It’s time to ditch disposable products. It is estimated that women use up to 12,000 tampons or pads in their lifetime. In the UK 1.3 BILLION tampon applicators are sent to landfills each year.
That’s a lot of waste! Fortunately, eco-period products are making it easier than ever before to reduce your environmental impact and live healthier.
This article will give you all the information you need about sustainable periods so you can make an educated decision on which product is right for you.
Ditch disposable products to reduce your environmental impact.
Cotton and rayon tampons contain potentially carcinogenic synthetic fibres, pesticides, phthalates, chlorine bleach, adhesives, polyethene and propylene glycol.
Tampon applicators take 400 years to decompose and are a huge concern for the environment.
The environmental impact of period waste
Plastic products are now the norm when it comes to period products. Tampons and menstrual pads have included some form of plastic in their basic design since the middle of the 20th century, typically for purposes that “improve” the designs.
The result is that women are exposed to potentially carcinogenic synthetic fibres and chemicals like dioxin, pesticides, phthalates (linked to birth defects), chlorine bleach (a known irritant), adhesives, polyethene (which can cause inflammation of the vaginal walls) and propylene glycol (potentially toxic when used internally).
The problem with this plastic is that it’s usually made using the cheapest possible method, which often involves turning to our old friend fossil fuels.
The result is a product—in an environmental sense, at least—that might not last very long but can have negative effects for decades or even centuries after its immediate life span has passed.
What’s in a tampon or pad, anyway
Tampons and pads are made from a combination of plastic, synthetic fibres, bleach and glue. Although tampon companies argue that cotton is grown without pesticides or other chemicals (a claim disputed by others), they still create an incredible amount of non-recyclable material which will end up in landfills.
Most tampons contain just two basic ingredients: cotton and rayon or a combination of the two. However, according to women’s voice pesticides, parabens, and phthalates have all been identified in previous testing of tampons and menstrual pads.
Triclosan, antibacterial chemicals including styrene, and chloroform are all carcinogenic compounds that were found.
This is concerning because there are many unknowns about what happens when you put these materials into your body on a regular basis over long periods of time. Some studies have shown that tampons containing synthetic fibres may contain carcinogenic materials, cause an increased risk for TSS, and contain pesticides.
Cotton, although pesticide-free when harvested, still requires high levels of chemical inputs for production (usually involving genetically modified crops like Roundup Ready Cotton).
Whilst some organic cotton tampons now come with a biodegradable cardboard applicator, most tampons with single-use plastic applicators tampons and are then individually wrapped in plastic.
Every single plastic applicator tampon is probably still sitting in a landfill somewhere, and will for hundreds of years!
Organic Cotton Tampons
If you are looking to buy sustainable period products, we suggest a range of organic cotton tampons, or reusable menstrual products like menstrual cups or reusable sanitary pads.
Menstrual cups, such as those made from silicone or natural rubber latex (usually harvested from hevea trees) are a more sustainable choice than tampons and pads because they last for years and can be reused until worn out which makes them an environmentally responsible option compared to disposable options.
The most important thing to remember with any menstrual product is that while they might not be direct sources of pollutants, you can make a big difference to the environment by opting for reusable products or sustainable organic cotton substitutes.
This means either choosing organic cotton tampons and eco sanitary pads or using cups like Yuuki Cup. If you have sensitive skin organic cotton will be a lot gentler on it.
If you want to read more on the difference between tampons vs menstrual cup, check out that blog for detailed informtion.
The impact of plastic applicators on the environment
The disposal of plastic tampon applicators is a huge concern for the environment. The Huffington Post calculates that 70 percent of women who use tampons go through about twenty per menstrual cycle.
Women have an average of 456 periods in their life, which translates to 9,120 tampons used and if each of these came with a plastic applicator, that’s a lot of period waste.
A study on plastic applicator waste found that it takes more than 400 years for a tampon plastic applicator to decompose.
Many pad and tampon companies offer products with cardboard applicators instead of plastic; however, the only one that we know of which offers organic cotton pads and tampons is Natracare which we supply.
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by bacterial infection. It has been linked to tampon use since the ‘80s, especially those with highly absorbent synthetic materials. It can be life-threatening but is usually treatable if caught early on.
Keep in mind that Toxic Shock Syndrome can occur whenever you leave a tampon for too many hours or when the tampon itself contains certain chemicals like dioxin.
Rayons are made from wood pulp and often undergo bleaching and other chemical processing, which has been linked to cancer.
Although rayon may seem like a safer alternative because it isn’t made from cotton or synthetic fibres, this is not actually the case: chlorine-bleached materials have also been associated with cancer and irritation of the vaginal walls due to contact with dioxin (a byproduct of the chlorine bleaching process), a known carcinogen.
The problem with plastics is that they never really go away, especially when subjected to heat and moisture like those in landfills or tampon disposal units.
Once synthetic fibres get into our water supply, it becomes nearly impossible to clean them out again because these small particles are too easily taken up by other organisms, creating a perpetual nightmare of environmental pollution.
What are the eco alternatives?
