For half the world’s population, getting your period is a monthly inconvenience that must be dealt with for decades of your life. Thanks to the modern world, it’s easier than ever to get access to feminine hygiene products. However, the convenience of grabbing a box of pads when you need them comes at a cost, as these piles of disposable pads and bleached tampons have some big impacts on our planet today.
Thankfully, there is another way. With a little openness to trying new things, you can find sustainable alternatives for taking care of your period that are better for both the planet and your own body. To learn why using alternative menstrual products might be the best life change you can make this month, read on.
The damage to the environment
It might be simple to grab your trusty bag of pads to care of your period every month, but those absorbent liners really start to add up.
There are an estimated 3.5 million women on the planet today, and each year they are responsible for dumping over 12 billion sanitary pads and 7 billion tampons into landfills. In fact, the average woman uses over 16,000 pads and tampons throughout her lifetime, all of which end up in dump or sewage treatment plants. That’s well over 300 pounds of trash filled with plastics that never break down.
Even worse, many pads contain special chemicals that are manufactured to absorb fluids up to 10 times their weight. This helps them control unwanted messes, but what happens when they make it into a landfill? In most cases, these chemicals haven’t been thoroughly studied and their impacts on water systems and the greater environment are relatively unknown.
The concerns with cotton
If you watch the commercials, cotton companies will have you believe that every cotton product is plucked from pristine white fields and delicately transformed into your tampon. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Not only do most tampons contain rayon (a synthetic chemical that can dry out the vaginal wall), but the cotton they are made from is treated with pesticides, bleached and chlorinated before being sold.
In fact, according to the Rodale Institute, cotton is one of the dirtiest crops in the entire world. Four out of five pesticides used on cotton in the US have been proven to have negative environmental consequences, and 25 countries, the United States included, rely on aldicarb as an insecticide, a solution known to have dire effects on wildlife and water systems.
Cotton is also a top GMO crop, as 90% of the cotton grown in the US is genetically engineered, meaning that growing cotton for pads and tampons is increasing the world’s exposure to altered genetic products that aren’t fully understood.
The risks to your body
If the consequences for the environment aren’t enough to get you to change your habits, looking at the risks that conventional period products have for your body might do the trick.
Many of the plastics used in pads and tampons contain chemicals that aren’t fully understood. BPA and BPS are both chemicals common in pads and tampons that have been found to alter the development of embryos in the womb as well as increase your risk of developing heart disease and some forms of cancer. Phthalates are a chemical often found in tampons that can wreck your body’s ability to fully express genes and occasionally causes organ failure.
Not only are the chemicals in commercial menstrual products potentially damaging, these products are also designed to be used near one of the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of the human body. The female reproductive organs are extremely thin skinned, meaning that blood vessels run right next to the surface. Because skin is permeable and allows chemicals to travel through it, the synthetic chemicals in pads and tampons can be easily absorbed into your blood stream and spread throughout your body.
Relying on plastics and other synthetics also restricts the flow of air, which can lead to heat and moisture being captured in your underwear, creating the perfect environment for yeast infections to grow.
Toxic shock syndrome
Though rare, Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) can cause you to suffer from a life threatening infection from using a tampon. Though TSS isn’t fully understood, it’s thought to be caused by highly dangerous staphylococcus aureus bacteria that can lodge itself in the vaginal tract after small tears are made in the sides due to a tampon. If you don’t change your tampon in time, the infection can build up and spread throughout your blood stream. The consequences can be severe and often result in vomiting, diarrhea, and occasionally amputation.
The costs of a throwaway period mentality
In some ways, the damage of using disposable period products hits your wallet as much as your body. Assuming an average woman spends $5 per month on a box of pads or tampons for the forty years of her menstrual cycle, the cost easily adds up to over $2,400, all on products that just get thrown away.
Investing in alternative menstrual products might cost you more than a box of tampons at first, but over the years the money you keep in your pocket will add up to thousands of dollars.
Natural, sustainable alternatives for your period
Looking at the cost of conventional period products can be scary, but thankfully the world today is full of incredible alternative options that will save you money, keep your body safe from dangerous chemicals, and even limit the amount of garbage you send to the landfill.
Below are some of the top alternative period products on the market today and what you need to know about each one before choosing the product that’s right for you.
When worn correctly, reusable pads are as discrete as regular underwear. In fact, cotton reusable pads like Glad Rags are typically more absorbent than regular pads, and they’re definitely more comfortable! Most reusable pads come in three piece sets that include a holder and two inserts, allowing you to customize the amount of padding depending on the heaviness of your cycle.
You’ll pay quite a bit up front to equip yourself with enough reusable pads to make it through your period, but once you stock up, your period expenses will go down to nothing.
The biggest disadvantage with reusable pads is the process of washing them. The liners need to be soaked in cold water, washed and dried after every use, meaning that you need to plan ahead to ensure you have enough to wear throughout your period.
Not just a substitute for tampons, menstrual cups are completely changing the game of period care. There are numerous brands of menstrual cups including, Divacup, Lunette, and the Keeper cup, but all of them are easily fold-able silicone cups that are positioned right at the base of the vagina. These cups collect menstrual blood and can be worn for up to twelve hours before needing to be changed. When the cup gets full, simply pull it out, empty it, wash it out and stick it back in. The cups typically come in two sizes; one for woman before giving birth and the other for after.
It takes a little time to get used to menstrual cups, but after a few period cycles most women find them to be as simple to use as any tampon. Once put in place, a suction is created that prevents the cup from moving around and makes it completely comfortable to wear. At the end of their cycle, the cup is washed thoroughly and sanitized in boiling water for several minutes to kill any lingering bacteria.
Not only are menstrual cups easy to use, they are also incredibly cost efficient. Most cups cost less than $40 and can last for a decade or more. You won’t need to purchase anything else for period care and nothing ends up in the garbage. Also, because they only need to be changed every twelve hours, you can time your cup changing time so that it never happens in public bathrooms.
They might sound strange today, but sea sponges have been used by women as natural tampons for thousands of years. These plant-like ocean creatures grow on reefs in the ocean and make an incredibly absorbent, comfortable tampon. In fact, rumor has it that even Cleopatra relied on them.
Inserted just like a tampon, sea sponges are free of chemicals and can be reused for years. Simply wet them down and squish out the excess water before gently inserting them. Once the sponge gets full, you just pull it out and rinse it out before putting it back in.
One disadvantage to sponges is that they are nearly impossible to change in public restrooms unless your comfort level includes having strangers watch you rinse out your sponge.
With an idea so simple and genius, it’s shocking that it took so long for period safe underwear to become mainstream. This specially designed underwear has a built in absorbent layer that keeps you leak proof all day long. Some pairs even have the absorbency of two tampons! Not only are they great for any part of your period, they are especially beneficial for the unpredictable beginning and ending days.
Because they look just like other pairs of underwear, period panties are a discrete way to keep yourself clean and safe without contributing to the garbage going into the landfills every day.
The products you buy make a huge impact on your health and the health of the planet. Having your period isn’t an excuse to expose yourself to the unsafe toxins in conventional sanitary products. Take some time to explore the natural alternatives available and you’ll reduce the chemicals that both your body and the environment are contaminated with, while also keeping unnecessary trash out of the garbage. Once you try a few different alternative menstrual products, you’ll be sure to find the solution that’s right for your body.