Stuffing a tampon up my sleeve before walking to the bathroom… “No, sorry, I can’t go to your pool party… my ‘Aunt Flo’ is in town.” …Trying to decide if going to a sleepover with my friends would risk an embarrassing moment… Bleeding through my pants… Having to ask a stranger in the bathroom if they had a tampon / pad because I wasn’t anticipating needing one… Any of these sound familiar?
Growing up, this was just normal. This was part of the journey as a person who menstruates and there were no other options. Embarrassment and discomfort were unavoidable. Or so I thought.
I was 25 when I first heard about sustainable period products. I was stunned that I’d never heard of these alternatives before! Stunned, and also quite skeptical. Several co-workers at the time were discussing how these products had revolutionized their menstrual experiences. I couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief.
First, it felt weird to be talking about this taboo subject so openly. Second, I kept thinking there was no way these products actually work the way they’re describing. And I was convinced any alternative had to be gross. It just wasn’t my “normal” and trying to picture a different reality seemed impossible.
But, curiosity got the best of me. After a couple more conversations with these friends, I decided to go for it. What’s the worst that could happen?
Total. Game. Changer.
From that first cycle with no discomfort, no gross-factor, no embarrassment, and a new-found freedom to barely even think about my period during each day/night — I was hooked. It’s been years now and I haven’t looked back!
Of course, every person is different, so I can’t guarantee you some 100% magical experience. But… I can personally and highly recommend that you at least consider these alternatives. Remain open to the idea that your period doesn’t have to be the worst week of every month. In fact, you may even come to love your experience so much that you become one of us who now talk openly and happily about anything menstruation-related! 😉
(although, we should really work on that part anyway — this topic has no need to be considered “taboo”)
Ok, ok, enough backstory. Let’s get into the good stuff: what are sustainable period products? And, more importantly, why should we use them?
Why It Matters
Since this is the most important piece, let’s begin here. Like most things I talk about on this site, sustainable period products have 3 major benefits. They’re better for your health, the environment, and your wallet.
Better For Your Health
Part of my hygienic education growing up was learning about the risk of TSS: Toxic Shock Syndrome. Most commonly, this complication of certain bacterial infections is associated with the use of tampons. With this fear in mind, I was always very careful to not wear a tampon for too many hours. I tried to alternate between tampons and pads, and rarely slept with tampons overnight.
Both tampons and pads also present the risk of exposure to damaging chemicals within our bodies. Most brands use cotton that has been grown and sprayed heavily with pesticides. Not to mention the bleach and other chemicals used to give the products their very white color.
Conventional tampons contain dioxide, which is a known carcinogen. It can cause cancer, reproductive and immune system damage, according to the EPA. Tampons also absorb “the natural moisture of your vagina, leading to dryness and an increased risk of cuts – which could themselves heighten the potential for certain sexually transmitted infections.” (learn more here)
Beyond this, I was just talking with some friends the other day about how gross the “pee string” is… You know, the string attached to the tampon that inevitably collects your pee and whatever else… Yuck.
Sustainable period products are made with better materials and are designed to give you a more natural, healthy experience. This is not only better for you physically, but in return it gives you an amazing peace of mind!
Better For The Environment
The average person who menstruates will use over 11,000 tampons or pads in their lifetime! Think about that number for a moment. 11,000 per person menstruating over the course of their life. This is already a staggering statistic within my mind, but then consider this quote:
“Worldwide, it’s estimated that over 100 billion menstrual hygiene products are disposed of annually. In North America alone, about 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons and tampon applicators — which are not recyclable, since they’ve been in contact with human waste — are dumped into landfills yearly.” (emphasis added)source
All this plastic does not biodegrade and will eventually break down into microplastic particles (highly damaging) over hundreds of years. Each pad/tampon will take 500-800 years to decompose since they’re made with a hybrid of materials, not all natural. And in many developing countries, it’s a common practice to incinerate this waste. Toxic fumes are then released and contribute to our air pollution and health risks.
The same article goes on to outline how the manufacturing of these disposable menstrual products generates “a total carbon footprint of about 15 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions” every year. That’s the equivalent of burning about 35 million barrels of oil! The production of all this has created a near $6 billion dollar industry responsible for unnecessary waste and environmental damage.
But wait, there’s more… Disposable menstrual products are also the 5th most common type of waste washing up in our oceans. The article explores how common it is for most people to flush their tampons/pads and the vast amounts of damage this is doing. Not only does this clog our waterways, but it harms marine life as well as spreading possible disease and pathogens to communities living near waterways.
