Plastic Free July Day 18: Plastic Free. Period.

zero waste menstrual products

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(Back to the challenge summary)

Menstrual cycles… not the best days of the month for many of us. Cramps, lower back pains, breast pains… and on top of that the disposable products we use take an enormous toll on the environment: 100% of disposable menstrual products end up in landfills, there’s no recyclable (yuck!) or compostable option.

So today let’s put some fun in what can be an unpleasant time. I’d like to show you that menstrual products can be pretty, comfortable, less expensive, healthier and create no waste. This sounds perfect right?

First things first: no shaming, no pressure in this blog post. My personal experience showed me that changing for reusables can take time. Years ago I switched to organic disposables only (they are not plastic free). Then I bought my first reusable pads in 2016. And I purchased my first cup only last year, I was so scared by those little cups! So do what you’re comfortable with; it’s already a pain, don’t be stressed because you’re still using disposables.


tampons plastic pollution oceans

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  • WASTE : on average, women use 20 tampons or pads per menstrual period = 250 to 300 pounds of waste in a lifetime per woman. 7 pounds of waste / woman / year x 84.8 million women in the US, aged 15 to 51 yo = 594 MILLION POUNDS OF WASTE every year
  • POLLUTION: The process of manufacturing these disposables again and again also pollutes our waterways and the air we breathe
  • COST: $60 to $120 every year, for 38 years in average, depending on the quality of the products purchased. That’s between $2300 and $4600 over time.
  • HEALTH: disposables are typically made with a combination of plastics, cotton, synthetic fibers and wood pulp. Conventionally produced cotton is one of the most toxic crops grown, using pesticides and herbicides. These materials are then bleached with chlorine dioxide, creating polluting, harmful and bio-accumulative byproducts like dioxin, which not only end up in the environment, but also remain in our bodies for decades. Add other synthetic chemicals and artificial fragrances to the mix, and you've got a recipe for side effects like allergic reactions, hormone disruption, reproductive and gynecological disorders like endometriosis (source).



zero waste menstrual pads

(Picture credits: Lunapads / Hesta Organics / Sckoon)

 There are hundreds of options on Etsy (you can support small businesses) and many online brands like Glad Rags and Lunapads.

Price varies from $15 (conventional cotton day pad) to $30 (organic cotton night pad).

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Choose pads made from organic cotton, for the same reasons given above. If you can avoid toxic dyes it’s even better, ask the brands how their fabrics are dyed or go undied.
  • It may be a little bit more expensive but remember you’ll keep these pads for years, it definitely worths the investment.
  • Purchase a pack that can last a week, so you don’t have to wash them everyday; and see if they offer different flow capacity.


lunette menstrual cup

(Picture credit: Lunette Cup)

I was really afraid of this one and probably many of you are. I knew it was a good thing to do but I was resisting hard. Until one day, I was at Rainbow in San Francisco, I saw cups on the shelves and I had an aha moment “It’s time to switch Stéphanie!”. A little bit of self-shaming too “how can you talk about zero waste all day and not do that?” So I bought it and tried. First time didn’t work out well, I gave up after the first attempt, I thought it was too hard to remove. And then my pride pushed me to try again when my friend told me she was using one (the power of peer pressure!). This was one of my biggest plastic-free challenge, I had to be able to do that. The second trial was the good one, it worked and it’s actually more comfortable than tampons. Now I’m so proud to use it every month, it makes me forget about the rest!

My recommendations:

  • Buy one made with medical grade silicone, no dye, no BPA, no plastic, etc. Clear ones are better, like the Moon Cup, Lunette, The Keeper.
  • Every brand has a “manual” online, take the time to read it
  • Relax, especially when you remove it. There’s a technique, once you get it it’s super easy!
  • No need to buy a special product to clean it, or wipes (some companies just want you to buy more products): rinse in warm soapy water, that’s it. No need to boil it either, it will shorten its life expectancy.

How do you do when you go out and don’t have a sink to rinse it?

Cups can stay for 4 to 8 hours. You can add a thin panty liner if you’re afraid of leaks. And maybe keep emergency tampons in your purse just in case.

Cost: $30 to $40, for approximately 10 years.



think period undies zero waste

(Picture credit: Thinx)

I’ve never tried these very special undies (the most popular are Thinx apparently) because they are made with a mix of cotton and synthetic materials (nylon, polyester) which means microplastic fibers released in the water when you wash them. That’s a NO-GO for me.

I’ve just checked their website and they now have a cotton version. BUT it’s impossible to know what the absorbent part is made of (it says Patented Leak Fighting Tech). So until I know exactly how they make these undies, I can’t recommend them as a plastic-free alternative to disposable menstrual products.

If you have the answer, please share in the comments, thanks!

One last reason to switch to reusables

Last thing I heard about reusable pads and cups: they are supposed to reduce menstrual cramps, infections and skin rashes. I haven’t experienced that; luckily for me my periods don’t make me suffer much.

But according to a Tree Hugger article, “If you suffer intense pain during your period and are using disposables, consider using alternatives like cloth pads, 100% organic cotton products or menstrual cups. Disposable pads also use plastics, which block airflow to your vagina, and not surprisingly, can encourage a painful rash. Disposables also use synthetic fibers like rayon, which are super-absorbent, but will also absorb all the moisture in your vagina, increasing your chances of severe pain and infections -- especially if you are wearing one for hours, all day, all week. Once I switched to reusable cloth pads, my own severe cramping was reduced to nil -- a real menstrual miracle.”

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