Is a Zero Waste Period possible?

Conventional feminine products such as tampons and pads create a lot of waste linked to menstruation.  

Fortunately, there is a growing number of alternatives such as menstrual cups available that will help you in your journey towards Zero Waste. Let’s do it together, ladies!

Zero Waste Period Graph
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How Much Waste Do Tampons And Pads Generate?

Before discussing the alternatives, it is essential to remember the reasons behind this particular Zero Waste. Each year, waste related to menstrual products has a significant impact on the environment and our carbon footprint. 

Have you ever wondered how eco-friendly your period was? 

According to statistics, a woman disposes of around 11,000 menstrual products during her life. Most of them, made of plastic, are sent to landfills or end up in toilets, and consequently in oceans. 

If we do not change our lifestyle, research shows that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. It was estimated that almost 6 billion tampons were bought in the United States in 2018

A vast majority of those are made of plastic (applicator and string) but also wrapped with plastic, and are used once.

The issue with these conventional products is that they are neither recyclable nor reusable. They cannot decompose and therefore be what is commonly called biodegradable. Most of these products will rot and release harmful gases into the atmosphere. 

Moreover, because they are labeled as medical waste, these products are not tracked, and therefore, the lack of precise numbers impedes the full assessment of the scope of the issue.

If you are already considering reducing the impact your menstruation has on the planet (in addition to the reusable products discussed below) a simple solution is to buy applicator-free tampons made from natural fibers. 

This will significantly reduce the amount of plastic you throw away when it comes to your feminine hygiene products.

In addition to the environmental aspect, there is a growing interest in quantifying the amount of money that can be saved by transitioning into a Zero Waste period. 

On average, women have their periods between 13 and 51 years of age, which means that they will have to use menstrual products about 450 times in their lives.  

Let us take the example of a menstrual cup that you would be using for five years. Just for tampons, considering the use of five tampons a day on average, this would represent 1,500 tampons

Looking at the average price of a box of 30 items in a supermarket (7 USD), this would allow you to save almost 300 USD in five years. Just in tampons.  Use the same logic for pads, and you’ll see the numbers reach 500 USD for the same period. 

If you doubt the positive impact on the environment, at least the financial benefits of a Zero Waste period are crystal clear, and just one of many reasons why going zero waste is important(we wrote about other reasons here).

Menstrual cup
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How Can We Reach A Zero Waste Period?

You can drastically reduce waste related to your menstruation by using a cup, or reusable, washable panty liners.

Did you know that millions of girls are missing school every day because of their periods?

A sustainable system of hygiene management is crucial for the planet, but also to help all girls get access to education, without discrimination.

Thus, one of the concrete ways that can drastically reduce the damage to the environment is the transition to reusable, plastic-free products.

And when it comes to Zero Waste pads and panties, we recommend opting for brands that guarantee the use of organic cotton, to limit the exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides as much as possible.

Our preferred solution  for a Zero Waste Period goes to the menstrual cup, also known as the ‘Diva Cup.’ Price-wise, most cups will range between 15  and 35 USD and can be used from 5 to 7 years, depending on the brand (we recommend this one).

Imagine the amount of money you save in a lifetime! So make sure to make menstrual cups part of your Zero Waste Principles.

Practically speaking, the cup does not absorb blood but collects it and has the shape of a bell with a short stem. They are usually made of flexible medical grade silicone.

A lot of women claim that it helps in reducing cramps during their menstruation. The most plausible reason is that the cup rim slightly rubs the vaginal walls and consequently releases some of the pressure most women feel the first few days.

For the newbies, be aware that there are several sizes available, usually three: for young teenagers, for women who have sexual relationships, and those who have children.

These sizes are indicative; some of us might feel more comfortable with the biggest size even though we have not given birth. And that is alright!

Also, bear in mind that this option is preferable if you are relatively at ease with your “V”. 

woman holding menstrual cup
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How To Use Your Cup

First and foremost, we highly recommend boiling your menstrual cup for ten minutes in between each period to disinfect it properly. Similarly, wash your hands before each manipulation.