Better For Your Wallet
The third major benefit sustainable period products offer is that you can save at least $100 per year! The Penny Hoarder goes into depth with all the calculations, but basically, the average menstruating person spends $120 on pads and/or tampons each year. The initial investment in sustainable / reusable products for your cycle may seem like a lot up front, but it totally pays for itself and then some. Take this example from the article above:
“A set of five cloth pads, at about $10 per pad, will cost you just $0.83 a month if you use them for five years. Total savings: $110” [when compared to the average $10/month on disposable period products]
If you do a bit of rearranging in your budget, you can take what you would have spent over the course of 6 months to a year on disposable products and invest that in sustainable alternatives. This will typically pay for itself after a few cycles. And it ends up saving you money from that point forward in the rest of your menstruating life!
Sustainable Period Products
Now that we’ve covered the top 3 benefits these products offer, I hope the idea that trying something new is gross or impossible has begun to fade… However, I’ve been in your shoes and I know how much convincing it took for me to make a change! Let’s explore some of these alternatives together, and I would encourage you to consider which one sounds the most doable/appealing for you.
I’m starting with my personal favorite: period panties! Each person is different, but I’ve found that being able to simply put on underwear and not have to worry about my period for the rest of the day is so freeing! My cycles have always been on the heavier side. I was really skeptical that this product would be able to handle the flow. I also didn’t want to feel like I was walking around in my own mess all day. Or have to change in the middle of the day.
My experience with Thinx panties has been seriously life-changing. I don’t know how they can even possibly work SO well — it’s magical. Each day of my cycle, I put on one pair in the morning that lasts the whole day, and then wear a new pair to bed. It’s that simple. And it doesn’t matter if I’m on my heaviest or lightest day, they work. (this is not an ad, just my personal favorite brand!)
Of course, Thinx has the initial investment cost up front and it’s not always the best option for everyone (though they do offer a long trial and free returns). That’s ok! Thankfully, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in sustainable period products and there are many businesses/varieties out there to check out. I’ve got more options linked at the end of this post.
This article is a super helpful resource for all things related to the menstrual cup, but I’ll share the basics here! A menstrual cup is made of flexible rubber or silicone. It’s a small, funnel-shaped cup that you insert (like a tampon) and it catches your period fluid. Since it’s collecting the blood and not absorbing it, you can safely wear your cup for up to 12 hours before having to empty it! This is an extremely cost-efficient option for sustainable period products because you really only need one cup and they typically last 5-10 years. (be sure to check out the options I’ve got linked below)
Refer to the article above for direct instructions in how to use and care for a menstrual cup, but the idea is that if you can use a tampon, you can certainly use a cup. When inserted correctly, you won’t even feel it’s there, giving that new-found sense of freedom I mentioned before. And you don’t have to worry about leaks or health risks, like TSS — barring special circumstances, like if you’re allergic to the material.
This alternative is another excellent resource that tends to be cost-efficient and saves you so much money down the road. You simply use the pads as you would disposable liners, then wash and dry them to be reused instead of tossing/flushing. There are many brands out there, but a truly sustainable pad will be made with organic, all-natural materials — safe for your skin and the environment. They’ll be a strong, durable quality so that you can wash and reuse these pads for years and years. (be sure to check out the options I’ve got linked below)
Organic, Plastic-Free Options
If you have any special circumstances that won’t allow you to use the more sustainable period products listed above, or if you’re reallllyyyy hesitant to change and want to make a small adjustment first, consider the following options.
Organic, plastic-free tampons/pads can be found so that, even though they’re still disposable, they contribute to less pollution. They’re also made without dyes, fragrances, and chlorine-bleaching. Natracare is one highly reviewed brand that is taking steps toward more sustainable period care.
Another option that I was shocked to learn about is the use of sea sponge tampons! They’re exactly what they sound like, and you use the sponge like a tampon. It can be cleaned and reused several times before needing to be replaced, though it’s not as sustainable and long-lasting as reusable pads or period underwear.
Experience a Positive and Plastic-Free Period
Whatever route you choose, you will be making a huge difference simply by removing yourself from the costly industry of disposable period products. You can also extend this positive impact by shopping local and/or supporting organizations actively involved in environmental and social justice!
Below are some final recommendations I’ve put together to support your needs as well as businesses that are doing incredible work. Let me know if you try any of these sustainable period products and what you think, or if you have more recommendations to share! I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments, through email, or talk to you on Instagram.
Welcome to the positive period club. 🙂
- Party In My Pants — try your first pad free, and donate to others
- Simple Switch — buy one menstrual cup and they’ll donate one to someone in need
- June Cup — selling menstrual cups at cost so that sustainable period products can be more accessible to all in need
- Sierra Linens — a woman-owned business using locally grown, organic cotton and offering affordable price points
If you’d like to support me and another Colorado, woman-owned business:
- Click this KindNest affiliate link and anything you purchase from her shop will support the owner and pay me a small amount at no additional cost to you