Zero Waste Periods
7 Minute Read
Women are socialized to be discrete about something that happens to them every month, but today I am bringing it front and center. Yup! We’re gonna talk about women’s periods. Men, this ain’t your blog post (. . . unless you’re just curious).
I’ve used pads and panty shields since my very first period. To put it simply, they’re the perfect catalyst for chaffing, and make you feel like you’re sitting in a wet, smelly pool. Personally, I could never really figure out tampons, and after several failed attempts when going to the beach as a teenager, I just gave up on them. Some of you may be wondering why any of this is relevant to the environment. After all, isn’t menstruating ‘natural’? Well of course it is, but the trash created as a result isn’t so natural.
Disposable pads, originally invented in the late 1800’s, are made of cotton, cellulose (that is often bleached), and plastic. When combined with menstrual waste (i.e. period blood), they are very difficult and expensive to recycle, which means that those single-use pads will seek a tenured position as a landfill squatter, and will take centuries to decompose.
“In the US alone, there are over 85 million women of menstruating age, and according to the National Women’s Health Network, they contribute approximately twelve billion pads and 7 million tampons to [the] landfill each year” (Menstruation.com).
So what’s the Green (or Red) Solution to disposable pads?
Allow me to introduce you to Period Panties! We’ve been dating for over a year, and we’re getting along grand!
Wait . . . WTF is a period panty? Its a panty that has extra layers within it to collect your period blood. It looks and feels like a regular panty, but has all the benefits and coverage of wearing a pad without that ‘wet’ feeling, and more importantly, without any pads to throw away. This is the perfect zero waste, sustainable solution because you simply wear the period panty as you would any other underwear and wash it when you’re done.
Oddly enough, I first learned about period panties on the New York City subway. I saw these rogue ads all over the subway platforms and stations. The company, THINX, focused on breaking down the stereotypes and taboos associated with women’s periods. Their approach really resonated with me, so I decided to try one out. Admittedly, I was weary about how I would wash it, but it was surprisingly easy and not icky like I had anticipated. After that, I was convinced and ended up buying 3 more so that I wouldn’t have to buy pads ever again.
Curious how it works? THINX has different cuts and styles based on your flow. For example, you can use the thong for light days and a hiphugger for heavy days. Each of their designs states the tampon equivalent of how much it can hold, so you don’t have to guess which one will give you the coverage you need. I tried a few different styles and found that the threading on their lace panties tends to unravel a bit, so in the future, I will stick to the lace-free options. My personal favorites are the ‘boyshort’ and the ‘sport’ panties. They are comfortable, well-made, and the coverage is the perfect combination for my flow.
I know you probably have a million questions, so here’s a quick video to give you the low-down (with a dash of humor):
What about Tampons?
According to the National Center for Health Research, a woman who primarily uses tampons will go through about 12,000 of them in her lifetime, and with approximately 43 million women currently using tampons in the US (SafeCosmetics.org), that’s an enormous amount of waste going to the landfill.
Now, some women simply prefer tampons to pads, and I totally get that. In the same way that I couldn’t figure out how to use tampons, some women don’t like the idea of sitting in their blood all day. If this sounds like you, then there is also a sustainable solution for you. Its called a Menstrual Cup. You insert it as you would a tampon and the cup collects the blood. You remove, empty, and clean it between each use, leaving you with an infinite supply of coverage.
There are several menstrual cups on the market, but two companies have really taken it to the next level in terms of design, safety, and comfort. AND they are focused on sustainably manufacturing and shipping their products with minimal impact on the environment.
lunette menstrual cup is made of medical grade silicone. Its BPA free, vegan, and contains no latex. It lasts for several years, and pays for itself after only 3 period cycles. Their “mission is to have [an] honest and inspiring conversation about menstruation so that we can motivate period positivity—and change the world one cup at a time.”
lena menstrual cup is made in the USA “using locally sourced and tested materials. [Their] 100% post-consumer waste packaging is produced using bio-gas and is chlorine-free. It is certified by the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) and printed using vegetable inks” (Lena). In terms of price, this is one of the more affordable menstrual cups without having to sacrifice quality—its also made with medical grade silicone.
All of these alternatives require a little more cash upfront, but they literally pay for themselves within a few cycles, and will last for years.
How do I know which is right for me?
If you’ve always been a pad user, then period panties are the way to go. They’re familiar and wont mess with your current period routine. On the other hand, if you’ve always used tampons, then a menstrual cup is probably the best option. You can also use a combination of the two. The most important thing is to feel comfortable, and if you can do right by the environment at the same time, then its a win-win.
How the heck do I clean a period panty?