Standard pads and tampons are bad for the planet... like, really bad. These sustainable period management products will support your menstrual flow without hurting the planet—and we are here for it.standard pads and tampons are bad for the planet...
Periods. They’re a natural part of life. But, in case you haven’t noticed, the tools and products that help to manage menstruation are not. Traditional period management products—aka standard pads and tampons—simply aren’t conducive to keeping our planet happy, healthy and alive. And yet, any person who menstruates knows that period management products are necessary.. Sure, we could let ourselves free flow … but let’s be real, we’d need to wash our favourite pants a lot if we took that option!
So, how do we keep our periods in check without destroying the planet? Enter: sustainable period management products. From menstrual cups to period underwear and everything in between, you and the planet will be better off with these alternatives.
We spoke to Jennifer Nini, founder of Eco Warrior Princess, and Rosie Sheba, founder of Sustainable Menstruation Australia, about sustainable period management options. Their tips will help you keep your monthly flow, the planet and your wallet in check.
First up, it’s important to understand the impact of standard period management products on the planet. Spoiler alert: the situation is bleak. “When it comes to menstruation, what we’re doing with our bodies isn’t sustainable,” says Sheba.
Standard pads and tampons contain plastics, both in the product and the packaging. Not so fun fact: pads are reported to be around 90 per cent plastic. A standard pack of pads is considered to be the equivalent of four plastic bags. Sheba highlights that pads and tampons end up in landfill and can take about 400 years to break down. They can also end up in waterways from being flushed down the toilet. “There's figures thrown around that suggest users will use up to 16,000 disposable products in their lifetime,” says Jennifer Nini.
Basically, all of the pads and tampons you use in your lifetime will outlive you. Not ideal. Chemicals are also used in manufacturing standard pads and tampons, including the addition of odour neutralisers and fragrance. You guessed it—these are also not so good for the planet or for your body. The cost of buying pads and tampons every month adds up too.
Feeling a little rattled by how much standard period products impact the planet? Because, same.
Sheba notes that 2015 is known as the “year the period went public”. Where people and publications started talking about periods and breaking taboos.
This opened up space and conversations about the impact of standard pads and tampons on the planet, and different, sustainable period management options.
And now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for...! Sheba and Nina share their thoughts on different sustainable period management products.
A menstrual cup is a small, flexible funnel-shaped rubber or silicone cup that you insert into your vagina to catch and collect period fluid. “This is probably the most sustainable option,” says Sheba. “One cup will last you around ten years.” It’s one of Sheba’s go-to options when she’s on her period.
Nini also swears by her menstrual cup. “I've been wearing menstrual cups over the last ten years and I highly recommend them. I've saved hundreds of dollars over the years, saved heaps of tampons and tampon packaging from being sent to landfill.”
She notes that most menstrual cups aren’t recyclable or compostable at the end of their life. But you can get biodegradable ones now, so that’s a win. According to both Sheba and Nini, it can take a minute (or ten) to get used to using a menstrual cup. But once you do, your flow will be good to go!
Period underwear is designed to absorb menstrual flow, negating the need for a pad or tampon. They have anti-microbial and moisture-wicking properties to prevent odours.
Sheba’s preferred period management option is period underwear—especially since having a child. She does note that period underwear does contain some plastic and won’t last as long as a cup, but it is reusable at least. Nini agrees. “The most effective ethically-made period undies I wear are made with synthetic materials which isn't ideal from an ocean microplastic pollution perspective … I have to throw it in a Guppyfriend to minimise the impact of the microfibres.” She usually wears period underwear on the first couple of days of her period, for added protection.
Reusable pads are cloth pads made from natural materials like cotton, hemp and bamboo. They’re absorbent, breathable and have antimicrobial properties. You wash and reuse them, saving products going into landfill and saving money. For Sheba, they come a close second behind her menstrual cup and period underwear.
Organic cotton and biodegradable pads and tampons are chemical free, so they’re better for the environment compared to standard pads and tampons. But they’re not reusable so you’ll have to buy them every month, and they do go to the landfill, unless you compost them.
“I will opt for TOMS organic cotton tampons when I'm travelling … if I know I won't have access to proper bathroom facilities. There is still waste involved since there is tampon packaging and the tampon needs to be disposed of …” says Nini.
Better late than never! Sheba and Nini note that there is still a lot more work to be done to make sustainable period management products affordable and accessible for everyone. “Products must be made more accessible at schools and at supermarkets,” says Nini.
That being said, change is slowly happening, with Sheba noting that the “Bloody Comfy Period” campaign by Bonds is a step towards more open and honest conversations about periods.
“We have power in journalism and social media to mobilise people to make conscious decisions for their body, for the planet and for their pocket.” Period.