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Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of sustainable options for everyday items, such as metal straws and cloth tote bags. But like most things to do with menstruation, we’re only just beginning to talk about sustainable period products and, there’s a reluctance to make them an accessible option for everyone who has a period. There are actually loads of environmentally friendly, cost-effective products out there just waiting to replace the disposable products that are silently passed to us when we get our first period.
So, let’s talk about it. Here’s my guide to sustainable and reusable menstrual products.
The Menstrual Cup
The menstrual cup has actually been around since the early twentieth century, having taken the form of an aluminium cup (ouch!) in its early days. Today, it’s made from a flexible medical-grade silicone. To insert, there are several different folds you can use (try them all and work out which one is most comfortable for you), then simply rotate the cup once it’s inserted into the vagina to make sure the suction seal is unbroken. It will collect blood in the vaginal canal for up to twelve hours, and the seal ensures a very small chance of leakage. To remove, just pinch the base of the cup to break the seal and pull it out, give it a wash with water and a mild soap between uses, and then boil between menstrual cycles to sterilise.
What people usually shy away from is the insertion of the menstrual cup. It can feel a bit invasive on the first use, and may take a couple of tries while you’re getting to grips with it, but overall it’s not difficult and once you’ve got it down to a science, you’ll never want to go back. Some users claim it’s much more comfortable than a tampon and actually helps with period pains (although there’s no scientific evidence behind that). Not only is the menstrual cup cost-effective, as different brands range from £10 upwards and will last up to ten years if taken care of properly, but the environmental benefits compared to single-use sanitary products are phenomenal.
Brands – OrganiCup; Mooncup; OVIO
The Menstrual Disc
The menstrual disc is not too dissimilar from the menstrual cup, there are two big differences between them. One: the menstrual disc is disc-shaped (obviously). To insert, you pinch the two sides together, push it back and down into the vaginal canal, and tuck the front of the disc behind your pelvic bone to sit at the base of your cervix (further in than a menstrual cup). To remove, just hook your finger over the rim, and pull out.
Two: the menstrual disc can be left in for supposedly mess-free intercourse. Reviews on this vary, but as it sits below the cervix, your partner should not be able to feel it, and the malleable material means it won’t be causing anyone any injury. It’s also reported to be even less likely to leak than the menstrual cup, making it a favourite for people with active lifestyles. They are unfortunately more expensive than the menstrual cup, with the Ziggy Cup coming in at £34.99.
Brands – Nixit; Ziggy Cup
Reusable Period Pads
Before the disposable period pads that we’re familiar with today were created, reusable cloth pads were what everyone who had a period used, but they lost popularity in the early twentieth century due to the risks of infections without proper washing. However, our better washing facilities today have brought reusable period pads back into fashion. Unsurprisingly, they function exactly like every sanitary pad does, varying in different sizes to match your flow, with popper buttons replacing the sticky tabs on the wings to secure them to your underwear. Typically, they’re made from bamboo charcoal or cotton, and feature several layers to provide leak-proof protection. After use, simply give them a rinse in the sink if possible, and then wash (typically in a mesh or delicates bag) with the rest of your clothes in the washing machine. They’re fool-proof really.
Some people shy away from the idea of pads being reusable, but that’s just another stigma created by capitalism to make money off periods. When you think about it, washing a reusable period pad is no different to washing a t-shirt that you’ve sweat onto.
In the long run, they’re cost-effective too, with some brands claiming to last 150 uses before needing to be retired. However, prices range, with some more popular brands like Bloom & Nora pricing a pack of 10 pads at £65. This may look shocking, but when you put pen to paper and do the maths, it works out cheaper than buying disposable pads.
Brands – Bloom & Nora; Eco Lily; Teamoy
Without the plastic or cardboard applicator, most non-applicator tampons function as environmentally-friendly menstrual products – they are made from organic cotton with compostable packaging. They’re surprisingly cheap for tampons as well. Callaly offers a box of 24 organic cotton, non-applicator tampons for £7.20, also offering a 25% discount with the first box (£5.40), and a 20% discount if you’re a student (£5.76 – nice!). A box of 24 regular Tampax applicator tampons are £6.27 on Amazon, so for students not only is this cheaper, but you’re also saving the planet whilst you’re doing it. The only downside is that the tampons are still disposable, and therefore it’s less environmentally friendly than the reusable menstrual cup.
Brands – Callaly; YOPPIE; TOTM
Period pants suffer from the same stigma that reusable period pads do, but once again, they’re a reliable and sustainable option for menstruation. The idea behind period pants is that they look exactly like any other regular underwear, coming in different shapes and types, only they have several leak-proof layers that are breathable and lock in odour to allow worry-free bleeding. Similarly to reusable pads, a quick rinse after use is recommended, before washing and air drying.
They’re simple and effective as far as period products go, but they take a serious knock at your bank account. A pack of 3 WUKA ULTIMATE™ MIDI BRIEF – HEAVY FLOW comes to £74.97, and WUKA recommend owning five to seven pairs. They also claim to only last over 2 years before they start to lose absorbency if cared for properly. Here, freedom and comfort come at a heavy price.
Brands – WUKA; Modibodi; Thinx