In today’s podcast I’m talking all about periods and how we can make them less wasteful. I chat about each and every period product that I know of – which is a fair few! – how sustainable they are, the pros and the cons, so that you can decide which one is right for you!
Read the full transcript of this episode with links to everything I mention below.
Products, places and people I mention in this episode:
Hello and welcome to Everyday Ethical: A podcast about all of the small ways we can be more sustainable without the pressure to be perfect.
I’m your host Bethany Austin I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to cruelty free cleaning.
Today we’re going to be talking about one of my favourite things. Or at least one of my favourite things to chat about online, not necessarily one of my favourite things to experience! Periods. We are going to discuss all of the ways that we can make a periods more sustainable through our choices of sanitary product and spoiler alert I’m not going to tell you that you have to own a menstrual cup. In fact there will be no period product shaming in this broadcast what so ever.
This is a period of positive place, people!
Instead I’m simply going to go through every single period product that I know of – which is a fair few! – talk about the pros, the cons, and all of the things that will help you to decide if it’s right for you. And of course I’ll also be sure to touch upon how sustainable each of those products are and which is the best option if you’re looking to improve your environmental impact.
Let’s dive in.
Now, this is actually the first proper episode of this podcast. The last episode I recorded was actually a little bit of an introduction and a sort of teaser episode to get you all excited about it, but today is the first episode I’m putting out there that’s going to be in the format that most of this podcast will follow. As I said last week, in each episode we going to discuss one area of everyday life and how we can make it more sustainable, eco-friendly, and ethical. At the start I’m going to discuss my own experience with that aspect of sustainable living and tell you guys my story little bit, before diving into the different options that you have.
As I said this week is period week. Have you lot seen that episode of friends where the guys all go to a one-woman show and the first act is all about the woman’s first-period. Well that’s basically what I’m going to be doing now ha ha hah.
I got my first period when I was about 14 I think and I’m sure this is an almost universal experience: I just knew that I had to decide between sanitary towels or tampons. Even in school those were the two options that we were told about. In primary school I was shown a tampon, an applicator tampon and a sanitary towel and that was more or less what happened in every single science or PSHE lessons I had after that. And to be honest, tampons terrified me. So sanitary towels it was.
I hated my period whilst I was sanitary towels. I’m not saying that’s 100% because of the pads – it could just be that I was still getting used to things.But they were, for me, uncomfortable and unpredictable and just a pain in the arse. I put up with them for quite a few years though until one year – and I’m sure this is quite universal experience too – I went on holiday and wanted to be able to go swimming. So, I tried tampons. For me tampons made my period is so much more easy to deal with and whilst I certainly still found my period pain, it was nowhere near as bad.
Again just to reiterate, this is my own experience, I’m not saying that this is the way that everyone feels.
Anyway, fast forward get a few years, and I got recommended a video on YouTube about. I had never heard of menstrual cups before and, to be honest, the idea freaked me out a bit. I didn’t like the idea of having to be that up close and personal with my blood at first. But I kind of fell down and Internet rabbit hole of researching menstrual cups and I read so many glowing reviews for them that eventually I decided just to buy one. The benefits for the planet, my wallet and my body where far too much for me not to give it ago.
That is when my period became the most manageable and the less daunting that ever has in my life. I bloody love my menstrual cup – I use a Mooncup. And I find that it just ticks all of the boxes for me and has made my period so much less of a hassle. And now I’m lucky enough to be in a place where I don’t dread my period at all and it’s just kind of like every other day, apart from some major cramps right at the beginning.
As well as the fact that it helped me feel more comfortable in my body, I noticed how much less waste I was producing. And making this switch was actually one of the first things I did in my journey to more sustainable living. So, it really did change my life in more ways than one. And that’s why I decided to use this as my first proper episode.
We will talk a little bit more about menstrual cups later, so if you’re thinking “what the F is a Mooncup”, don’t fret. but I just wanted to give you an overview of my own experience with period products. And even though I do love my cup, I totally get that they are not for everyone, so don’t worry we’re gonna chat now about all of the different options you have. And BOY do you have some options.
