The idea of a zero waste period sounds great! But is it actually possible? And what’s wrong with traditional period products?
According to the Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association (AHPMA), on average, women use 22 sanitary products each cycle. That equates to an astounding 11,000 disposable period products in their lifetime. That’s around 4.3 billion products in the UK alone, every year.
Disposable menstrual products are made from around 90% plastic and (along with their packaging and applicators) accounts for a mind-blowing 200,000 tonnes of landfill waste each and every year. To put it into perspective, every pack of period pads has the equivalent of 5 carrier bags of plastic.
It’s not just a waste issue
Surprisingly, period products are made of ingredients that aren’t great for our health. In addition to plastic, the average disposable sanitary towel also contains endocrine disruptors, aluminium, perfume additive, pesticide residue and chemicals including phthalates, BPS, glyphosate, BPA, and dioxins.
Although many period products state they are made from cotton, the majority also contain synthetic fibres (usually plastic), and rayon. Rayon is made from wood pulp and is used to retain moisture. Sounds great, right? But Rayon produces a byproduct called dioxin, which is a carcinogen (a substance capable of causing cancer).
Sustainable period swaps
Reusable sanitary towels
Reusable sanitary pads are usually made of organic fabric like cotton or bamboo. Instead of plastic strips, they have poppers to hold them in place. Just like traditional pads, they have wicking properties and many also claim to be odour-proof. Here are our top picks:
- Although initial cost is more than disposable pads, they work out considerably cheaper in the long run
- Less waste – they can last for years
- Less sweaty than traditional pads
- Can be thrown in the washing machine with rest of your washing
- Takes time to wash and dry the pads
- The user has more contact with blood
- Not as discreet as disposable pads
A few companies have started to produce biodegradable tampons that can be composted, which means no plastic added to landfill! They are usually 100% cotton with no hidden nasties and come in different sizes to suit all flows.
Our top picks are:
- Just as convenient as traditional tampons
- Made of natural materials
- No chemicals or nasties
- Biodegradable and compostable
- Although they do create technically some waste, they are biodegradable so can be composted
- More expensive than traditional tampons
Zero waste menstrual cup
Menstrual cups tend to be BPA and latex free. Infact, most are made from medical-grade silicone. They hold much more than a tampon and can be kept in for up to 12 hours. You shouldn’t be able to feel them when they are in place. Many women swear by them, though it can take some getting used to. Here are our top picks:
Our top picks are:
- Great for bank balance as can be reused and last for years if well looked-after
- Come in different sizes for comfort
- Made from medical grade silicone
- No odour
- Suitable for all flows
- Can take a while to get the hang of inserting and removing
- If you don’t have access to a private sink it can be tricky to clean them if out and about but they last 12 hours so it’s usually not an issue
- Not suitable if you have an allergy to silicone
- Need to boil after every cycle to provide a proper clean
- Although they last for a long time, they generally can’t be recycled and don’t biodegrade
Period panties have been hailed as a genius invention and are gaining popularity. They feel like normal underwear and don’t require you to carry any additional products if you are out and about. They are designed to be absorbent without feeling wet, and come in a wide variety of shapes (yes, including thongs) and sizes to suit everyone.
Our top picks are:
- Some can be washed in the machine with the rest of your washing
- Can be worn for up to 8 hours
- No plastic
- Range of different styles and sizes
- Choices to suit all different flows
- To make them last longer is is best to hand wash, which involves being ‘hands-on’
- They have approximately a 2-year lifetime
- Expensive to buy in the first instance
Zero waste periods – will you be reducing your period carbon footprint?
So, it seems that having a completely zero waste period isn’t technically possible. That being said, trying any of the above options can make a huge difference to your period carbon footprint and help to reduce your contribution to landfill. Which option will you be trying?