3 ways to go plastic-free with your periods
From organic cotton tampons to zero-waste menstrual cups, the latest sustainable period products are kind to the body and planet.
What with PMS, cramping and brain fog, your TOTM can be difficult enough without the added guilt about where your tampons end up. But the environmental impact of our monthly cycles is startling and hard to ignore: around 100 billion non-recyclable period products are thrown away in the UK every year. That waste either ends up as landfill or gets flushed down the toilet, polluting our rivers, beaches and oceans.
The main issue is single-use plastics. Traditional sanitary towels are around 90 per cent plastic and can take up to 500 years to break down while conventional tampons also contain plastic, not to mention the disposable applicators. Luckily, things are changing and the future is not just greener but also gentler on our bodies. Look around and you’ll notice there’s more eco-friendly period product choice than ever before. From bamboo pads and organic cotton tampons to – dare we say it – sexy period-proof underwear. And while some alternatives are undeniably more expensive than their throwaway plastic counterparts, in most cases they can actually work out cheaper in the long run. It’s a win-win scenario.
Here are some of our favourite ways to get through our monthly cycles with minimal environmental impact...
Eco pads and tampons
Pros: The most similar alternative to the products we’ve been using for years.
Cons: Expensive compared to regular disposable products.
If you’re looking to reduce plastic waste but don’t want to give up pads or tampons, look for plastic-free 100 per cent biodegradable versions. Made from natural materials, they’re still comfortable to wear but take considerably less time to decompose. Single-use tampon applicators have also been updated with planet-kind recyclable materials, and there are zerowaste reusable versions to try too.
UK brand Flo offers eco-friendly tampons, pads and panty liners in plant-based biodegradable wrappers. The Ultra Thin Pads (15pk, £2.85) are made from 100 per cent bamboo and are absorbent without feeling bulky. Alternatively, the Organic Tampons (16pk, £3.10) come with or without an eco-friendly applicator, which is recyclable and derived from sugarcane.
Ohne Period Pads (12pk, £5.90) are made from 100 per cent organic cotton. It runs a subscription-based model so you never run low, and features additional products such as moodboosting CBD oils and chocolate bars to build your perfect monthly self-care kit.
DAME launched the world’s first Reusable Tampon Applicator Set (£23.80) in 2019 to help eliminate period plastic waste. It’s easy to use and conveniently self-sanitising: simply insert your tampon, rinse and go. It works with most brands and tampon sizes and lasts for up to 12,000 uses.
Pros: So comfortable you’ll feel like you’re in normal pants.
Cons: If you’re a tampon wearer then these probably aren’t for you.
Wearing period underwear feels almost like you’re in normal knickers, but each pair absorbs the same amount of liquid as several regular-sized tampons. Once worn, rinse them out and stick them in your machine on a delicate cycle (without fabric softer) and they’ll last for up to 50 washes. With so much choice on offer, you can match your flow and underwear style.
For purse-friendly options take a look at Primark’s Period Underwear (from £6) and Love Luna Period Bikini Briefs (£10). Both absorb moisture and prevent leaks while looking like normal lingerie – Primark pants are available in Mini, Hipster and Midi – albeit with a reinforced gusset.
The Modibodi range (from £14) includes six absorbencies – from moisture-wicking to 24-hour wear. And if you don’t want to sacrifice style over practicality, new colours and prints regularly drop onto its site. So shopping for period pants is now something you can actually look forward to.
Designed for sports and active lifestyles, Iceni Silver’s period-proof knickers and shorts (from £22) promise to hold up to eight tampons’ worth of fluid. Created by two mums for their sporty daughters, it’s the only period wear on the market to use state-of-the-art SILVADUR technology, which prevents odours and even absorbs clots to keep you feeling ultra dry and comfortable.
Pros: Low cost-per-wear and extremely kind to the planet.
Cons: Expensive initially and some women may find them difficult to use.
Mastering a menstrual cup can be tricky at first. The idea is that they’re folded then inserted into the vagina, where they pop open ready to collect your flow. They can appear to be quite pricey initially, but choose wisely and we’ve been assured they can last over 10 years. Menstrual cups are probably the most environmentally friendly alternative to regular pads and tampons as they offer a zero-waste solution.
Saalt offers a couple of options for women wanting to switch to a cup. Its original Saalt Cup (£25) comes in two sizes and is made from a slightly firmer 100 per cent medical-grade silicone that opens more easily once inserted. Meanwhile its Soft Cup (£25) has been designed for women with bladder sensitivity or discomfort with firmer cups (take its online quiz to find out which is right for you).
Sea + Flo’s Menstrual Cup (£25) is uniquely designed in black to minimise staining, and comes in three sizes. It features a circular stem that doesn’t need trimming (most cup stems can be cut to suit cervix height) while it can be worn for up to 12 hours both during the night and day.
Eco-friendly accessories brand BeYou offers a cheaper alternative in two sizes and colours (£14.99 each) which is the ideal shape for first-time users. It can be worn for up to 12 hours and comes with its own organic cotton pouch.