The new trend of living waste-free that has emerged in the last few years seems idealistic for most, but for those who menstruate, it can feel pretty much impossible.
Traditional period products, like pads and tampons, cannot be recycled or flushed. Even tampon applicators made from recyclable materials like cardboard or plastic must be thrown out, because they come in contact with menstrual fluid. Considering the average American woman uses up to 16,800 tampons in her lifetime, that’s a lot of waste.
In addition to the environmental cost of disposable period products, the actual price of these products can add up over the years. People who have periods will end up paying thousands of dollars over the course of their lifetime on disposable menstrual products, a number exacerbated by the “tampon tax” that taxes menstrual products as “luxury items,” rather than “necessities.” Unfortunately, these wasteful and expensive products are the only option for people who menstruate. Right?
Definitely not! In the past few years, reusable period products have become increasingly more popular and available both online and in stores where their disposable counterparts are sold. These products are better for the planet because they generate little to no waste, and often cost less money in the long run than products that must be purchased again and again. The market for reusable menstrual products is wide, and here are just a few of the most accessible options:
For those who prefer external protection, cloth pads provide a reusable alternative to the chemical-laden disposable pads on the market. Usually made of soft fabric, like cotton or flannel, cloth pads function just like disposable pads, and are just as absorbent--or even more so--than traditional pads. Made to survive frequent washing, cloth pads can last for years. While they may be expensive upfront, the longevity of these products compared to disposable menstrual products makes them more affordable with continued use.
One of the more recently popularized products, absorbent underwear brands like THINX are very similar to cloth pads, except the absorbent, moisture-wicking fabric is built into the underwear itself. While some have claimed they do not provide as much protection and are more difficult to manage away from home than their disposable alternatives, others swear by this eco-friendly, cost-effective, and convenient alternative to constantly using and throwing away disposable pads and tampons.
The Menstrual Cup
After years of feeling guilty over constantly throwing out period products, I switched to the menstrual cup two years ago and have not looked back. Menstrual cups are made of silicone or latex rubber, and are small and flexible in order to collect menstrual flow internally. There are countless brands out there, with options for folks of all shapes, sizes, and absorbency needs (I personally recommend the Lunette Cup for newbies). At about $30 to $40 for a product that can last up to ten years, the menstrual cup is a great option for those looking to cut down on costs and on waste. Alongside its lower cost and environmental benefit, the menstrual cup is more effective than disposable products. It offers more protection than pads or tampons, and can be worn for up to twelve hours with a much lower risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome than tampons. While changing and cleaning it is a bit more hands-on than other menstrual products, it only takes a few cycles to get the hang of it before the process feels second-nature.
Everyone experiences menstruation differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all of period products. The best period product is the one that is most comfortable and effective for you. At the same time, the environmental effect of disposable products in general (not just period products) is increasingly evident. Nowadays, there are so many waste-free period products available, and reducing the amount of trash we generate has never been easier.
A few tampons every month might seem insignificant, but every small step taken to reduce waste has an impact.
Carolyn Ford is an Editor at The Rational Creature. They study English and Gender and Sexuality studies at NYU with a particular interest in queer coming-of-age narratives.