Over the course of a lifetime of menstrual periods, you’re likely to use between 5,000 and 15,000 pads and tampons, most of which will end up in landfills.
While many of us are taking steps to reduce our plastic consumption, sustainable period products are one of the areas we’re slow to navigate.
Add to that the cost of these single-use products — which, according to a 2019 study, average €5,700 over a lifetime — and switching to a reusable option could also save you money in the long run.
Here we asked experts in sustainability and menstrual hygiene about their preferred alternatives.
pads and tampons
The most used items are the worst offenders. Disposable tampons typically contain plastic in the tampon itself, the string, the applicator, and the packaging, while pads can contain up to 90 plastic materials. Yet, for many people, they remain the most comfortable menstrual product.
If you don’t want to give them up entirely, Sheelin Conlon, founder of the sustainable lifestyle business thekind.cosuggests trying Irish subscription service Riley.
West Cork offers pouches of cardboard or bio-based applicator tampons, as well as plain tampons without an applicator (from €3.99 for 12 every three months, weareriley.com), with options for normal or super absorption and three- or six-month plans.
It also sells compostable pads with regular or super absorbency (from €7.29 for 12 regular pads every three months).
“Their products are made in Europe with an ethical manufacturer using 100-piece certified organic cotton. They also work with a charity in Kenya to help alleviate period poverty and provide period products to young women,” says Sheelin.
She also recommends UK-based brand Dame, which makes tampons with a reusable applicator (starter set, €35 from wearedame.co). “They’re quite affordable in price and they have a deal where you can buy tampons for $50 for a year,” she says.
“Your starter pack comes with a beautifully designed case that you can use to store the tampons as well. They have also recently added reusable pads to their range and are launching underwear soon.”
dr Caroline West, sex educator and host of the Glow West Podcast, is a fan of the Irish-made reusable cloth pads sweetlavenderandchilliflakes.com (from €6.50 for a light flow cushion). “I love the fun, colorful designs — they can have rainbows, unicorns, or a whole range of designs that have a positive vibe,” she says.
For those who like it more minimalist, Sheelin calls the reusable pads from Wear ‘Em Out (from €9.15, wearemout.co.uk).
“What I liked about these is that they have button closures and beautiful designs. Other reusable pads can feel very childish in their design, which is the last thing I want,” she says, noting that the brand also sells accessories like storage bags.
“I would advise people to avoid reusable pads with velcro as you have to be more careful when washing, and I’ve also heard reports that they are less comfortable to wear and can cause irritation.”
For a particularly budget-friendly swap, The Useless Project’s Taz Kelleher recommends the OrganiCup, recently renamed AllMatters. It costs €24 (greenoutlook.ie), and she’s been using the same cup for three years.
“I still use this and it’s perfect. Honestly, I’ll never go back,” she says. “I used to use applicator tampons, and if you really think about the amount of plastic waste you use every month for so many years, it just didn’t sit well with me.”
A menstrual cup is a soft silicone menstrual cup that is inserted like a tampon and lasts up to 12 hours, after which it is removed, flushed into the toilet, rinsed and reinserted. Taz notes that it takes a bit of practice, but should be very easy after the first few cycles.
“When I saw the menstrual cup, I was definitely apprehensive about trying it because it seemed a bit off-putting,” she says. “We’re sold on the idea that periods are dirty and gross – even the idea that tampons have an applicator so you don’t have to get too close.
“You can get very close with a menstrual cup. It might have taken me a few months to get used to it, but honestly I’ll never look back,” she says. “It really holds up [the 12 hours], and you don’t feel it in you – I completely forget my period when I use it. I’ve never had a leak – it’s never been a problem.”
After a while, Taz sanitizes the cup in boiling water like you would a baby bottle, then stores it in her bag until she needs it again.
“It’s been three years since I’ve had that queasy feeling of, ‘Oh god, I just got my period and there’s nothing for it,’ because I always have it in my bag. I actually traveled with the menstrual cup, I found it so handy,” she says.
“Every time I change it, I rinse it under the tap to remove any residue. The only thing is you have to be in a bathroom with a sink so you can flush it, but that really only has to be once in the morning or in the evening.”
Sheelin admits a menstrual cup can be a “harder sell.” “People are often concerned about how to use them, and changing them if you’re working in an office or traveling, for example, can be a little tricky. They are by far the greenest and most affordable option, so definitely worth considering.”
She recommends visiting the website putacupinit.comwhich offers an online quiz to help you determine which brand is best for you based on your activity level, cervical size, menstrual flow and allergies.
Caroline adds that if you have heavy blood flow, you may prefer to combine methods, such as B. using a menstrual cup with period pants or a pad.
The latest innovation in menstrual products are period pants that look like normal underwear but can hold up to 12 tampons of blood depending on their absorbency.
“My absolute favorite product for sustainable periods are period pants. These are so convenient, comfortable and low maintenance,” says Caroline.
She cites Nickeze, run by an Irish nurse, as her top brand (from €20, sizes XS-XL, nickeze.com).
“They were a real game changer for me – after I bought them I had no period costs. I love swimming and period pants also come in swimwear, which means I don’t have to stop swimming just because I have my period.”
Sheelin recommends period pant selection from British brand Wuka (simple hipster, €14.95 for medium waist, www.wukawear.com).
“All of their products are vegan and they are suitable for a variety of body types. They only offer one color, black, to limit the amount of dye used in their products,” she says.
If you want more color or prints in your period pants, check out Australian company Modi Bodi, which ships worldwide (from €23, eu.modibodi.com).
“They offer more variety with different styles, colors, sizes and flow options to choose from,” says Sheelin. “They even have stylish period swimwear.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/the-best-sustainable-period-products-to-help-save-money-and-the-planet-42025191.html The best sustainable period products to save you money and the planet