We’re big believers that Earth Day Is Every Day. So, when April 22 rolls around we like to think about actions we can take to be kinder to our planet all year round. One thing we’re committed to is using reusable period products, like menstrual cups, period underwear, and reusable pads.
If you’re a menstruator, we invite you to join us in ditching disposable tampons and pads. By doing so you’ll be contributing less plastic waste to our landfills and oceans AND you’ll probably feel like you’ve upgraded your period. We, and many others, find the reusable options to be more comfortable, less likely to leak, and less expensive than their disposable counterparts.
Before we unpack the different reusable options, here’s what you should know about the Period Plastic Problem:
Disposable menstrual hygiene products like pads and tampons are packed with – and packaged with – plastic.1 Even cardboard tampon applicators have a plastic coating2 and the tampons with the least plastic, the ones without applicators, still come wrapped in plastic. It may not seem like a big deal because tampons and pads are pretty small, but we use SO MANY OF THEM over the course of the ~40 years we menstruate.1
According to National Geographic , “over the course of a lifetime, a single menstruator will use somewhere between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons, the vast majority of which will end up in landfills as plastic waste.” Once there, it’ll take them 500+ years to break down!1
The Period Plastic Problem is unfortunately not contained to landfills. Thousands of tampon applicators find their way into our oceans and onto our beaches. The executive director of the New Jersey-based Clean Ocean Action coalition told Mother Jones that plastic tampon applicators are so common on beaches that they have the nickname “Jersey whistles” because “kids on the beach often pick them up, thinking they’re toy whistles.”3
“Applicators are even worse for the ocean once they break down. According to Susan Shaw, the founder and executive director of the Marine and Environmental Research Institute and a leading expert on the plastics in our oceans, sea animals often mistake applicator-sized pieces of plastic for food. When the plastic blocks their digestive tracts, they can starve to death. What’s more, the type of plastic in applicators can break down into tiny pieces easily eaten by shellfish and other small marine creatures. Shaw’s team found an average of 177 pieces of microplastic in each oyster they tested. And that plastic can work its way up the food chain.”3
You may be thinking that recycling could be an option but even when tampon applicators are made from recyclable material, they’re not accepted in recycling programs because of sanitary concerns.1 Menstrual hygiene products are considered medical waste.1 So, really, there is NO good place for disposable period products to end up.
The good news is there are some excellent reusable options on the market. Below are three of our favorites.
3 Reusable Menstrual Hygiene Products for Better Periods
1. Menstrual Cups
If you’re just going to choose one thing, make it this. Ideal for people who are used to tampons, or are comfortable inserting something in their vagina, menstrual cups feel like little miracles. If you’re feeling weird or squeamish about putting it in and taking it out, know this: we found it was only really awkward the first two times. After that, we felt like blood-chalice-wielding period pros.
What are they?
Menstrual cups are “flexible, bell-shaped devices made of silicone, rubber or latex that are inserted into the vagina to capture menstrual blood. The cups can be left in place for four to 12 hours before being emptied, rinsed and reinserted.”4 (Thanks to the New York Times for this technical description. We were going to say “little flexible blood chalices”.)
What’s to love?
- They save us money (not to mention tampon shopping trips). “The price of a menstrual cup that can last up to 10 years is about $40 in the United States, although they can be purchased for less. Just one year’s supply of disposable pads or tampons can cost between $60 and $120.”4
- You never have to worry about whether you have enough tampons again. You just need one of these!
- Once inside, the cup is so comfortable that you may forget it’s there. (If you’re worried about that, set an alarm.)
- You can go up to 12 hours before emptying your cup.
- Our team members report far fewer leaks with cups than with tampons.
- Menstrual cups are great for monitoring your flow, and the color and clottiness of your period blood because, unlike pads and tampons, they don’t dry out your blood.
Brands to try:
- Cups come in different sizes, so make sure you check the sizing charts and choose the one that is right for you.
- There are video and gif tutorials that show you how to put it in and take it out correctly. Watch them so you can be confident that you’re doing it right.
2. Period Underwear
After menstrual cups, period underwear have made the biggest difference in terms of how we manage our periods. They are a great replacement for pads and pantiliners and provide solid backup for your menstrual cup or tampons. If your period tends to start in the middle of the night or early in the morning, period underwear are wonderful for wearing to bed the night before you expect your period to start. Many brands are as comfortable as “regular underwear” and you won’t have to worry about waking up to stained underwear and sheets.
What are they exactly?
Period underwear is like the love child of underwear and reusable pads (more on those below). They are underwear with absorptive and moisture-wicking layers, designed to absorb blood and keep you dry and leak-free. Unlike stained regular underwear or used pads, you wash your period underwear and reuse them over and over again. (One of our team members still uses a pair she bought in 2013!)
What’s to love?
- More comfortable than disposable pads and pantiliners.
- More attractive than pads and pantyliners.
- No crunchy sounds or diaper booty.
- Easy to wash.
- They’ll save you money as they replace disposable pads and pantyliners.
- No more smelly bloody pads filling up your garbage (or ending up in landfills!).
Brands to try:
- The brands above tested free of PFAS (toxins that were reportedly found in Thinx period underwear).5, 6, 7
3. Reusable Pads
If you’re all about pads – or you use pads to back up your tampon or cup – reusable pads should make for an easy swap. They are not very different than the pads you know, but instead of being plastic and disposable, they are cloth and reusable.
What are they?
Reusable pads are essentially the same as disposable ones except you wash and reuse them instead of tossing them in the trash. The materials used are different too. While disposable pads and pantiliners have of a sticky plastic adhesive, reusable pads have velcro or snaps on the wings to keep them in place. Reusable pads are often made from cotton or a mix of fabrics including cotton.
What’s to love?
Companies like Aisle (previously Lunapads) have been working hard to make reusable pads not only a swap for disposable pads, but also an upgrade. Their pads “were built to outperform disposables and can handle your heaviest period (no sweat), without harming the planet.” They can hold up to 4 tampons worth of blood! And both their pads and tampons provide “edge-to-edge leak protection and a super comfortable wicking cotton top layer.” 8
Brands to try:
Do you use reusable period products? Or are you planning to try them?
If so, please tell us about your experience and favorite brands in the comments. We’d love to hear what’s working for you.