To give this episode a little bit of structure, I decided to split the sanitary products that I’m going to be talking about into three categories. Disposables, semi reusables, and reusables. That way you can decide where you are in your journey to more eco-friendly living, and how comfortable you are with the idea of reusing sanitary products, and choose your period product accordingly.
So, let’s start with the ones that we all know about already, disposables. So these are your tampons and your sanitary towels, the conventional ones that you can find in Tesco’s and Asda. In terms of environmental impact, these are the worst of all of the products that I’ll be discussing. For example did you know that in a sanitary pad there can be up to 4 plastic bag’s worth of plastic in ONE sanitary pad – in a single pad. And, because the disposal of sanitary products is still not often done properly, in 2016 the Marine Conservation Society found 20 tampons and sanitary items per 100 metres of shoreline. That’s pretty scary stuff, if you ask me.
Luckily, are some alternatives out there that are much better for the planet, but that are still disposable. My recommendation would be Time of the Month or TOTM products – they make pads, applicator tampons with cardboard applicators and non-applicator tampons – that are all made from organic cotton. TOTM say on their website, “Organic cotton is farmed without the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides. It’s also seen as a sustainable alternative due to its soil benefiting farming methods which produce less greenhouse gas emissions and makes better use of water.” So, already that’s a much better for the planet, plus the products don’t contain plastic. AND all of the packaging they use is completely biodegradable. So it really is a much more sustainable option and you can now actually find them in Tesco, on Amazon and on the TOTM.
So, I guess if you’re just starting out on your sustainability journey and aren’t looking to make any huge changes just yet, that’s where I’d suggest starting. Just that small switch to organic products, if you can afford it. If not, then even switching to non-applicator tampons or applicator tampons made of cardboard is a great option for reducing your non-biodegradable waste, without having to make huge shifts.
However, if you do want to make some slightly bigger changes, without going full on granola like myself, then let’s take a look at the “semi-reusables” category. And, to be honest, there is only one product that I can think of that falls in here and it’s something I’ve been talking about a lot recently on my Instagram (I’ll link that in the description and also in the show notes). That is reusable tampon applicators. So, the reason I call these “semi-reusable” is because you still buy the disposable tampon, but you have the reusable applicator alongside it. So, you’re drastically reducing your waste, especially if you’re using plastic applicator tampons.
I know of two companies that offer these, as I’ve spoken about in a blog post, which I’ll also link in the show notes – the first is Thinx and the second is Dame. The dame applicator – It’s called D – is substantially cheaper and I actually got sent one, as a gift from the company to try out. And this is great timing, because I actually tested it out this morning! So, what you do is you buy a non-non-applicator tampon – preferably one that is organic if you’re concerned about the environmental impact and can afford it – and then you put it in the applicator, insert it as you would a normal applicator tampon and then rinse off the applicator, ready to use again. If you’re concerned about the hygiene of it, don’t fret, apparently the anti-bacterial sanipolymers insides of the mediprene that it’s made of act as a natural steriliser. So you don’t need to boil it or anything, you just run it under the tap. So, it is super convenient. And, after using it this morning, I can say that it does what it’s supposed to, it’s super easy to use, super easy to clean and, if you like using tampons, I think it’ll be a fab option for you.
So that retails for £24.99, including the applicator, a storage tin and bag plus some organic tampons and they now sell in Waitrose. Again, not too difficult to get hold of if it’s something you want to try out.
I’ll be reviewing it properly over on Instagram stories this week, so I’ll save my thoughts in the highlight called something like “sustainable periods” if you want to read more about it.
Now onto the most granola of all of the options that you have: Reusable period products. These are for those of you that really want to put your eco-warrior hat on and are in a place in your life where you want to make some bigger changes (although, I promise they’re totally not scary).
