For something that people who menstruate cannot control, keeping clean and dry during a period can seem like a nightmare when it comes to living zero waste, at first
Those who menstruate will all know the mess it can make to ‘free bleed‘, but if that’s your jam, then go ahead, we fully support you. For those who are confused about period products though and how you can reduce waste then read on.
Reusable period products have been around for centuries!
For thousands of years, people have reused products to keep themselves dry during their periods with the exception of a few such as papyrus with the Ancient Egyptians, although they also used sea sponges too, and through our own research, we’ve come across some ‘period’ period wear (thanks to our friend Marie at Humblestuff for the pun) and it turns out Menstrual Cups aren’t even that new an idea!
Cloths and rags were the norm for many a woman in recent centuries, the term ‘on the rag‘ comes from this time, but through the 1900’s developments were made to subside and soak up blood from the wars and thereafter, people further developed sanitary pads.
After time, these products became further developed to soak up blood efficiently and developed to work towards the convenience of them, but as with many modern inventions, they were developed with a lot of nasty chemicals including bleach and the introduction of plastic.
What are the facts about plastic and periods?
More than £18,000 is spent per person, (including pain relief methods and new underwear into the costings) during a lifetime using menstrual products studies have found in the UK
- The average woman is estimated to use – and chuck away – more than 10,000 disposable sanitary items (assuming disposable use).
- The Marine Conservation Society found 20 tampons and sanitary items per 100 metres of shoreline.
- Roughly 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet in the UK every single day, according to the Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences (2014).
- One pack of sanitary pads can contain the plastic equivalent of four carrier bags, from Marine Conservation Society and Natracare research.
- Just one pad can take as long as 500 years to fully break down.
Video from City to Sea
Can we make the move towards zero waste periods? How easy is it to switch to reusable products?
There are now options available again, more modern and up to date to suit the environmentally aware menstruator. The main products are:
- Menstrual Cup
- Reusable Sanitary Pads
- Period Pants
“Reusable Period Products just sound disgusting and unclean”
This is the common reply when people don’t know much about reusable period products, in all honesty I myself was one at first. I wasn’t the only one who thought like this, and unfortunately still not.
When I first heard about menstrual cups, my initial thought was of disgust and ‘ickiness’. How could someone collect their blood in a cup inside them, empty then wash out to insert again?
If, like past me, you think like this – think about all the weird, unsanitary things you do or have done (cut up raw chicken, changed a tampon, wiped after the toilet… the list goes on and gets more unsavoury) yet period blood is seen as the disgusting one?
Sorry to be the one to point this out, but this is years of ingraining in society, that periods are dirty and used to be deemed as the devil’s work, in some countries women and girls aren’t allowed to leave a room or touch anything because it’s seen as a curse and unclean.
It’s not unclean, it’s just blood, a by-product of a person who menstruates that hasn’t fallen pregnant as reusable products have been around for years as we found out earlier in the post, it’s just modern advertising that made us think single use were somehow ‘cleaner’.
A menstrual cup lasts up to around 10 years depending on the brand, so, if someone used a menstrual cup for an average period lifetime that would be 3-4 menstrual cups in total used on average and with the unfair tampon tax, it works out a LOT cheaper to use reusables.
A recent french study has claimed people should use 2 cups and rotate them with sterilisation in-between but most people just rinse thoroughly and sterilise at the end of their cycle. Read more advice from Lunette here.
Tampons contain plastic and chemicals which can be very harmful for vaginas, causing infections, possible Toxic Shock Syndrome if left in too long and to be honest who wants a roll of reconstituted plastic materials stuffed up there when you know what’s in them?
A menstrual cup can be used for up to 8 hours and the advice now is to have two menstrual cups, one in and the other sterilising in case the collected blood causes TSS (still a much lower risk compared to tampons and further studies are needed)
With the variety of menstrual cups available now there is always one to suit your shape and flow
To sterilise my own cup (I’ve also trimmed the stem for comfort as can be seen in the photo):
- I use boiling water with two teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda to steep and remove any staining
- Put it in a pot to boil again to rinse and sterilise further for 5 minutes.
At the moment we stock Organicups but will soon be stocking menstrual cups from Hey Girls CIC alongside our reusable pads range, to ensure you have the choice for cups that will suit you along with cloth sanitary towels if using a cup isn’t your thing.
Reusable Sanitary Pads and Underwear
There are also reusable pads and underwear to use too, buy a pack of these and they’ll last you for around 6-8 years if they’re well taken care of. You can use these just like a disposable, without the throwing away and waste, just a throw in the washing machine after a quick cold rinse if it’s a heavy flow to prevent staining.
These are fastened by poppers and wear really well with well-fitting underwear and there are reusable panty-liners, day pads and night pads out there to suit all different flows, plus – they are a lot comfier than disposables, no stickiness or weird smell after blood has connected with the chemicals in disposables. It feels like you’re wearing a soft thin cushion between your legs and extremely absorbent so no feeling wet or damp at all.
To look after your reusable pads:
- During a very heavy flow, rinse in cold water first
- For all lighter flows just put straight in the washing machine with your other laundry
- ‘Line dry’/hang to dry – do not put them in a tumble dryer as this will disturb the shape and taughtness of the pad causing them to curve and fold on themselves
- Fold and store away somewhere dry until next usage
We currently stock Lilah Pads, who also make other products such as reusable facial cloth rounds (we’re stocking these soon) and Hey Girls reusable pads which also come with a wet bag to store your used pads in.
Saving money through a zero waste period
With so many options, having periods doesn’t have to be so wasteful and can save so much money for each person deciding to use a reusable. For example it took 3 periods for me – Sophie – to make my money back on my cup and reusable pads and they will last for many years to come and, a friend bought her menstrual cup for £19.00 nine years ago and it’s still going strong.
It not only costs everyone massively who menstruates (hello unwelcome pink tax, meet period poverty), but also causes potential harm to their vulva’s and vagina’s through the toxic chemicals, colourants, bleach and plastic used to make tampons and sanitary towels.
Why feel guilty about waste during a period?
With so many options and alternatives out there to suit everyone and a wealth of information on how to look after, clean your reusables and use them, why feel guiltier about your plastic waste contribution while spending a fortune on single use products all because you menstruate?
If you have any questions for us about reusable period products, please send us an email or message through our social media outlets and we’ll be happy to speak to you about them.