Plastic pollution is one of the biggest contributing factors to the decline in our environment – and the taboo subject of sanitary waste makes up a percentage of this. In the UK alone, 4.3 billion disposable sanitary products are used every year – and it’s estimated that 700,000 pantyliners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet every single day. Flushed sanitary waste blocks drains, floods homes and gardens and litters the sea, costing the UK £88 million a year in plumbing and maintenance.
Whilst sanitary pads and tampons are considered the menstrual cycle norm, there are plenty of eco-friendly and alternative options available on the market, from the revolutionary Moon Cup to organic sanitary products. By making the switch, women can help contribute towards a positive environmental change, and cut the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Menstrual Cups may have drastically altered the way we think about periods, but they aren’t a new idea. They were originally invented in 1937 by American actress Leona Chalmers, but came to the fore in the 1980s, when ‘The Keeper’ was reintroduced as a modern menstrual cup made from latex rubber. Today, many other varieties have been created with a new material, medical grade silicone, to allow women with latex allergies the option of menstrual cups. Popular examples include the DivaCup, the Mooncup and the Lunette.
Mooncup was established in 2002, and is considered to be the original medical-grade silicone menstrual cup. DivaCup followed suit, and in 2005 the Lunette launched a menstrual cup with an innovative design, compared to other cups. The Lunette cup is completely smooth on the inside which makes it easier to clean, the tab is flat to make it more resistant to bacteria, and the shape is deemed to improve comfort.
These eco-friendly alternatives to typical tampons and sanitary pads can last up to 10 years, greatly reducing plastic waste and saving money over the long run. The cup works by folding into a C-like shape and inserting it into the vagina. Once used, simply empty, wash it out and re-insert.
The simplest way to an eco-friendly period is investing in organic and biodegradable sanitary products. Organic sanitary pads are made out of cotton and tend to be more absorbent (and often more comfortable to wear) than their plastic sisters. Companies including ORGAN(Y)C, Lola and Natracare all offer a selection of organically produced sanitary pads and liners.
Shockingly, the average menstrual pad contains as much plastic as four carrier bags. By making the change to an organic and biodegradable sanitary option, you can ensure that the waste will break down and be naturally recycled, instead of filling up landfills for hundreds of years.
Sway away from traditional sanitary pads by swapping to the cloth version. Cloth pads are an eco-friendly option for a no-waste period. As well as benefiting the environment, these fabric-based sanitary products sit comfortably and avoid the skin irritation often associated with plastic-based products. Companies including GladRags and Precious Stars offer a wide selection of pretty looking clothes to choose from, with different packs depending on your monthly flow.
Environmentally friendly sanitary products can come with drawbacks, and for cloth pads, it is the cleaning process. After you use the pad, it needs to be soaked in water and dried – although a little time consuming, over the long run, you’re doing your bit the planet.
Making your own sanitary products takes an environmentally friendly period to another level. With the evolution and success of cloth pads, why not try and make your own? You can head to a local fabric shop, choose a piece of fabric and make a cloth-like sanitary pad. This method can at least make your period a fun project and allows you to get a little crafty.
Similarly, to the cloth pads, a DIY pad can be soft, comfortable and 100% biodegradable. The pads can also be reusable and should be simple to wash.
Although it may sound a little frightening by name, sea-sponge tampons are nothing like your typical cleaning sponge. Sea-sponge tampons have actually been used by women for thousands of years and were supposedly a favorite of Cleopatra. These all-natural sponges come from the sea and can be reused for six to twelve months. They are yellow in color and look like a rounded sponge.
This alternative ‘tampon’ can be a lot more comfortable to wear than a manufactured one. Ensure to wet the sponge before inserting, and rinse it under the tap afterward, leaving it on the side to dry. It may also go without saying, but considering it’s a sponge, leaking will no longer be an issue – you can’t really get a more absorbent sanitary product than a sponge.
Say goodbye to flushing tampons down the toilet with this home crafted alternative. Reusable tampons work are an appealing equivalent to reusable sanitary pads and create no waste.
The tampons are generally knitted, sewn or crocheted from a strong and absorbent material. They are inserted like an applicator-free tampon, and once used can be soaked and washed for reuse. If sanitary pads aren’t your favorite, these reusable tampons are a strong option. Although not majorly popular or mass manufactured, reusable tampons can be found on sites such as Etsy.
For those women who would rather not use tampons or sanitary pads, or generally have a lighter flow, period pants can be an effective and environmentally friendly option. Period pants are designed for a comfortable and stress-free period, with no worrying about changing your sanitary towel or tampon.
There are many different period pant types: some are designed to be used in place of a sanitary towel or tampon, some for lighter periods, and others to wear with a discreet sanitary pad. Padded period pants are the option to choose if you’d like a proper replacement for general sanitary products. They can range from lighter to heavy flows and feature a ‘padded’ section in the lining. This lining is absorbent, and if needed, there is room to add a fabric-based liner for added protection. Companies such as Luna Panties and Thinx offer a wide selection of these pants.
A softcup is slightly different to the menstrual cup, despite the similar name. It’s a small, plastic disc which sits at the base of the cervix just past the vaginal canal. As it sits higher than menstrual cups and tampons, it’s said to reduce the chances of cramps by 70%, and help to prevent odors.
The cup was launched in 2016 and aims for a stress-free period. This disc can be safely worn for up to 12 hours, is less prone to leak, and helps to resist yeast infections and toxic shock syndrome. As the disc holds up to six teaspoons or blood – an equivalent to five tampons worth – it’s also recommended to remove it in the shower.
Although the disc isn’t reusable or biodegradable, it does offer some environmental benefits. The disc produces 60% less waste than traditional tampons, making it more environmentally friendly than many other disposable menstruation products.
Jo Greene is the Marketing Director of family run business VR Sani-Co, providing a range of quality washroom services and sanitary bins throughout London, Sussex, and Kent.