Ladies, let’s own this.
It’s time to look at the single use plastic impact of our periods because there’s a whole different world out there, with new brands coming up with innovative, often plastic free, solutions to the red tide we all know and love (ahem).
The plastic problem in our periods
Did you know the average woman uses 11,000 tampons in her lifetime?
Together with pads and panty liners they make up 200,000 tonnes of waste a year.
As well as a lot of money, that’s a huge amount of disposable plastic jettisoned into the environment, without a lot of thought (because who really wants to think about their period more than they have to).
Hands up who hasn’t really ever considered the plastic consumption of her period?
It’s usually a quick swoop of tampons in the chemist or supermarket, hustle them into your handbag as quick as you’ve paid and your mind is on a million other things when you chuck that applicator or plastic wrapper into the bin.
And let’s be honest, switching from single use plastic isn’t as easy as we think.
It often means thinking a bit more about what we buy instead of reaching for convenience. But our planet needs us to think a bit more about what we can do instead.
Shockingly, the Marine Conservation Society found 20 tampons and sanitary items per 100 metres of shoreline in their 2016 beach clean-up.
Pretty gross for us, pretty fatal for marine life.
It’s not just the plastic wrappers and plastic applicators but also what’s in the individual pads and tampons.
Some pads can contain up to four plastic bags’ worth of plastic.
In short, period products are the ultimate in single use plastic products and take 500 years to decompose.
The good news?
Things are shifting.
More eco-friendly period products are on the horizon, with a flood of new brands on offer who don’t use plastic (or much less) but aren’t sacrificing any of the comfort and security we need once a month. They can’t help with the crappy cramps but they can help with your impact on the planet.
Natalie Fee, founder of campaign group City to Sea, said: “It’s truly fantastic to see the movement towards plastic-free period products gaining momentum. Whilst periods can be messy and complicated, making them plastic-free isn’t!”
“We’ve been championing plastic-free periods alongside Natracare since we started campaigning in 2015 and have had millions of people engage with our mission – to make plastic pollution from periods a thing of the past! People are looking for ways to reduce their plastic footprint – using plastic-free period products is a simple, effective and affordable way to do it.”
Plastic free period campaign
Ella Daish is campaigning to make plastic free periods more affordable and accessible to all, by making all menstrual products plastic free.
We caught up with her for a quick chat.
Scroll down for our favourite period brands that don’t use single use plastic for an eco-friendly period.
What are the barriers to wide scale period plastic waste change?
Ella Daish: “Essentially the barriers are the accessibility to eco-friendly products and the taboo in discussing periods which leads to women being unaware of hidden plastic in period products. This feeds low consumer demand and doesn’t motivate manufacturers to change especially considering that plastic is so cheap.”
“Many new products are entering the market including options such as the reusable tampon applicator and period pants”
How can we make plastic free periods affordable for all?
ED: “By encouraging more people to buy and use eco-friendly products, manufacturers will likely respond to changes in consumer demand by making these products more widely available, which in turn will likely lower prices through increased product competitiveness.”
What’s been the reaction to your campaign from men?
ED: “The reaction from men to the campaign has been brilliant, with nothing but positivity, praise and encouragement, and moreover, many have voiced their concerns that they too were unaware of the plastic content of these products.”
Are you aware of all the new brands coming through that don’t use single use plastic?
ED: “Many new products are entering the market including options such as the reusable tampon applicator and period pants. This is fantastic because it gets more people talking openly about periods but also gives consumers a real chance to explore different options without the environmental impact.”
Is buying these products online better than buying on the high street?
ED: “It’s good in the sense that you have access to eco-friendly options that are not always available on the high-street, however, delivery may include plastic packaging that would not be necessary for high-street purchases.”
15 Best Eco-friendly Period Brands (tampons, pads and periodwear)
Period pants are now a thing and there are several brands who are leading the bloody revolution.
WUKA’s period underwear’s period underwear are pants you can wear without a pad and they’re designed to absorb blood without leaking using four layers of different materials – for up to eight hours.
The hip hugging pants are comfortable, hygienic thanks to antibacterial fabric and can be washed in your regular wash, plus there’s no plastic waste each month.
TOTM (Time Of The Month) deliver 100% organic cotton tampons and pads that biodegrade. Their tampons come with cardboard applicator tubes so there’s nothing plastic in these babies at all.
Organic cotton will be softer and kinder on your body than the synthetic, plastic filled tampons and pads that mainstream brands use.
Thinx make period pants using organic cotton, and their ‘period better’ underwear comes in three styles, from boy shorts to hipster briefs.
Again there’s four layers which includes moisture wicking cotton; antimicrobial lining; super absorbent fabric and a leak resistant lining.
You can customise enough underwear for your cycle and get a discount.
The grandmother of plastic free periods, Natracare has been around for three decades. It makes pads and tampons from organic cotton, fluffed wood pulp and bio-plastics which means its products biodegrade instead of hanging about for 500 years.
Susie Hewson, founder and CEO of Natracare, said: “Natracare was created almost three decades ago out of concern for the impact on the environment of the origins of raw materials used to make feminine hygiene as well as the future consequences of their waste disposal.
