Going green: A guide to environmentally friendly period products
Say goodbye to single-use plastic for feminine hygiene with our guide to sustainable period products.
We have been hearing a lot lately about the environmental impact of single-use plastics such as straws, bottles, cups and bags.
But there is one everyday item that often gets overlooked in the sustainability debate – feminine hygiene products.
Recent research suggests almost 40 per cent of people are unaware disposable menstrual products contain high levels of plastic that can take up to 800 years to biodegrade.
With 300 million tampons and 500 million pads sold in Australia every year, that adds up to a huge toll on the environment.
But by making the switch to sustainable period products you can help save the planet – and some money too.
Kinder on the planet and your pocket
Sustainability educator and Zero Waste Victoria president Kirsty Bishop-Fox says making the switch to sustainable products has a raft of benefits.
“They’re better for the environment, you’ll never run out again, and they are much cheaper in the long run,” Kirsty says.
“The price for sanitary products varies widely, but I’ve estimated the cost at between $2000-$5000 over a lifetime.”
Carolyn Mogharbel, of Women’s Health Victoria, says it’s important to recognise the upfront cost can be an economic barrier for some.
“Comfort, cost, environmental impact, life stage, cultural norms and availability are some of the factors people consider when selecting the right menstrual products for them,” Carolyn says.
“We need to ensure that everybody’s needs – whether those are cultural, economic, or environmental – can be accommodated by available menstrual products.”
How to have a plastic-free period
Made from medical-grade silicone, menstrual cups can hold up to 20-30ml so you can wear them for up to 12 hours and they last for up to a decade.
“If you are used to using tampons, then the menstrual cup is a good choice, and because they hold more than a tampon, they are much less likely to leak,” Kirsty says.
These devices sit in the widest part of the vagina and the base of the cervix and rely on gravity to stay in place.
Discs can be inserted for up to 12 hours and because they’re thinner and more flexible compared to cups, they can be worn during sex or if you have an intrauterine device (IUD).
With a built-in liner that can hold as much as three tampons and a 1-3-year lifespan, period pants are an easy, discreet way to manage your flow.
“It’s a comfort thing – you don’t even know they are there – and they have excellent absorbency,” Kirsty says.
Period underwear has come under fire recently because some contain PFAs (the chemicals used in non-stick cookware and firefighting foam), which studies suggest could increase the risk of certain cancers.
Look for leak-proof underwear that is guaranteed to be free of the substance.
Australia’s first B-corp certified underwear brand, Boody, last month annuonced its period and leak-proof underwear range had been certified as 100 per cent PFA-free.
Boody’s leak-proof underwear range is made from a mix of organically grown bamboo, seaweed fibre and cotton across four layers of material, and recently became one of the first to acquire third-party testing and PFA-free certification.
Boody head of brand and marketing Ruth Haffenden says PFAs, also known as “forever chemicals”, comprise thousands of non-organic substances commonly found in products that resist stains and water. These chemicals have been linked to health issues from reproductive complications to reduced immune response, she says.
“Period underwear is and remains the most sustainable option for those who bleed, and we’re confident this certification will lead the way and inspire other brands to get the all-clear for the safety of customers,” she says.
Forget the bulky, uncomfortable things Grandma used to wear.
Modern reusable pads are made from super absorbent, thin, breathable fabrics in a wide range of sizes, shapes and designs, so you can choose what works best for you.
These come in natural and synthetic varieties and can last up to six months.
Like tampons, sponges need to be changed every few hours, and because they are so soft, they mould to the shape of your body so they’re a great option during intense activity or sex.
If the idea of reusable period products makes you uncomfortable, you can still make an eco-friendly choice by switching to biodegradable pads and tampons.
These products are made from natural fibres, so they break down in about 6-12 months.
“Be sure to look for organic products that don’t contain any plastic – particularly if you use tampon applicators,” Kirsty says.
More on menstrual health:
- What you need to know about heavy periods
- How a joint passion for women’s health is helping Aussie girls
- How to tell if your menstrual cycle is normal
Written by Dimity Barber.