When considering a zero waste lifestyle, using reusable menstruation products instead of disposables can be one of the most effective ways of cutting back on the amount of waste you produce.
The average UK woman uses over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in her lifetime. In total, an estimated 1.5 billion sanitary items are flushed every year. This can result in ‘fatbergs’, like the one discovered in the London in September 2017, made up of giant mass of congealed fat and sanitary products. It weighed the equivalent of 11 double-decker buses and stretched the length of TWO football pitches!
Most disposed of tampons and pads end up in landfill, or find their way into British waterways. A 2010 UK beach clean found an average of 23 sanitary pads and 9 tampon applicators per kilometre of British coastline. This ecological damage is further worsened by the fact that it takes tampons and pads centuries longer to degrade than the lifespan of the woman who once used it. It is no surprise that more and more women are feeling the need to switch from traditional, one-use tampons and sanitary pads to more eco-friendly, reusable products.
Moreover, the financial burden of menstruating is also a significant reason as to why more women are using reusable products. It is estimated that periods will cost the average woman thousands of pounds over their lifetime. Shockingly, under current UK law, menstrual products are still subject to VAT, as they are considered ‘non-essential items’. Instead of spending £10 to £15 a month on products you can only used once, it makes financial sense to spend slightly more on a product that lasts much longer, AND helps the environment.
Switching from disposable to reusable products can seem daunting due to confusion over how to use these products, or where to get them. However, there has never been a better time to do so. The market is flooded with affordable alternatives to tampons and pads, many of which are available from high street retailers, including Boots and Superdrug!
So what are some of these reusable alternatives?
What is it? A small, bell shaped silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina.
How does it work? The cup sits in your vagina comfortably, and stays in place using suction. The cup holds about 30ml of liquid, and absorbs three times more menstrual fluid than the average tampon. It should be emptied every four to eight hours depending on the users flow. After it is emptied it can be rinsed, wiped and re-inserted.
How much does it cost? £10-£30 depending on the brand and size you opt for.
How long does it last? Most menstrual cup companies claim that the cup will last for 10 years.
Where can I get it? Both Boots and Superdrug stock menstrual cups in their physical and online stores. They are also available via Amazon from a wide variety of suppliers.
REUSABLE SANITARY PADS:
What is it? Reusable cloth pads made from naturally absorbent fabrics such as cotton and bamboo. Instead of using an adhesive to attach the pad to the underwear, these pads use poppers.
How does it work? They work the same as an ordinary sanitary pad. However, after each use the pads should be rinsed under cold water to prevent staining, and then washed in the machine as you would anything else.
How much does it cost? £4-£10 each depending on the size and pattern of the pad. You can also get multi-packs from £20-£45.
How long does it last? Most manufacturers estimate that the pads will last 2-5 years depending on how much wear and tear they get.
What is it? Underwear made from a moisture wicking fabric that protects against leaking and stains. They come in a variety of sizes and styles, from boy shorts to thongs.
How does it work? The underwear is antimicrobial, absorbent and claims to keep the user dry throughout the day. Once used rinse with cold water and leave them to dry. Whether they can be machine washed or not varies from brand to brand.
How much does it cost? £20-30
How long does it last? 2-3 years.
THE ONE THING YOU SHOULD NOT PUT UP THERE!
As this author was researching zero-waste menstrual products, a suggestion that kept coming up was sea sponges. Many zero waste bloggers promote them as a natural alternative to tampons.
However, most of these sponges are not properly tested or cleaned before they are sold. In the 1980s, the University of Iowa tested a batch of sponges and found the sponges contained grit, dirt and bacteria such as yeast and mould. The tests even found traces of staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome).
Furthermore, the brittle and rough texture of the sponge could cause bits to break off inside the vagina and cause abrasions when the sponge is inserted and removed. While the other products mentioned in the article are all approved by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, sea sponges are not.
Using these sponges is VERY DANGEROUS as both TSS and serious internal infections can lead to infertility and death, so they should be avoided.
About the author: Rebecca Masker is a third-year studying BA English and Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. You can follow her on Twitter at @ALittleBitShort.