In this third instalment of our new series on how to reduce household waste, Zara Castagna sheds some light on waste-free feminine care.

Following on from the first week's article on reducing bathroom waste, and the follow-up deep-dive on the same subject, this week’s article will take a look at how to reduce waste when it comes to feminine care. This article contains links (of the non-referral kind, so no kickback, no sponsorship) to some of the products discussed, but other brands and options are available - and will usually be carried by zero-waste shops, such as Ouni.

The troublesome tampon

Periods are a wasteful time. Each month women have to use a copious amount of sanitary products, which most of the time are wrapped in plastic, contain plastic, or both. Moreover, most products are disposable and you have to throw them away after one use. Luckily, people’s mindset is starting to change and there are some products on the market that make "that time of the month" more sustainable.

Most tampons come individually wrapped in plastic, unfortunately this plastic often ends up in toilets and is then flushed down the drain. This way the plastic enters our water system — the same happens with tampon applicators, which are also made of plastic and flushed down the toilet by some women. If they are not flushed down they still end up in landfill, where they stay for years. Overall, tampons are a plastic packed affair but they do not have to be. Due to the growing demand for environmentally friendly products some manufacturers are starting to make tampons without plastic, they are often made out of 100% cotton and come with biodegradable cardboard applicators. Moreover, the wrapping and packaging is also biodegradable. However, these products are often not available in conventional supermarkets and need to be ordered online. Examples include Ohne and TOTM.

Better still than these tampons are menstrual cups made out of silicone. Menstrual cups are inserted like tampons but unlike the latter, these cups do not absorb but catch the fluid. The cups are reusable and can be washed with soap and water, at the end of your period it is best to sterilise them in boiling water. They might be more expensive than a pack of tampons but you can keep them up to 10 years, which makes them worth the investment. Another benefit is that you can leave them in for up to 12 hours depending on your flow, which is much longer than ordinary tampons, meaning that the cups can also be used overnight. In contrast to the eco-friendly tampons, the cups are widely available in most supermarkets. In addition, both the eco-friendly tampons and cups are free of toxins which makes them the clear winner compared to conventional tampons. The most well-known brand here is Mooncup.

Rad pads and underwear

If you prefer pads to tampons you can get eco-friendly pads which are also made out of cotton and come in biodegradable packaging. Again, these are mostly only available online. If you want to reduce your waste even further, there are two main options, reusable pads and period underwear.

Reusable pads are made out of cotton or bamboo, fabrics which absorb liquid just like your normal pads. In addition, they often have a polyurethane laminate (PUL) layer which assures that you’ll have a dry feeling while wearing the pad. They are usually bright coloured or have patterns on them, which makes them stick out from your normal, boring white pad. After they have been used, you just need to rinse them with cold water and then put them in the wash. They come in different sizes, catering for different types of flow. They are again more expensive than the ordinary pack of pads, but can be reused for several years and are therefore more budget friendly.

Finally the last option is period underwear, basically this underwear can replace all of the above. This period underwear looks just like normal underwear, but it has the advantage that it is made of absorbent fabrics. They are made out of several layers, which makes them odour-free and leak resistant. Different options are available according to your flow. People with heavy flow often report that this underwear alone is not enough protection, whereas they are enough for people with a lighter flow. Like the cloth pads, these need to be rinsed first and can then be washed normally. Out of all the mentioned options, this is the most expensive one, but in the long run still not as expensive as buying new sanitary products every month. Shethinx is one option if this is something you want to explore.

Questions? Comments? Further suggestions for living an eco-friendly lifestyle? Leave a comment below!