Erica Breen explains everything you need to know about making your menstrual cycle more eco-friendly for a sustainable period.
Sustainability is a super important topic to me and one I've genuinely tried to implement in my nomadic life over the past two years. By drinking from a reusable water bottle, switching to sustainable beauty and cleaning products, and prioritising recycling wherever I travel, I feel like these little differences can go a long way.
The recent eco-friendly swap I've made is to get rid of all plastic menstrual products and opt for sustainable period products instead. A sustainable period to me means I'm actively seeking to reduce the volume of waste my period makes and be more mindful of the products I use to diminish the environmental and financial impact of my period.
Globally, 45 billion menstrual products are disposed of every year. It's estimated that 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads and 700,000 panty liners are wrongly flushed down toilets in the UK each day. These menstrual products are full of plastic and packaging and contribute to 200,000 tonnes of period waste made in the UK each year. All of this waste ends up in landfills, or polluting seas, rivers and beaches.
By opting for eco-friendly period products, you’re doing your part to reduce waste, slow climate change, and weaken your carbon footprint. Keep reading to find the best eco-friendly period brands and alternative solutions to period protection for monthly cycles.
How to have a sustainable period
There are many options for sustainable periods and I encourage you to explore and find the best option for you.
Pads and panty liners have a greater carbon footprint than tampons because of the plastic adhesive that allows them to stick to your underwear. Disposable pads and panty liners already have an environmental footprint before they even make it to the store because of the resources and energy required to produce them. Many materials such as wood pulp and super-absorbent polymer are found in disposable pads.
Reusable pads are made up of cotton, synthetic fabrics, or charcoal-based material. As with disposable single-use pads, you secure reusable pads to the crotch of your underwear and they absorb menstrual fluid externally. They're different from disposable single-use pads in that they don’t have wings and aren't bulky.
Pads like GladRags Organic Day Pads, come in two distinct parts. There’s a washable holder that snaps around the crotch piece of your underwear, and an absorbent pad insert you can wash, reuse, and even double up on for heavier days. Other styles comprise a single piece of fabric that snaps into your underwear, like Think Eco’s Organic Reusable Cotton Pads.
Reusable pads come in different sizes to accommodate different levels of flow, and you should aim to change every few hours, just as you would a non-reusable product.
Reusable pads can easily be washed in the washing machine - most will come with instructions on the packaging. If you're worried about stains, simply soak your pads in water before placing them in the machine.
It will probably take a few tries to figure out a steady cleaning routine that works for you. Have a supply of reusable pads to hand so that you're not constantly putting washes on during your period.
Companies like Aisle offer ethically made and environmentally friendly cloth pads that can last three to five years. As an added bonus, Aisle sends pads and other period protection to people in need every time you purchase.
Free bleeding is when someone on their period intentionally abstains from using traditional period products like pads, tampons, liners, etc. When I first heard of free bleeding, I immediately thought of Kiran Gandhi who ran the 2015 London Marathon while free bleeding.
“I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist,” she said in post on her personal blog, explaining why she did it.
Many women choose to free bleed to bring awareness to those without access to feminine hygiene products, while others do it to shed the stigma attached to period blood (and having a period at all). Some women free bleed because it feels more comfortable going without tampons and pads. Regardless of the reason, free bleeding is an incredibly personal choice and period underwear can be a great option for this.
Period underwear is actually very much like underwear. It comes in many styles and some are very chic! The key difference to period underwear is that they have a built-in, non-detectable pad that absorbs menstrual fluid. Similar to other menstrual protection products, the underwear comes in three types of absorption - light, moderate or heavy flows.
The style that will be best for you depend on your period flow and preferences.
THINX underwear, for example, has four different layers of protection: moisture-wicking cotton, an odour-trapping lining, a super-absorbent fabric, and a leak-resistant barrier. Recently, the company came out with THINX Training Shorts, which hold up to two tampons’ worth of blood while you run or exercise on your menstrual cycle.
Organic tampons are compost friendly because they're made of organic cotton or natural bamboo. They're also free of harsh synthetic elements and potentially harmful ingredients that may increase your risk of bacteria and other infections. For this reason, they carry a much lower risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Seventh Generation is a great example of a sustainable company supplying organic tampons.
If you still want to cut back on waste, you can swap your applicator tampons for applicator-free ones and use a reusable applicator instead. Applicators can last up to 10 years and are super simple to use. Dame has a reusable applicator set that comes with a cute carrying case too.
A menstrual cup is a type of reusable feminine hygiene product. It’s a small, flexible funnel-shaped cup made of rubber or silicone that you insert into your vagina to catch and collect period fluid.
Many women prefer cups to tampons because cups can hold more blood and, in some cases, be worn up to 12 hours. Menstrual cups can be safer than tampons because they collect rather than absorb blood.
Menstrual cups are sustainable and cost effective. One cup can last for 10 years! There are plenty of cups you can choose from on the market. The ones from Mooncup and Diva Cup are a couple of my favourites.
At first, I found inserting a menstrual cup very tricky. In all honesty, I had to watch several YouTube videos and ask a few friends for advice! Based on what I've learned, I find the below the easiest way to insert a menstrual cup:
Wash your hands thoroughly.
Tightly fold the menstrual cup in half, holding it in one hand with the rim facing up. It will make a U-shape.
Insert the cup, rim up, into your vagina like you would a tampon without an applicator.
Once the cup is in your vagina, rotate it. It will open and create an airtight seal that stops leaks.
To take out a menstrual cup:
Wash your hands thoroughly.
Place your index finger and thumb into your vagina. Pull the stem of the cup gently until you can reach the base.
Pinch the base to release the seal and gently pull down to remove the cup.
Once it’s out, empty the cup into the sink or toilet. Then wash and wipe clean to reuse that day, or boil in hot water and store for your next period.
Organic, biodegradable and plastic-free disposable menstrual products are an easy, eco-friendly alternative for a sustainable period. By making the switch to sustainable period care we can make greater efforts in protecting the planet and keeping it sustainable for many generations.
About Erica Breen
Erica is a life-long mover and forever student. Trained in Pilates, Yoga and Ayurveda, Erica has a breadth of knowledge when it comes to the human body and its inner workings. Leading a nomadic lifestyle, you'll find Erica sharing her work online from all over the world! Find out more at ericabreenpilates.com.