Updated: Apr 15, 2021
Welcome back to Way to Zero Waste, today we bring you three menstrual alternatives for all those women who want to live a zero waste lifestyle or want to learn about alternatives to pads and tampons.
What is the problem?
Women have an average of 520 cycles throughout our lives (40 years) and we use a total of 18 tampons or sanitary towels in each menstruation (at the low end), which means 234 tampons or sanitary towels per year and 9360 throughout our lives. All this waste composed of all these tampons or pads with their wrappers, boxes and applicators is about 136 kilos, which on a global scale would be 0.5 of the garbage that reaches the landfills from our homes.
Let's take a look at examples of the composition of two incredibly polluting monthly products:
- The composition of Tampax tampons: cotton, rayon (an artificial fiber made from cellulose) and polyester or polypropylene (pure plasticorro).
- Ausonia pads according to the brand itself: "The surface layer of our products is made of polyethylene with micropores, to facilitate the passage of menstrual flow inside the pad. A second layer of polyester and viscose facilitates the dispersion of the flow towards the absorbent core, formed by a cellulose tissue and absorbent gel, which prevents, by the pressure of the body weight, the flow from coming out again. Finally, a waterproof polyethylene sheet makes it difficult for leakage to stain underwear", which translates into 3 layers of plastic and one of cellulose. Most sanitary napkins are made of 90% plastic.
The ecological cost of single-use menstrual products
According to a Zero Waste Europe report conducted at the European level, these products are often flushed down the toilet. "When the wastewater filtration and drainage system collapses - when there are floods, for example - menstrual products become one of the main floating marine litter."
The study also recalls that the procurement of some components of single-use menstrual products contributes to deforestation, as is the case of wood pulp, which is present in tampons and pads and acts as an absorbent material.
According to the life cycle analysis of reusable products, a menstruating person - the report uses this term to include, in addition to women, trans men and non-binary people - can avoid 26.1 kg of CO2 equivalent every five years by replacing tampons with a menstrual cup.
How long does it take to biodegrade?
Pads take around 300 years to degrade. Tampons, it depends: those with plastic applicators also take hundreds of years, and those without take about a hundred months.
We bring you the best solutions to remedy the waste of plastic waste and all that it entails.
The menstrual cup:
It is a reusable funnel-shaped container that is inserted into the vagina to collect the flow during menstruation.
Unlike the tampon, the cup does not absorb the flow and this process is much healthier for your body, since the tampon "traps" the moisture of the vaginal mucus and that can alter the natural bacterial flora, in addition to the risk of traces of fibers.
The menstrual cup is fully reusable, its material is designed for long life, extending its useful life up to 10 years of use. You only have to clean and disinfect the cup well before and after menstruation. As for the duration of the menstrual cup, it is estimated that it can be used between 8 and 12 hours approximately, always depending on the body of each woman and her needs.
Another aspect to comment is its comfort, being a relatively large material may seem that it does not just mold to the body, thus producing discomfort or scratches but not at all. It is very easy to put on and fits very well.
There are two placement techniques and, although it may take a little practice at first, it is super comfortable once you get the hang of it.
The only downside of the cup is that there is more contact with blood, which can be annoying if you are in a public restroom. When inserting or removing the cup, it is possible to stain your fingers.
You can find the menstrual cup in any pharmacy, zero waste stores or supermarkets.
Another alternative is to use cloth pads, perfect for a zero-waste menstruation:
This one is made with sustainable and highly absorbent materials. They absorb so fast that you don't notice that you are wet at any time. They are made of natural materials that respect your body and the environment.
In addition, they are very soft and pleasant to your skin, avoiding allergies, chafing and other discomforts that conventional pads cause. This alternative is perfect for all those women who have sensitive skin, as they can avoid contact with materials that contain chemicals and can irritate the skin.
In cases of really heavy flows, they may need to be changed even every three hours, but as a general rule you can use them for up to 6 to 8 hours. After use, you can clean them by hand or in the washing machine with cold water.
There are different sizes and patterns to suit all bodies and tastes.
In any zerowaste store you can buy them and they are not very expensive, plus you will only pay once, so you amortize money in the long run!
Menstrual panty liners are another alternative to buying single-use pads.
They are perfect for all those women who start with menstruation, since its use is very simple.
Menstrual panties are like normal panties, but in the crotch area has a series of fabrics that allow absorb, isolate and store menstruation without stains on clothing. In addition, by absorbing the blood, menstrual panties do not swell, so there is no "diaper effect".
The fabrics they are made of are highly absorbent, anti-bacterial, breathable and washable, i.e. menstrual panties can be reused, making them an environmentally friendly alternative to single-use tampons and pads.
In general, menstrual panties are usually made of at least three layers of fabric:
Lining: which is in contact with the skin. It is usually made of cotton and is hypoallergenic, moisture-wicking and it is important that it prevents irritation. The inner part has to prevent blood from coming out.
Inner zone: made of an absorbent fabric such as bamboo, and anti-bacterial.
Outermost zone: totally waterproof fabric.
They have an average life of three years, depending on the use that each one has given.
They are long lasting, up to 12 hours! Then you only have to wash them and you can use them again. It is a great alternative, as it is simple, economical and sustainable.
We use the menstrual cup and accompany the first days of heavier bleeding with one of the last two options.
Write us in the comments which option works best for you or if you use a different alternative.
Join the change!