Transitioning to a zero waste period can be overwhelming, but this guide will walk you through six reusable and sustainable period products that will help you quit those costly conventional menstrual products.
Why Do Sustainable Period Products Matter?
On average, a menstruating individual uses between 5-15 thousand pads and tampons in their lifetime. When you consider that most of these pads come wrapped in thin plastic and are themselves composed partially of plastic and that tampons also typically come wrapped in plastic and often with a plastic applicator as well… well that’s a whole lot of plastic and waste.
Another material in pads and tampons is conventional cotton. I’ve talked about the issues with non-organic cotton before, but to just give you the synopsis: conventionally-grown cotton is one of the most water-intensive fiber crops, one of the most commonly genetically-modified crops, and one of the worst crops when it comes to pesticide use.
The beautiful thing, though, is that now we have a better way. In fact, we have six better ways now. (And who knows, maybe there will be more innovations to come in this space!)
Below are six organic, zero waste, and sustainable period products perfect for replacing your plastic and toxic cotton pads and tampons!
Note that this guide includes partners and affiliates. As always, I only include brands I love and that meet high standards for sustainability.
3 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Conventional Tampons:
What is a Menstrual Cup?
Menstrual cups are a great zero waste swap for tampons. Typically shaped like a bell with a straight or circle-shaped stem and made from flexible silicone, menstrual cups are inserted and then collect blood until you remove them and discard of the blood. This Lena Cup from EcoRoots is made from 100% medical-grade BPA-free and latex-free silicone and comes in recycled packaging.
How Do You Use a Menstrual Cup?
The concept of a cup is fairly similar to tampons: you insert the cup and can go for a set number of hours before you have to remove it. What I loved most about switching to a menstrual cup was that you can usually wear them for much longer than you can wear tampons. Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time (depending on your flow), compared with tampons, which should only be worn for a maximum of 8 hours (and potentially even less, depending on your flow).
The insertion and removal methods for menstrual cups are quite different from tampons, though, so I’d recommend doing some research! EcoRoots has a great short guide to menstrual cup insertion and removal when you scroll down on that page along with a video. Everyone has a different experience with the cup and it’s good to try out a few different methods of insertion to find what’s best for you — I’m a fan of the punch-down fold, but the c-fold is a commonly recommended method. (Note: always wash your hands before inserting or removing your cup!)
If you like to have a backup for your menstrual cup, scroll down to the pad replacement options for some organic and zero waste alternatives to conventional pads!
Check out the Lena Menstrual Cup ($29.99)
What is a Reusable Menstrual Disc?
Next up on this guide to sustainable period products is the reusable menstrual disk. Similar to menstrual cups, disks are inserted and collect blood. Where disks are different from cups is their position: as Healthline explains, “a cup sits in your vagina below your cervix and extends into your canal, depending on the type or brand you choose. A disc, on the other hand, fits back into your vaginal fornix, which is where your vaginal canal meets your cervix.”
Note: Most menstrual disks are single-use. This Ziggy Cup from INTIMINA is marketed as both as a disk and a cup, which is confusing, but essentially the shape is like a disk but the material — medical-grade silicone — is more like the cup. Nixit also has a “menstrual cup” that’s actually more like a reusable disc.
How Do You Use a Menstrual Disk?
I haven’t personally used a menstrual disk before, but INTIMINA has a user manual PDF that walks you through the process step by step.
Check out the Ziggy Menstrual Disc ($39.95)
What are Organic Tampons?
Organic tampons are just like any other tampon you’re used to except that unlike conventional tampons, they’re made from organic cotton with no toxic chemicals like chemical pesticide/herbicide residue. Tip: look for GOTS-certified organic cotton to ensure the highest organic standards. Cora has tampons made from GOTS organic cotton for the tampon and string and BPA-free plastic applicators. To minimize plastic and eliminate your exposure to the plastic applicator, you can check out their applicator-free tampons.
How do you Use Organic Tampons?
You use organic tampons just like you’d use a normal tampon! There is not a learning curve when it comes to organic tampons if you’ve already been a tampon user. However, one way to reduce waste with tampons is to get non-applicator tampons. If this is your first time trying an applicator-free tampon, here are a few of my tips: wash your hands beforehand, start inserting the tampon just as you would if there was an applicator, insert the tampon by pushing the outside end inwards.
Check out Cora’s organic tampons at Target (no subscription required; $5.99 – $9.99)
3 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Conventional Pads:
What are Washable Pads?
Washable pads are shaped just like disposable pads but are plastic-free and can be used over and over again. These SmartLiner pads from EcoRoots are made from organic cotton and have a hook-and-loop closure to keep them in place. The pads come in three different options: regular, heavy, and super heavy/overnight to ensure there’s something for every individual and for every day of your flow.
How do you Use Washable Pads?
Using washable pads is similar to disposable pads, but instead of relying on a sticky outer layer to hold them in place, you use the wings to close and secure the pad. After use, hand wash or machine wash in cold and line-dry (you can also tumble dry low in your drying machine, but might as well line-dry since it’s less resource-intensive and better for the planet!)
Check out the washable period pads ($18.50)
What is Period Underwear?
Period underwear is like having pads built into your underwear. Absorbancy depends on the style, but THINX has period underwear that can absorb the equivalent of anywhere from ½ of a tampon’s worth to 4 tampon’s worth of blood.
I’ve been a user of THINX for quite a few years. Most of their underwear is made from synthetic materials, but they do have an organic line too! (Unfortunately, I got mine before they had this line.) Their organic cotton fabric is certified organic by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and OCS (Organic Cotton Standard).
According to THINX, all of their underwear is REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) compliant — which is an EU regulation that restricts a large number of chemicals for human and planetary health — and certified with STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX. Through these processes, third parties tests for toxic chemicals like PFAS and more.
How Do You Use Period Underwear?
This is probably one of the easier sustainable period products to start using because they’re really just like wearing a pair of underwear.
I use my THINX underwear as a backup to my menstrual cup but depending on what you’re used to/comfortable with and your flow, you can also just use THINX underwear alone. There’s also no need to machine wash them separately — you can throw them in with the rest of your load using the cold water setting. The blood does not come out when you machine-wash them. (I know, I was nervous too, but nothing happened! The rest of my clothes have always come out perfectly clean.) THINX recommends hang/air-drying your underwear, which is more eco-friendly anyway.
Check Out THINX Underwear ($24 – $42)
What are Organic Pads?
Organic pads are similar in use and style as regular pads, but the difference is the material. Instead of pads made of cotton potentially laden with fragrances, chemical additives, bleach and dyes, Cora’s organic cotton pads are made with a certified organic top sheet, plant-based core, and leak-proof back sheet (which is polypropylene, so not a perfect solution). In addition to producing sustainable period products, Cora is a B-Corp certified company that donates pads and education to girls without access to menstrual supplies.
How Do You Use Organic Pads?
The use is exactly like you would use a typical pad. Cora’s pads, unfortunately, are not compostable, but if you’re looking for an all-natural pad, Saathi has biodegradable pads made from bamboo fiber and banana fiber. I can’t vouch for their functionality, though, as I haven’t tried them.
Check out Cora’s organic period pads ($7 to $16 month depending on subscription level)
Check out Cora’s pads on Target (no subscription required; $5.99 – $9.99)
Cover image courtesy of EcoRoots
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