When I started my own business 4 years ago I knew it would be full of surprises, however, something that I would NEVER have predicted at the beginning of this journey is how much time I would end up talking about PERIODS and how much I love it!
Maybe this is because before starting Viveco, I had spent most of my adult life never really thinking about the tampons and pads I used, except in terms of cost or inconvenience each month. As I began doing more research into producing less waste on a personal level, it became impossible to ignore the problems caused by mainstream period products that have dominated the market for many years.
As this month (May 28th) is Menstrual Hygiene Day, we thought this would be a great time to highlight the problems caused by tampons and pads and look at some of the amazing alternatives that are popping up everywhere to help us make our period kinder to our planet and to ourselves.
As I began my own journey towards leading a more zero-waste lifestyle the menstrual cup was one of the first big changes I made, and although it took some getting used to it quickly become one of my favourite swaps and still is to this day.
But what is the problem with the ‘traditional’ sanitary products that we all grew up with?
If anyone has participated in a beach clean recently anywhere near an urban area, the chances are you will have collected some kind of plastic that has come from a period product. A majority of women menstruate monthly from their teenage years for 40+ more , the sheer quantity of waste produced is enormous and it is estimated that disposal of single-use menstrual products generates more than 200,000 tonnes of waste a year.
Tampons and pads were originally made from cardboard and cotton, but changed quickly as new materials were used and marketeers fought to sell the most ‘innovative’ and ‘discreet’ product. Plastic components were added to nearly every part of the design, from the applicators and individual wrappings to the strings, the adhesives, and the actual layers inside the products which make them leak-proof and stay in place.
There are no listed ‘ingredients’ on a box of tampons or pads but if there were it would include cotton (but mostly not organic), or synthetic materials like “rayon or SAPs (Super Absorbent Polymers). These materials are often bleached with chlorine to give them that pristine white look “ (madesafe.org)
This means that in tampons there can be pesticide residues, dioxines and furans from the bleaching process and in scented varieties fragrance is added! All of these things can lead to irritation in our most sensitive areas.
Once ‘disposed’ of either in the bin where these items end up in landfill – or even worse flushed down the toilet where they end up in the water systems – they slowly breakdown and the plastic by-products leach into the environment.
“90 percent of a menstrual pad is made of plastic and menstrual products can take up to 500 years to break down in landfill.” (madesafe.org)
So, what are the alternatives?
- Organic Pad/Tampon (and DON’T FLUSH)
The most simple and effective switch you can make is to buy from a company that makes their products with organic cotton and is transparent about what is in them (we choose to stock Organyc) – this is not the norm from typical mainstream brands. You can also help the by NEVER flushing any menstrual products down the toilet and always dispose of menstrual products in the bin.
Making this simple change means less exposure to the unwanted by-products contained in regular products, a kinder production process and less damage to the planet if these do end up in landfill .
- Menstrual Cups
If you are ready for a bigger change to create a truly ‘zero waste’ period then the cup is the way to go. Although the menstrual cup has been around for a long time it has become more popular in the last few years. Now made from soft silicon, the cup can be used for years with proper care. Although it can take time and practice to get used to them the long term the positives once it becomes habit are AMAZING – there is absolutely no waste created each month, you save money in the long run and they are quick, easy and convenient. There are now many options on the market, and a wealth of information on choosing the right cup and how to use it. Check out www.putacupinit.com to do a survey and find the right fit for you!
- Period Pants
A recent convert to the period pant revolution, I am now one of its biggest advocates. We are all so different and the cup is not for everyone, period underwear can be a great alternative or even an addition to your cycle. Depending on your flow you can wear these alone or as a backup to a cup. Wearing them just before or after your period can save you ‘good’ knickers from staining and help avoid a frantic bathroom visit if you get caught unawares.
There are many brands and styles to cater to everyone – having a few pairs of these in your wardrobe can be an absolute lifesaver. I love to wear these overnight to have a break from the cup. We love the Cocoro brand made in Spain and 100% Organic cotton.
- Reusable Pads & Cloths
As in many aspects of zero waste living sometimes the answer is just to go back to a simpler time and do what was done before. Reusable cloths and pads were all that they had before the advent of modern technology but these are not the bulky nappy pads of your great grandmothers. Now available in functional and modern colours, shapes and sizes, with poppers to keep them in place reusable pads are regaining popularity with young and old alike. These are a great economical option and you can even make your own.
Whatever your preference there are better alternatives to the standard individually wrapped plastic and chemical heavy tampons that sadly have been the norm for so long. Join the period revolution!