Why You Should Choose Eco-Friendly Period Products

Green up your monthly flow!
woman holding a menstrual cup
Image by PatriciaMoraleda from Pixabay

Period. There. It’s been said.

Let's face it: our monthly periods literally help make the world go round and it’s no wonder that the feminine hygiene sector is a multi-billion dollar industry. Each month, most of us are creating personal mountains of used pads or tampons--avoidable waste that each and every period-having-female on the planet contributes to. And sure, kudos to the fact that we have so many options, but those choices can be overwhelming, especially if you’re concerned about the chemicals used in the products and their impact on your body and the environment. It’s time think about period products that are more eco-friendly and less toxic for our bodies.

Are tampons safe?

It’s not a secret that conventional disposable pads and tampons are full of chemicals and polymers designed to aid in superior absorption and leak protection. How else could they work so well at keeping their users dry and leak-free? Many hygienic products also contain fragrances, gels, and chlorine bleach, not to mention the carcinogens, chemical by-products, and pesticides. And if that wasn’t enough to make you rethink the products you’re using, most contain BPAs and plastics that don’t compost. Basically, a conventional pad or tampon contains a toxic stew that you are giving unfettered access to your delicate parts and very permeable skin each month. Um, ew.

When you look at it that way, it’s pretty shocking that these products are not only allowed to be on store shelves, but are touted as the only option for women to successfully make it through their monthly period. Amazingly enough, manufacturers of hygienic products for women are not required to share their ingredients. It’s considered proprietary and therefore secret. Even though those secrets could be making women sick.

Disposables don’t actually go away

It is believed that the average woman will generate 300 pounds or so of landfill waste from her period alone. That, my friends, is a lot of tampons.

We have been raised in a society of disposables and the harmful concept of “out of sight, out of mind.” But, the convenience of disposables is undermined when we realize that just because we’ve thrown something away doesn’t mean it’s really gone. Our overstuffed dumps and junk-riddled oceans are testament to the fact that garbage can’t be reabsorbed into the earth. Have you ever seen video footage from a waste-water treatment plant? Brace yourself.

The nasty reality about disposable pads and tampons is this: The same pads your mom used 40 years ago are still sitting in a landfill somewhere. (Gross. And true.). It can take something like 400 years for plastic to decompose, so the pad you toss out today will still be chilling in a landfill in 2418. That’s a fact.

Eco-friendly choices for menstrual products

Considering half the world’s population is female and more than half of many women’s lives involves a monthly menstrual cycle, why should the search for eco-friendly period options that are safe and chemical-free be so difficult?

Never fear! Greener period options are becoming more accessible. There are some fabulous eco-products out there that are creating open and honest dialogues with their customers by disclosing all the ingredients in their products and by building communities of like-minded people. Eco-friendly period products are taking their rightful place!

Reusable Pads

Let’s talk reusable pads. These are not medieval torture traps involving belts and bunchy fabrics that itch. They’re cute and colourful, and they have little snaps that hold the pad securely in place. And best of all, they work!

Yes, we all have lives and can’t stay home for the duration of our periods (which, not gonna lie, would be pretty awesome!) Reusable pads can definitely cut it in the real world. If you need to change your pad, simply bring along a wet bag (a smaller version of the ones used for cloth diapers). Once you get home, toss your pads in the wash, and you’re done.

Reusable pads. Seriously???

Do reusable pads and underwear actually work at stopping leaks? Let’s be real here for a moment: disposable pads and tampons probably “work better” than the reusable pads. In the same way that disposable diapers work better than cloth. But… The processes by which disposable products are made make them far more dangerous to our bodies. So, sure, a paper-thin pad with wings and that magic blue strip that claims to channel wetness wins the overall absorbency contest. But the cost of those chemicals leaching into your skin and the amount of waste pollution they create are a big price to pay for the convenience of disposal and a few extra hours of leak protection. The take away is this: Reusable pads and undies get you in tune with your body, have fewer chemicals, and don't pile up in the landfill. Change them a bit more often, layer the inserts if necessary. And don’t spend time worrying about toxins. I’d call that a win.

Period panties

There aren't your momma's period panties! There are cute, bright-coloured absorbent underthings that can hold up to two tampons-worth of menstrual blood! Not bad for a pair of underwear, right !?! These typically have an absorbant panel sewn right into them, which means one pair of underwear can act as a replacement for disposable pads and tampons! Some even come with the ability to add inserts, so just one pair of panties can go all day long! Like the reusable pads, these undies are made using a combination of organic cotton, spandex, and PUL (Polyurethane Laminate), depending on the style you choose. These companies often provide a material list for each pair of underwear they offer!

Menstrual Cups

Not a pad fan? There’s something for you too! A menstrual cup is made out of silicone or rubber, meaning no nasty chemicals potentially being absorbed by you! These cups are inserted, like a tampon, and changing the cup is easy: simply dump and rinse. But (and this is probably the game changer for many women making the switch) unlike a tampon, there is no concern over Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours straight.

You heard right: Twelve. Hours. Straight.

The challenges

Okay, there’s a learning curve. Some people get it right away. Some people take a while to figure out the subtle nuances of a menstrual cup. But once you work it out, you’ll be amazed at the results.

Yes, it’s definitely not as "convenient" as tossing a tampon and privacy may be a slight issue, like when you have to change them in a public washroom. But that twelve hours of flexibility means that there’s a good chance you’ll get some privacy somewhere along the line. Or, dump it, wipe it with some tp, stuff it back into its handy bag, and carry around a clean back up, for when you can’t get to a private location.

Better disposable pads and tampons

Not ready to switch to washable period options? Not a problem. Sustainably sourced, ethically produced, and environmentally friendly disposable hygienic products are available. Look for pads and tampons that are certified organic, free of bleaches, dyes, synthetic ingredients, petroleum derivatives, perfumes, and plastics. Some brands are certified by MADE SAFE, a stringent scientific seal that ensures that consumer products are free of known toxic chemicals.

Now, those over 10,000 tampons and pads most women will discard over a lifetime of their period? Not a problem. Eco-friendly disposable menstrual products are biodegradeable and compostable (meaning your period waste won’t be clogging up dump sites 400 years from now!). Compared with most conventional pads that are made up of mostly plastic, natural pads utilize organic cotton, and vegetable-based cellulose.

Look for tampons that are 100% organic cotton and made without rayon, chlorine bleach, or weird polymers. They won’t suffer from fibre loss like other conventional tampons, and these should be available without applicators or offer paper-based ones.

Love it or hate it, your monthly period is a pretty amazing system: it’s all a part of this self-cleaning, self-regulating, potential baby-incubating organ. Sure, the cramps are the worst, as are the weird hormonal surges, cravings, headaches, annoying acne, and bloating. As women, we develop strategies to get through our monthly cycles with the least amount of fuss possible and we try to teach our daughters the same.

No matter which product you choose, let's start the conversation about period products that create less waste. The more we talk about it, the more companies will have to rise to the challenge of manufacturing greener, cleaner, and chemical-free products that are safe both for us, and the earth. Check out our fab round-up of eco-friendly period options and make the choice to be kinder to your body and your world.