Periods suck. Aside from being painful, and uncomfortable, we have to buy period products all the time. So, it makes sense that so many different sustainable period products have been emerging to cut back on single-use plastic. It’s an amazing step forward, but are eco-friendly menstrual products actually just greenwashing?
Why The Hesitation About Eco-Friendly Menstrual Products?
One thing some readers may have noticed is glaringly missing from my coverage on sustainability is period products. I’m all for sustainable period products, but like the online debates regarding plastic straws, people seem to have latched onto one tiny thing rather than looking at the bigger picture. I’ve seen people harass disabled people who cannot use reusable straws or paper straws. Since sustainable period products became more mainstream, I’ve seen people being quite vindictive towards those who can’t just drop their usual routine for them.
My approach to environmentalism here has always been do your best. I don’t know the circumstances of your personal life, and it’s not my business either. The climate crisis is not the Average Joe’s fault, but I still believe in doing something. So, I don’t want to post a “here’s some of the best sustainable period products you absolutely need” blog, knowing that this isn’t actually a black and white issue.
I was very hesitant to try eco-friendly menstrual products. First, they all seemed like something I’m not comfortable with (it’s already a bad time of the month, do you want to make yourself more uncomfortable?) Second, I have a lot of existing products to get through that shouldn’t go to waste.
Are Eco-Friendly Period Products Actually Green?
Unfortunately, as people are starting to care more about plastic pollution, more people are basically just taking advantage of it and are greenwashing. So, it makes sense to be sceptical.
It’s hard to give a straight answer. How green something is depends on a few things. It’s not just a case of cutting out single-use plastic, but sometimes the eco-products actually take more energy to produce. Plus, how long they last plays a role. For example, a lot of “biodegradable” products actually just end up in the bin! The short answer is menstrual cups seem to be the greenest, according to Global Citizen.
Sustainable Period Products
1. Period Underwear
I ended up trying period underwear recently because I had an outfit planned that I couldn’t wear a pad with, so I gave them a go.
I was impressed. They’re considerably more comfortable than pads. As someone with a heavy flow, I was worried that they would leak. Honestly, so far they haven’t.
The downside? You probably need to buy a lot of pairs. It gets to a point in the day where I just don’t feel fresh anymore – even though the underwear has absorbed the blood. I bought the cheapest ones I could find so that could be a factor (another downside to plastic-free period products – they’re often considerably more expensive and inaccessible than regular ones). They smelled awful, again, this may be because mine was very cheap but I was definitely getting a whiff of something throughout the day. Although my boyfriend assured me that he didn’t think I smelled any different.
So, I think I’ll wear these in bed and on days I know I’m not leaving the house.
2. Reusable Pads
My initial concern with reusable pads was that they can’t handle a heavy flow, or would move since there’s no adhesive like normal pads. They actually come in different shapes and sizes. Plus, the reviews seem good.
You do need to change them as often as regular pads – but carry something to store them in so you can wash them when you get home. So, if you take care of them, these actually are pretty green.
3. Biodegradable Pads
Biodegradable pads seem like a step in the right direction, but they might all not be as good as they seem.
A lot of “bio” plastics or new so-called biodegradable versions of existing products are not actually green as they seem. When you pop something you your compost bin, you’re basically hoping nature will take care of it quick enough and it essentially will cease to exist. That’s not always the case.
According to the BBC, a lot of these “biodegradable” products, are technically compostable, but they won’t actually break down in your home compost bin. They’re often industrially compostable, so they need to be sent to specific facilities – which may not accept bloody products since blood is a biohazard.
Plus, if you’re out and about, the bin in a public bathroom most definitely will not be a compost bin anyway. See what the packaging says, some brands may have taken these things into account and found a solution, rather than greenwashing.
4. Biodegradable Tampons
Like biodegradable pads, biodegradable tampons are not the most sustainable period products. But, they are a step in the right direction. You’ve technically elimated single-use plastic, but this is still a single-use item.
5. Reusable Tampon Applicators
Reusable tampon applicators are a great middle-ground if you can’t go all the way with committing to sustainable menstrual products. They come in different sizes, and are easy to clean.
6. Menstrual Cups
Menstrual cups are probably one of the most well known sustainable menstrual products. I’ve never tried them, but I spoke to someone who did about them.
Meghann tried menstrual cups from a few brands but felt they’re mostly the same. Here’s what she had to say about them:
“When I first started using it years ago it was great, then I had a break, and then I started using it again when the pandemic hit. And while I was at home it seemed great, but then when we went back to work having to take it out without spilling and washing it in the work sink became awkward. My periods also got significantly worse during the pandemic, and as my periods worsened my cup got harder and harder to remove to the point where I just had to stop using it
“Because there were mornings I’d wake up after having it in all night and it traveled so far up I had to push it out, I’d spend sometimes hours trying to push it out whilst going about the house. Even on days where it wasn’t that bad it was still difficult to get out, especially after putting on some weight and becoming less flexible during lockdown.”
Check out Meghann’s Instagram!
The Bottom Line On Eco-Friendly Menstrual Products
I’m not saying don’t buy sustainable period products. If you like them, go for it! Once I’m all out of pads, I’ll be going with period underwear for good (but maybe spraying a lot of perfume around my crotch area!) What I am saying is that I’m not going to hype up some eco-products if they’re not actually suitable for everyone. I’m definitely not going to guilt anyone if they don’t feel comfortable with eco-friendly menstrual products.
So what are the best sustainable period products? Honestly, it’s whatever suits your needs the best.