Having a period might sometimes referred to as a montly gift from Mother Nature, but that doesn't mean we're giving anything back. Annually, it’s estimated that 1.3 billion single-use, non-recyclable plastic applicators are thrown away in the UK, not to mention countless pads, with period plastic now the 5th most common plastic washed up on UK beaches. “These stats are jaw dropping when you think that firstly, women don’t choose to have a period and secondly that the global female population is 3.5 billion” said Celia Pool, co-founder of DAME, the company behind D, the world’s first reusable tampon applicator.
But whether through social taboo, a simple lack of awareness of alternatives or the fact that eco-friendly period options are often more expensive, the period plastic problem remains relatively underdiscussed, despite efforts to make greener lifestyle changes in other areas. As Marcella Zanchi, of menstrual cup brand Intimina points out: “We have politely declined plastic straws, are in love with our cute stackable lunch kit containers and have gotten killer calves from biking to work, but even we have forgotten a key area of our lives that could be a little greener.”
So, what are the alternatives?
Re-usable Tampon Applicators
First up, there are tampons with a re-usable applicator. Whether made of plastic, cardboard or more recently a plant-based plastic, all traditional tampons are single-use and so arrive at the same fate – the landfill! So, what do you need to know about the re-usable type? We asked DAME
How does a reusable applicator work?
D works exactly like a normal applicator, but you keep it for life, rinsing it off after you’ve used it; in doing so it gives you the same comfort and convenience, without the waste. By making the switch, a woman can save up to 12,000 disposable applicators from reaching landfill or polluting the oceans. To date, we’ve saved over 350 million pieces of single use plastic going to waste.
You also make 100% organic tampons – are these better for your health?
Yes. They’re made up of a completely natural fibre which means that we’re not putting harmful chemicals in our vaginas. A tampon sits inside of a woman for an average of 7.5 years of her life, so it’s important to know what we’re putting in the second most absorbent part of our body.
Unfortunately, tampon companies have no obligation to offer up a list of ingredients. Quite often these are filled with chemicals and plastics such as rayon, synthetic super absorbents, toxins, bleaches and dyes.
Are the organic tampons environmentally friendly?
With greater transparency and confidence, we can trace the cotton from the field and help the environment along the way. For example, there’s a reduced environmental footprint as no toxic chemicals are used in the growth process of organic cotton. There’s less impact on air, no damage to soil, 88% less water usage and 62% less energy consumption. Removing exposure to toxic chemicals in fields, water supplies and food, farmers and their families are kept safe too.
In the last few years, menstrual cups have gone from being the preserve of hippies to a widley accepted, if still comparitavely underdiscussed, option. But what do you need to know before making the switch? We asked Intimina a few questions...
How many times can a menstrual cup be used?
The INTIMINA menstrual cup can be used for years (up to 10 years if cleaned and stored carefully) which will allow you to not only reduce the amount of garbage produced but also will help you save money. One average cup can do the job of 3250 tampons! Considering the price of an average menstrual cup is from £15-30, it’s very easy to calculate how much money you can actually save for years.
What’s a cup made of and how do they work?
Our menstrual cups are are small, ultra-soft, flexible cups made of medical-grade silicone. They're reusable, and collect, rather than absorb the menstrual flow.
Are menstrual cups better for your health?
Our menstrual cups are hypoallergenic, so while wearing it there's no dryness and no irritation, which you can sometimes feel when wearing other menstrual products. Cups also respect intimate balance; they don’t interfere with the vaginal environment. The Intimina menstrual care line is made of 100% medical-grade silicone, so they are super safe for your body.
How does it work from a hygiene perspective?
The fact they collect and not absorb the flow makes them completely odour-free. The silicone menstrual cup is made of is resistant to bacteria build up, which makes it very easy to maintain. Before the first usage it’s important to put it in the boiling water for few minutes but after that it’s just enough to wash it with the soap every time you empty it.
Pads & Liners
Traditionally, you might think of sanitary towels as among the least planet-friendly options – made of plastic, wrapped in plastic, there’s few (environmentally) redeeming features. However, if you’re not a fan of the idea of inserting something into yourself, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a greener period. We called on &SISTERS
for a bit of info…
Why are organic cotton pads and liners more planet-friendly?
It’s more sustainable, using less of the planet’s resources than for example those made from wood pulp. The absorbent core of our pads and panty liners is 100% organic cotton, not an artificial absorbent, such as those found in many ‘eco’ sustainable wood pulp products.
Should we be using 100% cotton products if possible?
Organic cotton pads are hypoallergenic for sensitive skin, chlorine free and bleach free. That are no polymers, no toxins, no nasties compared to conventional period pads. Cotton allows air to flow easily through the products so avoiding creating an over humid microclimate that can encourage the growth of bacteria. This guarantees an optimal level of humidity to limit skin dehydration.
What about the rest of the product?
Our biodegradable liners and their wrappers are made from corn starch and so are completely biodegradable. To speed up the composting process, it’s a good idea to break up the pads and liners by hand (or with scissors) before putting them in the compost bin. Ideally, separate the backing layer which holds a small amount of adhesive – this can be composted too.