The menstrual cup is an excellent alternative to tampons and pads. It’s easy to use, provides superior leakage protection for heavy flow days or nighttime, and can be used during physical activity without leaking (don’t even feel it!)
A menstrual cup is a small, flexible medical-grade silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina during menstruation to collect fluid rather than absorb it as with tampons and pads.
This eliminates the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) which can be caused by leaving a tampon in too long or using certain materials for the tampon itself.
A menstrual cup can be used for up to 12 hours before it needs to be emptied, washed and reinserted.
Washable Sanitary Pads are also a great alternative to disposable pads. Made without any plastic or toxins these are much more gentler on your skin and are super absorbent.
Period pants are also a great option. There are many brands of reusable pads that a woman may choose from which range in price and design. Some women enjoy wearing more breathable cotton while others prefer fleece-backing or waterproof backing for protection from leakage.
Reusable pads can be machine-washed and worn over multiple cycles, which extends the life of the product significantly.
What are some common sustainable alternatives to menstrual products?
If you want to stay with disposable feminine hygiene products with organic cotton tampons or organic cotton sanitary towels and sanitary pads. Use eco tampons that don’t have plastic applicator tampons and go for non-applicator tampons or a biodegradable applicator.
Reusable sanitary pads and menstrual cups are two of the most popular options for reducing the environmental impact of periods. New to this group includes period underwear as well which are made from eco-friendly materials.
Menstrual cups also have a lower environmental impact than tampons or pads due to being able to be worn for up to 120 periods before needing replacement.
Reusable tampons are also worth a mention.
Yes, reusable tampons are a thing, made from 100% organic cotton you just wash them after use. If you need to use a tampon applicator, reusable tampon applicators are an option or consider biodegradable options.
Many companies creating eco-friendly period products have created their own unique blend of organic cotton with added absorbency and comfort features for women’s needs. Organic cotton is one of the most common materials found in sustainable period products because it reduces exposure to pesticides associated with conventional cotton.
Organic sanitary towels are made from organic bamboo viscose which gives them antibacterial properties and helps to prevent odour build-up while also being biodegradable, just like safe menstrual cups. I highly recommend menstrual cups, if you’re a first-timer try out reusable period underwear.
There are many benefits for individuals who choose to use eco-friendly menstrual product options that may include the following: They contain all natural materials without any added chemicals which can cause irritation or allergic reactions on your skin. They are made from easily renewable resources which reduce the use of petroleum or plant-based plastics for production and are naturally breathable.
The benefits of a Green Period
Sustainable period options are better for your health , reducing exposure to chemicals that could potentially cause serious illness or disease such as cancer. They also have a lower environmental impact, because you can reuse them rather than disposing of them after each use.
Sustainable period options are also often more cost-effective in the long term because they prevent waste and require less frequent replacement (especially for menstrual cups). Reusable pads only need to be replaced every couple of years whereas tampons or disposable menstrual pads can only ever be used once.
Eco-Friendly tampons are better for the environment because they reduce landfill waste and prevent disposable plastic from entering our oceans, harming fish and other wildlife. If you can ditch using a tampon applicator that’s the best choice but if you need to use one you can consider a reusable tampon applicator or a biodegradable applicator.
A reusable applicator can be used with any tampon from Lite to Super Plus size tampons, and lasts for 12,000 uses according to manufacturers.
What is the best way for someone to reduce their environmental impact?
The most effective ways that an individual may reduce their environmental impact is by reducing the number of wasted materials and choosing eco products. Reducing landfill waste reduces harmful chemicals from entering our waterways, harming wildlife as well as human health.
Choosing safer alternatives to potentially dangerous materials such as those found in menstrual product options also has a lower environmental impact than disposable items which are only used once before being thrown away.
Why does reducing one’s environmental impact matter?
Reducing waste is an important part of living a sustainable lifestyle because it protects wildlife as well as human health. Disposable items that are only used once before being thrown away end up in our waterways where they can harm wildlife as well as human health.
Sustainable living reduces impacts on our world by reducing landfill waste and preventing disposable items from entering waterways.
Disposable menstrual products such as tampons or pads can contain harmful chemicals which pose serious health risks if they end up in our water supplies.
Choosing reusable alternatives to potentially dangerous materials decreases environmental impact since these can be worn multiple times before needing replacement.
Tampons vs pads – what are the benefits for each option?
Both menstrual pads and tampons have pros and cons depending on the individual’s preferences. Pads are less likely to leak, especially overnight. However, they can be bulky which some people find uncomfortable.
Additionally, since pads sit at the bottom of one’s underwear it may not feel as natural for someone who is trying to transition from disposable products to sustainable period alternatives.
Tampons are convenient because they can be inserted and taken out multiple times without having to change one’s clothing or worry about leaks until it is time for removal.
However, tampon use has been linked with Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) which occurs when Staphylococcus bacteria release harmful toxins into the body.
A sustainable period is possible
If you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle but aren’t sure where to start, period products can be an easy and impactful place to begin.
By reducing your exposure to chemicals and replacing disposable items with reusable options, you’re helping the planet by creating less waste and preserving natural resources.
The next time that Aunt Flo comes for a visit, try out a couple of sustainable menstrual products and see how they work for you.