6 Ways To Be Environmentally Conscious During Your Period
When you're deep in the depths of menstrual hell, with cramps that make you feel like your body is about to turn inside out, figuring out how to be more environmentally conscious during your period may be the last thing on your mind. It also might seem like the choices you make for your period couldn't possibly really impact the environment — after all, you're only on your period for a quarter of the month or less, right? And it's not like you're using a diesel-powered heating pad or painkillers made from endangered rhinos or something.
Fair enough. It's true that our menstrual products are far from the biggest polluters out there — the things you put into your junk are hardly the primarily cause of global warming. But that doesn't mean that the production process used to create menstrual products don't have a big environmental impact — or that the sheer number of menstrual products we throw away isn't worrying. At least 20 billion used menstrual products end up in landfills each year in North America alone. Most of us will throw out between 10,000 and 15,000 pads and tampons (as well as the product packaging) in our lifetimes, which, according to some estimates, adds up to 300 pounds worth of junk.
Though it's estimated that less than one percent of landfill waste is made up of menstrual products, the process used to manufacture many pads and tampons can also leave something to be desired for the environmentally savvy. According to the Sierra Club, the cultivation of the cotton used in tampons and pads contributes to the 55 million pounds of pesticide sprayed annually on U.S. crops, which can pollute waterways; and according to Mother Jones, plastic tampon applicators often end up as waste in bodies of water like oceans and lakes, where animals can choke on them, and they can take decades to biodegrade.
So changing the way you do your period is the kind of small step — like using a reusable coffee cup or bringing your own bags to the grocery store — that can make a real impact. So what steps can you take to have a more environmentally conscious period, and where should you even start? Glad you asked. Read on for six environmentally friendly alternative period products, so that the next time you have your period, you'll won't have to worry about the environmental impact — just the cramps. And the weird pooping. And the occasional freaky sweatiness (just me?).
If You Love Pads, Try...
Most reusable pads come as part of a two-part set — there's a base, which you fasten around the crotch of your panties, the way you would the "wings" of any pad; and then there are removable inserts, which you switch out throughout the day the same way you'd change your pad.
You can order different pad absorbencies for day or night use, or pantyliners (which don't include a removable insert), from a number of reusable pad companies, like GladRags, the above-pictured Lunapads (who also offer special pantyliners cut for thongs), and smaller independent menstrual pad sellers on sites like Etsy.
You may have heard about the period panty company THINX recently, due to media coverage of the company's struggle to get the New York City MTA to agree to post its ads on the subway. But that company, as well as other similar companies, have been around for a while, creating panties with thin, surprisingly absorbent reusable "pads" built into the crotch. You simply put the panties on in the morning, and change them when the pad feels full (Dear Kate's panties hold three teaspoons of liquid, while Thinx's site reports that some of their panties hold up to two tampons worth of blood).
As a personal user of both THINX and Dear Kate's pantyliner panties, I can definitely say that they're not "gross," they're easy to clean, and they don't smell weird. They're also great for when you're on a super heavy flow, and you know that no matter what kind of tampon you're sticking up your Barbie Dream House, something is gonna leak out.
Though both reusable pads and period panties may seem expensive compared to a box of disposable pads, keep in mind that these products are meant to last for several years (my period panties are well into their second year, and still function perfectly). You probably spend between $46 and $60 a year on tampons or pads (not counting extras, like replacing stained panties), so it's actually a pretty sound investment.
No matter how many period tracking apps we have on our phones, sometimes we get caught off-guard. So if you're looking for a few disposable pads to leave at work or keep in your bag for emergencies, you can still go as eco-friendly as possible by choosing brands that use more natural ingredients and fewer environmentally harmful manufacturing processes than major pad manufacturers.
Companies like organic menstrual product pioneers Natracare or Maxim produce pads are made of 100 percent organic and chlorine-free cotton — in contrast to many major menstrual product companies, which use a bleaching process that involves chlorine and other pollutants.
If You Love Tampons, Try...
If you're looking for a tampon-style menstrual product that won't require you to dump anything in a landfill, you may want to check out sea sponges. Sea sponges grow in the ocean, so they're all-natural; and they are not treated with complex chemical processes after they are harvested, so they're biodegradable and have less environmental impact than traditional tampons. Since they each last for between three months and a year, you won't have to buy many or throw them away often.
Sponges are inserted directly into the vagina like an applicator-free tampon, and should be taken out, washed, and re-inserted every three hours. I've never tried them, but I know plenty of people love them, and some people say they're more comfortable and less leaky than traditional tampons. Sea sponges are generally available at health food stores or online.
Though they haven't quite gotten the attention that reusable pads have, reusable tampons do exist — they're typically knit, sewn, or crocheted from a strong, absorbent material. You insert them like an applicator-free tampon, remove them, soak them, and wash them when you're through — so basically, they're the equivalent of reusable pads for folks who hate having that extra padding in their pantaloons.
Though no major companies are currently offering them, you can find lots of reusable tampons for sale on Etsy, like the one used in the image at the top of this article, which is available through Etsy seller BookworkSilkworm.
If You're In It To Win It, Try...
The Menstrual Cup
This is your most environmentally-friendly option of all. My own obsession with menstrual cups and their many benefits is well-documented — they don't leak, you can wear them overnight, they only need to be changed a handful of times each day (and thus are compatible with the kind of Lazy Girl Extreme lifestyle that I lead) — but they also have great environmental benefits.
Since a properly cared-for menstrual cup can last for almost a decade, you're preventing a decade's worth of menstrual product landfill from building up. You're also giving the heave-ho to a decade's worth of pollutants used in the process of manufacturing tampons and pads. Not a bad deal for something that also helps makes sure you almost never get caught menstrually short, right?
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day/vadge, what method you choose matters less than the fact that you feel like you're in control and making decisions about your period products that align with your values. After all, so much about being on your period can make you feel out of control — but at least you can be in control of what your pads or tampons do to the planet. The good thing is, you have options.