Eco Friendly Period Options: Here’s What you Need to Know

By Jackie Bolen

Let’s talk periods. I know that’s not a subject that’s brought up too often, but it’s an important one that should be discussed more.

Don’t make the same mistake I did.

I didn’t even know there were eco friendly period options until I was in my early 30’s. I used to just go to the store and pick up my favourite brands of disposable pads and tampons and not have a second thought about it. Maybe menstrual cups were on the shelves all those years that I did that? Maybe they weren’t.

In case you haven’t heard about the environmentally friendly, menstrual care awesome, I’m here to tell you about the three most popular options. But first, I’ll give some information about why pads and tampons don’t make the best choice.

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What’s in My Tampon?!

Here’s something you might not know...

Pads and tampons contain trace amounts of pesticides and chemicals from the cotton, as well as the manufacturing process (bleaching agents are particularly bad). Manufacturing companies aren’t required to disclose what’s in their products because they’re classified as “medical devices” by the FDA. We hope that they’ll just disclose what’s in them anyway, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.

Although there isn’t a lot of this stuff in pads or tampons, repeated exposure to it is thought to have some serious side effects, including possibly cancer.

Scary stuff. What’s even scarier is how unaware people are of this problem.

The Plastic Problem

People will use between 11,000 and 16,000 tampons over the course of a lifetime. And of course, you have to add pads and panty-liners on top of that. It’s a lot of waste that goes directly into the landfill because these products, by their nature, can’t really be recycled effectively.

Pads are in large part plastic. This doesn’t biodegrade and will be still be hanging around the landfill in hundreds of years from now. Even OB tampons, without an applicator, come wrapped in plastic.

The Wasting Money Thing

The final problem with disposable menstrual care products is how much they cost. Most people spend, at minimum, $5 per month. If you have a heavy and/or long period, this number can double, or even triple. I know that I get some serious sticker shock every single time I walk down that aisle in the drugstore.

Disposables can easily add up to thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Things get worse. Depending on where you live, there are taxes on menstrual care products, ranging from 3% to 10% This isn’t right. Thankfully, there are some alternative options.

 Where a menstrual cup sits in the body

Where a menstrual cup sits in the body

Eco Consumer Option #1: Menstrual Cups

A menstrual cup is an eco friendly period option that can replace tampons. It’s a bell-shaped cylinder, usually made of medical grade silicone that’s inserted into the vaginal canal. The best part about menstrual cups is that they’re reusable, and with proper care and cleaning, can last for up to 10 years.

In terms of health, there are a lot of reasons why you might make the switch. There has only been one reported case of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) being caused by a cup. There are thousands of cases associated with tampons.

The best cups (avoid the cheap ones from China) are made from top-quality materials that won’t leach chemicals into your bloodstream. It really is possible to have a chemical free period experience!

Although the up-front cost of menstrual cups is higher at around $30 USD, you’ll come out ahead in only a few months when compared to disposables. Every single time I put mine in, I feel good about NOT wasting money on pads and tampons.

Finally, menstrual cups are pretty amazing for the environment. Think about this. If a menstrual cup last for 10 years, that’s four of them over a lifetime of menstruating. Compare that to thousands of pads and tampons. It’s a game changer for our Earth. Imagine the possibilities if every menstruating person had one?

It’s not easy to choose your first menstrual cup because there are so many options. Check out Reusable Menstrual Cups for unbiased reviews of the most popular cups available today.

 Check out the cute polka dot cloth menstrual pad!

Check out the cute polka dot cloth menstrual pad!

Eco Consumer Option #2: Cloth Menstrual Pads

The next eco consumer option to consider is cloth menstrual pads. They are pretty similar to their disposable counterparts, but are made mostly from natural materials including bamboo, charcoal and cotton. Although they’re slightly less absorbent than disposables, they still work quite well.

Best of all, cloth pads have the same money-saving potential as menstrual cups. They also are far less harmful for our Earth than disposable pads, which are mostly plastic. After washing them, it’s another way to have a chemical-free period experience.

Try them out for yourself, but a small word of caution. They do have a tendency to shift around a bit more than disposable pads. So keep a box of those in your cupboard for days you’re planning on hiking, or running a marathon while you have your period, okay? For the regular times? Cloth menstrual pads work just fine.

Eco Consumer Option #3: Organic Disposables

The last option to consider besides regular pads or tampons is the organic version of these same products, which usually contain no plastic. The reasons you might consider buying them is because they’re biodegradable and contain fewer chemicals. They don’t, however, reduce the amount of overall waste going to the landfill like menstrual cups or reusable cloth pads.

The biggest negative to organic pads or tampons is the price. They cost 20-50% more than the regular versions, depending on where you buy them. A quick tip: Don’t buy them at your local natural/health food store. Get them on Amazon for a far more reasonable price.

Ready to Make the Switch to an Eco Friendly Period Option?

Welcome to the club! Get ready to save yourself thousands of dollars, reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals, and cut down on waste significantly.

Sounds awesome, right? It is.

BioJackie Bolen is a tree-hugging, friend of the Earth that can often be found on top of a mountain, catching a wave, or drinking organic coffee around Vancouver, Canada. Her hope is that a reusable menstrual care  product will one day be found in the hands of every single menstruating person in the world.