Let’s start with my babe, the menstrual cup. For those of you that don’t know, a menstrual cup is pretty much what it says on the tin: It’s a small silicone cup that you put inside of yourself that catches all of your blood, you then take it out, empty it down the loo, rise it off and reinsert it. Now, I know that when you first see the pictures it can look ruddy terrifying – I know it did to me – but I swear to you it really isn’t as scary as it looks. You basically have to learn how to fold it so that you can insert it and then, once it’s in, it pops open, forms a seal so that nothing leaks and then, when you want to empty it, you break that seal by pinching the end.
It definitely does take some getting used to but for me, WOW, once I’d mastered putting it in and taking it out properly with practice, it was a total game changer. I literally don’t even feel mine when it’s in, I need to change it way less often that tampons and – this is the best bit – the brand that I use, Mooncup, can last up to 5 years! Can you even imagine how much waste you’re saving?
Truly, I would never go back to using tampons again since finding my cup. I’ve had lots of my friends try it out and love it too but, equally, I’ve also have friends who tried it and just didn’t get on with it. Personally, I think it’s definitely worth a shot if it’s something you’re comfortable with and can afford. For me, the only con is with emptying it and cleaning it if you’re not in the house. Usually, I don’t have to because the cup is good for, like 8 hours, but I always bring biodegradable wipes and a bottle of water to rinse it off with if I’m in a public toilet and obviously can’t use the sink! But, like I said, those instances have been so so so rare for me because of how long it lasts.
Oh and in terms of cleaning – you can just rinse it out under the tap between inserting it and then at the end of your period you need to sterilise it, so I use boiling water. I’ve got my own little moon cup pan for it!
Okay, so finally, the other reusable options for you are period pants and reusable sanitary towels. You’ve probably heard of period pants by now, because the company Thinx that have become known for theirs have put SO much money into social media advertising with some huge bloggers and vloggers. Here’s what they say about the pants on the website: “Our washable, reusable undies absorb your period and are a more sustainable solution than single-use disposable products.
Depending on your flow (light, medium, heavy), THINX can replace pads, tampons, liners, and cups, or be worn with tampons and cups for extra protection.” So basically the pants are made with 4 layers that are thin but super clever, so they absorb any moisture, without them feeling bulky. I’ve never tried them out – mainly because they are pretty expensive – and I think I would only be use them as an insurance policy in case I got any leakage. In which case, I kinda don’t think they’re worth the investment for me. But maybe they sounds like something you would want.
Or, maybe, reusable sanitary towels sound more up your street. So, of course, these are made in the same shape as a regular sanitary towels and they usually have wings that you can stick together with buttons or velcro. So, they’re made with materials like cotton and they usually have several layers, like the Thinx pants, so that they’re absorbent. They can be quite a big investment in the first place, but of course you then save on having to buy pads every month, so I’m sure it evens out. One company that I’ve heard great things about is Earthwise Girls and apparently their reusable pads are really great. But again, it’s not something I’ve tried personally. Though maybe I will in the future to let you guys know what it’s like!
With both the pants and the pads, it’s recommended that, when you remove them, you rinse them with cold water straight away, before later washing them in a washing machine.
Phew, that was a lot.
And that’s it: Those are all of the options that I would recommend. But, before you run off to buy some eco-friendly sanitary products, just a quick word on the products that I would strongly recommend you do not buy: any type of reusable sanitary product that goes inside of you that is made of a porous material or is made by someone or a company that don’t have the proper certification. So, things like crochet tampons which I’ve seen on Etsy before and things like menstrual sponges, personally I would not recommend. Both of them are made from materials that can massively harbour bacteria and you don’t know under which conditions they have been made.
Anyway, that’s my warning over. So I hope that you’ve all enjoyed this episode and have learnt something new. I also hope it’s made choosing an eco-eco-friendly sanitary product a lot clearer for you.
Let me know if you do decide to invest in any of the products I’ve spoken about – you can slide into my DMs on Instagram. Also, it would be a huge favour to me if you could share this episode all over social media if you enjoyed it and also leave a glowing review on iTunes for me.
Thank you so much for listening and I’ll talk to you guys soon!