may think! First, be sure to wash before first use, then follow the following guidelines:
- Soak in COLD water with dirty side facing down for 30 minutes (hot water creates stains)
- Wash by hand or machine wash at max 40 degrees using an eco soap
- Pull into shape
- Air dry, ideally in sunlight
WHEN ON THE GO
Be sure to choose a wet bag (I love versions with a section for clean and a section for dirty) so you can keep your pads when on the go. Rinsing off when you get home is sufficient.
With every purchase of a pad, EcoFemme donates one to Indian girls in need and finances their educational program. Since 2013, Eco Femme collaborates with public schools in the Tamil Nadu region and organizes education programs all over India for disadvantaged girls.
NOT FOR YOU?
If for any reason, these solutions are not for you, there are organic and plastic-free disposable options available. While these do still create waste, they have no plastic, aren’t bleached, have no harmful chemicals and are biodegradable.WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO ZERO WASTE MENSTRUAL PRODUCT?