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Okay menstruating people, let’s talk about something that isn’t talked about enough: the reality of zero waste periods. There might be some of you who think that disposable products are proof that we are evolutionarily superior, but if you’re reading this blog, chances are you are wanting creative ways to live a healthier lifestyle.
This blog post achieves both.
Why Ditch The Disposables?
First, let’s look at the cost. The Huffington Post estimates just the cost of tampons, panty liners, and (let’s face it) replacement underwear will cost a woman over $5,000 over the course of her life.
$5,000 for something that we can’t do anything about to avoid (usually). That’s crazy.
The idea of zero waste periods is just as much about cost efficiency as it is about reducing the waste associated with feminine care products.
Second, there’s the obvious waste that accompanies disposable feminine care products. For example, let’s look at a bag of pads. There is the plastic bag that holds the pads. The wrapper for each individual pad. The backing of the sticky part. All of these end up in landfills as more junk that doesn’t break down, at a rate of almost 20 BILLION items per year. Yikes!
Third, did you know about the gunk that is actually in the familiar products on the shelves? Sanitary napkins and tampons have been found to contain carcinogens, irritants, and chemical fragrances. Considering the sensitive area these products are used, using them could cause irritation and ultimately even actual hormone disruption.
Zero Waste Periods Alternatives
There are a surprising number of zero waste options for your menstrual cycle, if you know where to look.
Cloth Pads (aka, “Mama Cloth”)
Cloth pads are a common transition to more natural menstrual care. They are shaped just like a regular sanitary napkin, and the “wings” hold together with a snap.
The care is easy, just collect the used mama cloth in a wet bag throughout your cycle. Once it is over, put all the pads through a pre-wash in your washing machine (or a short regular wash, depending on your particular washing machine setting). Then you can add a regular load of laundry and wash them all together. The pre-wash is important, so don’t skip that step.
Related: How to do laundry without hookups
I personally started using mama cloth after Tristan, my oldest son, was born. I was already using cloth diapers with him and using mama cloth for myself made sense. I am allergic to latex, and cycles became much more comfortable after I made the switch. I also noticed a decrease in cramping, though I’m not sure if I can attribute that to giving birth or changing products. Maybe both.
You will find many options on Etsy for cloth pads. Personally I use products from Party Pants!, a women-owned company located in Wisconsin. They have several sizes and absorbencies to fit every budget and flow needs.
If you’re curious about getting started with cloth, check out Party Pants! for a free sample pantyliner for new customers. They offer free shipping for all orders over $50. Use code CRUNCHY15 for 15% off your first order!
My husband and I have been living nomadically in our 1996 Chevy Express van since spring 2017. We had to consciously change a lot of our habits in order to make it work as best and as comfortably as we could, and one of the biggest changes was reducing the waste we created. Living in such small quarters, you become very mindful of your waste very quickly – and just to get straight to it – there’s nothing fun about driving around and sleeping next to a bin of blood-soaked cotton. That’s why I invested in a DivaCup and very quickly wished I’d done so sooner.
What is a DivaCup?
The DivaCup is a silicone cup you insert in your vagina when you’re on your period that catches your blood. You empty it out as needed, reinsert and then go about your day. I have a pretty ‘regular’ flow – not too heavy, not too light – so I typically just need to empty out my DivaCup when I wake up in the morning, and then again in the evening before I go to bed.
My first two days tend to be my heaviest, so just to avoid any spillage (yes, it can spill if you don’t empty it in time) I may empty it when I’m already using the restroom in the middle of the day. After day 2 or 3, my flow slows down immensely soI can empty out my DivaCup in the AM and then not worry about it again until the PM.
“Does it hurt?/Is it uncomfortable?”
I can’t speak for everyone, but from my experience, no it doesn’t hurt at all. I actually find it much more comfortable than tampons, to be honest. As for the “Is it uncomfortable?” question, the only time it’s uncomfortable is if I don’t insert it correctly. This is super simple to fix, just remove it and reinsert it – the same as you would if you inserted a tampon incorrectly.
“Is it gross?”
This is sort of a loaded question. Personally, I do my best to not associate things the body naturally does with the word “gross,” especially things we can’t control. I try even harder to avoid doing so about our lady-system just because of how important, beautiful, and powerful that whole package is in general.
But, I understand the question and will answer with a, “Yeah, but you get used to it very quickly.” When removing or inserting you’ll probably get some blood on your fingertips, especially while you get through the learning curve (for me, this only took about 2-3 times inserting it, then I had the hang of it). Just wipe off your hands with some toilet paper and give them a nice wash when you’re finished. After a few times, you won’t even think about it.
Enjoy your waste-free cycle!
The cup comes with a little pouch you can carry it in and slips right into any bag I’m carrying. No more worrying about starting my period and not having tampons on me, no more worrying about when I’ll be able to change my tampon, or grab another one, AND no more fear of TSS!
Enjoy the freedom of getting to know your body a bit better and doing so with the intention of creating less waste. Happy flowing!
Often called “mermaid sponges” or “mermaid tampons,” these natural and biodegradable sponges are reusable for up to 6 months.
Made from actual sea sponges, they are harvested from the sea, leaving sponge behind to regenerate. These natural tampons are a renewable resource, and surprisingly easy to care for.
While I have never actually used these myself, I do have some vegan friends who swear by them. There are several affordable options available for purchase on Etsy, including this kit which includes 5 sponges and a little bag for storage.
Of course, there are also handmade and reusable tampon options. Used without an applicator, these cotton tampons are often crocheted. They are typically very absorbent, and an affordable “less gross” option for someone who wants to experience more zero waste feminine care, but doesn’t want to be too far away from the mainstream.
Zero waste periods are beneficial for your health, your pocketbook, and the environment. I hope you found these reusable menstrual care alternatives helpful!
Be sure to share this article if you found it interesting, helpful, or even just a little weird. 🙂