Menstruation is a normal and healthy part of life for most women of reproductive age. About half of the female population, so about 25% of the worlds population are of reproductive age. On average a women will menstruate for about 7 years of her life (that’s 7 days per period x 12 times a year x about 30 years of her life!). During this time, the average woman uses between 5 and 15 thousand pads and/or tampons, most of which will end up in landfills as plastic waste. These single use disposable menstrual products present a personal cost to the user as well as an environmental cost to the planet.

In this post we’ll provide six examples of green eco-friendly reuseable period products that are now, thankfully, quite easy to come by. These products will not only save you money in the long run but they will help save the waste that is burdening our planet. Every small change helps!

Why are eco-friendly products important?

Have you heard of the Trash Isles? A country about the size of France made up of rubbish – largely plastics – in the North Pacific Ocean. Ok, it’s not a real country but the identity of the country, the Trash Isles, was devised by a couple of advertising creatives to increase awareness of this huge problem. Passports, a flag, and currency (called the ‘Debris) was even designed and an application was submitted to the United Nations for official recognition.

Infrographic for the great pacific garbage patch.
Information on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

This collection of rubbish is also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and was discovered in 1997. It’s one example of the severe impact waste is having on our planet. Around 8 millions tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year impacting sea birds and all ocean life. It’s predicted that the mass of plastic (broken down into microplastics which float around in the seas) will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050. I could go on… but the point is, we are creating so much rubbish and it is even impacting our oceans and sea life! We need to be thinking of green solutions left, right, and centre!

Many people are unsure about proper tampon disposal. Flushing a used tampon may seem like the easiest option but it can have a devastating effect on our wastewater system.

Water for life

Most menstrual products end up in landfill, but tampons that are flushed down the toilet can end up in the ocean if sewer systems fail. In New Zealand, any tampons (or other larger items like wet wipes) are filtered out at the local water processing plant. This is costing tax payers millions of dollars every year! Don’t do it.

Disposable pads and many tampon products contain at least some plastic in their design. Tampons are typically wrapped in plastic, sometimes have a plastic applicator with them, have a plastic string, and often include some plastic within the absorbent core. Pads normally contain even more plastic. The problem with plastic is that is was made to last. Plastics can take hundreds and up to 1,000 years to break down in landfill meaning that they are building up way faster than they are breaking down.  In short, use of these products ideally needs to stop or reduce substantially. Luckily for us, there are several greener period products now on the market.

Our top six products

1. Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups have actually been around for a while; the first useable menstrual cup was patented in 1937! The first commercially available menstrual cup wasn’t created until 1987 though and the first silicon cup, the typical material that all cups are now made of, was available from 2001. Despite this, they didn’t become well known until around 2010. Reusable cups are a low-cost environmentally friendly alternative to standard disposable products. There is quite a big range of products available. They are easy to use and just a little bit gross when emptying. But that’s a small price to pay (in monetary terms too) for a period product that can be reused for as long as 10 years. Check out the ones we have on offer here.

2. Period underwear

Period underwear were ranked by Time as one of the top 25 inventions in 2015. These are pants like no others. They are composed of multiple layers of moisture-wicking, absorbent, antimicrobial and leak resistant fabrics. The composition of these pants are created to absorb leakage – blood or urine, they aren’t choosy.

Image from Vulvani

3. Washable pads

I suppose you could say these are the small cousin of period underwear, not the poor cousin, just smaller. These wrap around your regular undies but have the same effect and basic science as period underwear. Some common materials are cotton, microfleece or bamboo fabric with microfibre cores and a final waterproof layer to prevent leakage. These can easily be unclipped and put in the wash. They come in a range of absorbency levels to suit your flow.

4. Reusable tampon applicators

These are a relatively new product and are exactly what the title suggests. You can load a normal tampon into the holder and use it over and over again. There are a couple of these products on the market so far – one from Thinx and another from Dame. Dame have an excellent slogan that I had to reiterate here ‘Bleed red think green’. And, amazingly, Dame’s website states this ‘The award winning design is self-sanitising, works with all your tampons and lasts for life’. In fact, it’s estimated to replace around 12,000 disposal applicators that might be used over the lifetime of a single user. These can be shipped to New Zealand but the cost of shipping exceeds the cost of the product! But, watch this space I will try to bring some to New Zealand…

5. Washable and reuseable tampons

Ok, I hadn’t really heard of these until recently and I am yet to try them. They sound a bit odd but I guess all new things are ‘odd’ by definition. There are two products, that I know of, that can fall into this category of reusable tampons. One is made of cloth and the other made of sea sponge.

Reusable cloth tampons, typically made of cotton, work just like a disposable tampon. You need to boil these first to sterilise, then the piece of cloth is rolled up and inserted like a tampon. I can’t find any in New Zealand but if you do know of anyone who sells these, let me know! I found this website that sells them in the UK, check them out.

Menstrual Sponges, made of sea sponge, are a natural, renewable resource that have been used as natural tampons for a long time. These can be worn during sex (bonus) and apparently some women add spermicide to use them as a contraceptive too. Not sure how effective it is as I haven’t done the research so I’m not saying it’s a good idea. Sea sponges are not only reusable but they’re also biodegradable. The only slight complication with these products is in keeping them clean and sterile enough. If you can make that effort then I bet they’re a good product.

6. Flushable sanitary pads

These aren’t quite available yet but I wanted to include them on my list. This futuristic product being created by Planera will be a game changer.

Planera’s pads are the first certified flushable pads on the market. The hydraulic action of your toilet will break down the pad with the material rapidly biodegrading away with no waste, no microplastics. The pads are made up of three layers. The top layer is made of biodegradable plant fibres – a naturally absorptive material.  The core consists of wood pulp which rapidly removes the blood from the top-sheet and distributes it across the core. A biodegradable powder locks the blood as a gel, locking it in place before it even reaches the final barrier layer. This is an exciting innovation.

Every small change counts

The days of single use disposable products are over… ok well not yet but they should be! If we can easily obtain reusable, friendly – to the environment and our bodies – products it’s a no-brainer that we should use them! Our growing population on this planet simply cannot sustain the waste we are creating. The products we have discussed here are all reusable and easy to use and we highly recommend giving at least one of them a try. By making a small switch we can have a big impact on the planet.

Like us on Facebook, follow us on Insta or sign up to our newsletter (or do all three!) to stay up to date with new innovations in menstrual and other women’s health and wellness areas.