30 years of campaigning for and developing environmentally compatible menstrual products, has led to this perfect storm of actions to reduce plastic entering landfill and our oceans. By choosing plastic-free, women have the power to help protect the environment and their own health.”
Lola want to be the brand you turn to for everything from tampons to condoms, using the best natural ingredients.
So their biodegradable tampons are made from organic cotton and contain no chemicals, chlorine bleach or synthetic materials, meaning they’ll decompose.
However some still come wrapped in plastic and some come with plastic applicators – but you can choose cardboard applicators and paper wrapped tampons.
But we have to give props to Lola for offering up subscription boxes where you pick and mix different tampon and pad types, and the brand donates period products to women in need in the US – with over 100,000 tampons donated so far.
And now for something completely different.
Flex is a new ‘tampon alternative’ that can last up to 12 hours. A disposable menstrual disc, it’s designed to fit where the cervix and the vaginal canal meet, with no mess and no fuss.
It’s not as intrusive as a cup and made with medical grade polymer, that’s FDA registered, hypoallergenic, BPA & phthalate free and made without natural rubber latex or silicone
While it’s still disposable, it creates 60% less waste than using tampons each month.
Modibodi also make period underwear – and swimwear and activewear – and have maternity and teen ranges.
The sustainable period wear brand use organic bamboo and merino wool to create an absorbent, moisture wicking, leak proof core that’s only 3mm thick and works for all kinds of flow.
Lady leaks don’t stand a chance here and you can also support disadvantaged women by buying pairs to pay forward.
8. My Freda
My Freda is a monthly subscription box that has a social purpose, above sorting you out with sanitary stuff.
You can ‘personalise your period’ with up to 16 products and there’s a calculator to help you work out when you want it sent each month.
The organic cotton tampons will biodegrade and are chemical, polyester and chlorine free (amongst other things) but still come with a plastic applicator.
But it’s with the pads that things get interesting: the pads use 70% renewable materials (with an absorbent core made from totally chlorine-free, renewable and sustainable wood pulp) and come wrapped in biodegradable film. The night pads are made in an eco-friendly factory using 100% renewable energy with zero landfill waste.
My Freda’s manifesto outlines what the brand believes, such as natural period products should be available in all toilets and workplaces and women around the world should have access to sanitary products no matter where they live. It donates a portion of profits to organisations that work for universal access to period care products.
The period pants are here to stay.
Knix also make reusable, leakproof period underwear, which come in three styles: a thong for lighter days and bikini briefs and boyshorts for the not so light days.
The brand is interested in reinventing women’s underwear, away from frilly ideals to multi-tasking, hard-working bras and pants that support us.
With a cheeky take on saving your vagina from chemical nasties as well as the planet, OHNE is a new tampon subscription box, filled with your choice of sizes of certified 100% organic cotton tampons with biodegradable cardboard applicators (or no applicators at all). They arrive in sleek cardboard boxes that fit through your letterbox.
The brand also want to shake up period poverty too so they’ve partnered with School Club Zambia to put a percentage of profits towards building toilet blocks and providing menstrual education.
And their website acts like a knowledge platform to bust taboos around periods.
Good work, ladies.
Don’t want to give up the tampons? Dame is the world’s first reusable tampon applicator.
Made of medical grade Mediprene that’s smooth, antibacterial and self-cleaning, Dame comes in its own little travel case and with organic cotton tampons or it will fit any other tampons.
Why throw away something that you’ll use every month for years?
12. Glad Rags
Another option for a plastic free period is a reusable cotton pad and Glad Rags are one of the first to turn this low-tech solution into a commercial brand.
It makes reusable cloth pads so there’s nothing going in the bin each month. Each cotton pad is made of detachable inserts and stiff wings that snap round your pants, so there’s no adhesive required.
Each one can be washed and used for up to five years and the brand encourages women to throw off the feelings of shame of having a period and embrace the natural rhythms of your body.
Is it a tampon, or a pad liner? Or is it both?
The Callaly Tampliner combines a high-quality organic tampon with a soft mini-liner that folds in half between your labia, stopping leaks and the need for another (non biodegradable pad).
The Tampliner is 100% organic and 95% biodegradable – the brand are working on making that 100% very soon – and everything is sent through the post when you need it, in cardboard packaging.
Callaly is proof that everything can be redesigned to help us reduce waste – you just need some imagination.
14. Dear Kate
Period underwear takes a leap forward with Dear Kate, which expands the technology to yoga pants and leotards, so you can feel comfortable going commando, no matter what day of the month.
Whether it’s the underwear or activewear, there’s no plastic anywhere in these low maintenance, leak resistant products. Everything is 100% fabric and 100% breathable meaning you can get on with feeling fabulous.
Want to replace pads or tampons with something more eco-friendly?
FLUX Undies’s period pants come with a built-in protective panel that is moisture wicking, absorbent, and completely leak-proof.
The plastic free period proof undies come in five styles, including bikini and high waisted briefs, they can each hold four tampons’ worth.
Not only all that but Flux underwear is detachable, perfect for those on the go always or for people with mobility issues, you can change it without have to sit down. And for every pair bought, Flux give away a pair to a girl in need.