  • The trick for a smooth insertion is to fold it sufficiently and maintain it folded during insertion so that the cup can correctly ‘open up’ once in place.  
  • The other best practice is to bend your hips forward to allow a better angle, and therefore a smoother insertion.
  • It will take a bit of time to find the right moves and angles. Similarly, it might take you two or three cycles to get used to the feeling your menstrual cup gives right after insertion. 
  • In case it still feels uncomfortable, our tip is to move your hips from left to right, then lift your knees a few times. Once it is correctly positioned, you will no longer notice it. 

Do not worry; it is a learning curve. It was the same with bras and pads when puberty showed up at our door, remember?

On the timing aspect, it is recommended to empty your cup every 6 to 8 hours depending on your flow and cup size, even though you can safely leave it in place for 12 hours at a time.  

  • Some women have reported that they sometimes experience leaks; in this case, you can have a look at the other options below. 
  • However, bear in mind that it might be because the cup is incorrectly placed or because you need to try it with a different size.
  • Especially at the beginning of your period when your flow is at its heaviest, we recommend – by experience – to empty it directly when sitting on the toilet, as it might be tricky to move it around without spilling a bit of blood. 
  • Once done, rinse your menstrual cup in the sink and reinsert it. If you are not at home and cannot easily access a sink, no worries. 
  • Empty it and reinsert it directly. Rinsing is not mandatory each time.
  • Lastly, when taking it out, especially for women with an IUD, it is recommended to squeeze it gently (rather than direct pulling the string out), while slowly taking it out to avoid what we call the ‘opening a champagne bottle’ sound. 

Jokes aside, the risk might be that air suction moves your IUD. 

The other danger, similar to the ones with tampons is the Toxic Shock Syndrome. It is therefore recommended not to keep your menstrual cup for an extended period, for example, during the night. 

Always ask for medical advice in case of doubt on these matters.

A growing number of women are convinced of the benefits of this particular Zero Waste Swap; we included. 

Combine With These Eco Friendly Options

There are a few other eco-friendly options for a Zero Waste period that are worth detailing:

1. Period Undies

If you are not a fan of tampons and want to replace disposable pads with a better option, we recommend the Period Panties, especially the ones from SheThinx.  They are highly absorbent (up to the volumes of two tampons!), control odors, and dry fast. 

Additionally, they offer different options that will fit your flow (inconsistent, heavy, light, etc.). Make sure to wash it with cold water, and do not worry, it will not stain the rest of your laundry!

2. Cloth Pads or Reusable Panty Liners 

Another way to keep conventional period products out of landfills are Zero Waste pads. 

Reusable period pad
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Make sure to buy those that can be clipped around your underwear so that they can stay properly in place. Our preference(once again) goes to ones made of organic cotton.

3. Organic tampons, panty liners, and pads

Using organic feminine hygiene products are even more beneficial both for your body and the environment. 

To the question, can you compost tampons? The answer is yes, and that is what we like about this option; you can throw them directly into your compost bin!

Make sure to check that these products are manufactured with organic cotton and are guaranteed as biodegradable, vegan, and hypoallergenic. The advantages are that they are free of any pesticides, herbicides, bleach, etc. 

Even though at first, you might not be convinced of compostable tampons, it is worth mentioning that these eco-friendly alternatives are readily available online and in organic shops. 

Final Thoughts

You deserve the best for your body at the most affordable price. So give it a try! Start with the option that resembles most of your current method, and progressively find the exact brand and product that will fit your habits and needs. 

A Zero Waste period is possible, affordable, and adaptable to all flows, independently of your age or situation. 

Lastly, once you have become sufficiently comfortable with Zero Waste menstrual products and you want to dispose of the conventional ones, avoid throwing them away. 

You can help others that are in a difficult situation.  Numerous NGOs will gladly take them to be distributed to women in need.  

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