By Amanda Jowsey
The average menstruating person uses between five and 15,000 pads and tampons in their lifetime, all of which break down into microplastics that end up in landfills and waterways.
These products contain chlorine, dioxin and other harmful chemicals and take hundreds of years to decompose. They produce 200,000 tons of waste per year in the United States alone.
The environmental impact of traditional menstrual products is only one concern. The risks these products pose to women’s health are also being reexamined.
Not only do the toxic chemicals in tampons contribute to the risk of toxic shock syndrome, but the rayon and polyester fibers they’re made from can also scratch the vaginal canal, leading to pain and further increasing the risk of TSS.
New companies have made it their mission to create products that solve this dilemma and benefit the two places we inhabit: our bodies and our planet.
The average menstruating person has about 450 periods in their lifetime and spends an average of $20 on menstrual products every cycle. This is estimated to add up to more than $9,000 a lifetime.
We need more sustainable products for our health, our planet and our budgets. Here are some of the best alternatives and the companies behind them, to traditional tampons and pads.
The Period Company, founded in Los Angeles by stylist Karla Welch and marketing guru Sasha Markova, leads the industry in this wearable period protection. The company sells its product online and through retail stores.
“This specially designed, non toxic period underwear can absorb up to nine tampons worth of period blood and stay dry feeling. It is highly absorbent, washable, reusable, relatively comfortable and reliable,” according to TPC.
Just one pair can last up to five years. There is nothing complicated about them. They are simply worn like regular underwear through regular daily activities.
TPC is all about community and menstrual equity— the mission, to increase the affordability and availability of menstrual products for individuals with limited access.
TPC partners with several other organizations including the PAD Project, “a women’s health program used to educate women on their monthly menstrual cycles,” and provide “sustainable hygienic kits to promote menstrual health to women who do not have access to menstrual hygiene products.”
TPC also partners with Love Your Menses, a nonprofit organization that promotes menstrual equity and supports girls and women “through education, resource connection, and mentorship.”
The best part about these undies — they save money and frustration dealing with trips to the store and the bathroom. There are different sizes and styles available. Prices range from $12 to $30.
These aren’t readily available in stores yet. You can find them at Target and online through several retailers. With the TPC Community Donation program, you can even buy a pair for someone else and the company will donate it to persons in need. A $20 donation covers the cost to ship four pairs to “a featured organization.”
Menstrual cups and discs
The menstrual cup is inserted and removed like a tampon and is made of medical grade silicon. It’s designed to sit in the vaginal canal to collect flow rather than absorb it. They can be less messy than the disc option and come in more shapes and sizes.
Menstrual cups can last several years and can be recycled when it’s time for a replacement, so less product ends up in landfills.
DivaCup has been leading the way in sales and through Diva’s new Impact Program, they are now joining other companies to promote menstrual equity and improve the lives of women in communities nationwide.
Menstrual discs have many similar features of cups, but the biggest selling point is that it offers mess-free period sex. You should not have sex with a menstrual cup in. Because discs sit at the base of your cervix, not in the vaginal canal, you and your partner shouldn’t be able to feel it if it’s been inserted properly. It still does its job and makes life a lot less complicated.
Menstrual discs are better for your body, but they are not the most eco-friendly option. They can be changed less often than pads and tampons, offering 12-hour wear, but still take up landfills the same way as they are single use.
Their price ranges from $20 to $40 and they can be found at most drug stores and large chain stores.
Reusable pads and “organic” tampons
Reusable pads are softer, more effective, washable and more comfortable. TPC, The Eco Woman, and Gladrags are the leading companies who offer this option. One pad costs around $15. Most packs come with two or three pads. They reduce waste on the planet and on your wallet.
Some companies are now offering chlorine-free, “organic,” biodegradable menstrual hygiene options that use little to no plastic. These are better on your body as they contain less chemicals. They still create waste and pollution, but they take less time to decompose and break down into natural components. They are not the most financially friendly, costing more than a regular box of tampons. But, they are more eco-friendly.
Period poverty and menstrual equity are terms you’ll be hearing more, as activists work toward ending the “pink tax” on women’s products through new legislation — the trend that prices on products and services marketed toward women are more expensive than those marketed toward men.
Two in five women struggles to purchase period products due to a lack of income. One in three low-income women miss work, school and other outings on their period because of a lack of period supplies.
With reusable products, not only do we help the planet, but we can help close some of the economic gap for those struggling to afford these necessary items.
You can support the availability and affordability of menstrual products for individuals with limited access and for other purposes by writing to your local Congress in support of the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021.
If you or someone you know need period products
• Call 211 or visit 211.org using keywords “feminine hygiene products” or “period supplies.”
• Erie County Alliance for Period Supplies through the Every Bottom Covered organization www.eriecountyallianceforperiodsupplies.org
• Erie County Alliance for Period Supplies email@example.com 877 E Delavan Ave Buffalo, NY 14215
•The Alliance for Period Supplies: firstname.lastname@example.org • 203-821-7348
• Planned Parenthood: plannedparenthood.org 1-800-230-7526