Reusable Period Products: Bloody Great!
It’s International Women’s Day and what better way to celebrate our womanhood than a blog post about eco-friendly periods?!
We’ve already touched on this subject in our post Waste Free February: Reducing Waste Part 1, but we thought it would be worth looking at reusable period products in a little more depth.
It is estimated that we use approximately 12,000-16,000 disposable pads and tampons during our menstruating years. Many of these disposable products contain plastic and/or are packaged in plastic. Apparently, a pack of conventional sanitary towels contains as much plastic as five plastic bags. And according to a 2018 report, period products are the fifth most common type of marine litter found on beaches in Europe.
Three of the main options for reusable period products are reusable period pads, period pants, and menstrual cups.
I have to confess that I only have personal experience of using reusable period pads, which I’ve been using for two years now. I remember first seeing them for sale in an eco-friendly shop a few years before. At that stage, I hadn’t really considered the impact of period plastic and waste on the environment and the idea of reusable pads seemed a bit too extreme for me and, if I’m honest, a bit disgusting! But I guess the more environmentally aware I became and my mindset shifted, the less radical reusable pads seemed. Now the thought of disposing of period products into landfill or down the loo is what disgusts me!
So anyway, I’d decided to try reusable pads. After a bit of Internet research, I was completely baffled by the range of products out there – who knew there was such a choice? I decided to start with a trial pack from Bloom and Nora because the price seemed reasonable (just over £30 at the time) and it contained four different sized pads. You could, of course, just buy one to see how you get on; prices start at around £7.
I was excited and a little daunted when I received my Bloom and Nora pads in the post and, I’m not going to lie, when I first tried one of the heavy flow pads it did feel a bit like I was wearing a nappy! But I think this was mainly because I was hyper-aware of it at the time. I don’t really wear the larger pads with tight clothes, but then I wouldn’t wear a disposable pad with skinny jeans either. The heavy flow pads are actually great at night and I’ve had very little trouble with leaks.
Once I had got used to using reusable pads, I decided to invest in a pack of four medium flow pads from Imse Vimse, a Swedish brand made from organic cotton. This was after seeing lots of online recommendations for Imse Vimse. These pads are a bit thinner than Bloom and Nora pads and they feel less conspicuous. However, they don’t have a trim around the edge so may be more leak prone. I’m pleased with both types of pad and find that eight pads are just about enough, although I wash and reuse them during my period.
In terms of washing reusable pads, you can either rinse in cold water straight away and wash within 48 hours or let dry and rinse in cold water immediately before washing. Then you just pop them in the wash with your other laundry. The rinsing part is the most gruesome part, when you are confronted with your own blood! I would say this is the only downside of reusable pads, but something you quickly get accustomed to.
On the plus side, they are mostly comfortable, feel less sweaty than disposable pads and I haven’t had an issue with leaks. Some users report less period pain and shorter periods; my periods do seem to be slightly shorter, but I can’t categorically say this is down to the pads!
In the last few years, there has been a surge in popularity for period pants (I don’t mean a tatty old pair of knickers you wear only during your period in case of leaks!). Period pants take the idea and technology of reusable pads and incorporate a super-absorbent gusset into reusable underwear. It’s a great idea and I plan to invest in a pair of period pants in the near future (prices range from about £12 to £25 per pair).
As I haven’t yet tried period pants myself, my knowledge and experience is limited. However, I have seen positive feedback online and they are often recommended for those just starting their periods. Below are some links to different period pants, where there is loads of advice about how they work:
Menstrual cups are small flexible cups made of silicon or latex which you wear inside your vagina to catch your flow. When full, you empty, wash and reuse. I first heard of menstrual cups (specifically Mooncups) about fifteen years ago when I stumbled across a random eco-blog about them. At the time my housemate and I had a little chuckle about them (mainly the name) and didn’t think much more of it.
Fast forward to 2021 and I’m planning to write my own blog post about menstrual cups. Now, I haven’t used a menstrual cup, although I have looked into it; finding the right cup for you can take a bit of trial and error and I don’t like the idea of ending up with a drawer full of unusable menstrual cups! Luckily, my friend (the same housemate from fifteen years ago, as it happens) had mentioned that she has used a menstrual cup. She has very kindly told me about her experience:
“I decided to use a menstrual cup for environmental reasons. I started off with a Mooncup, but it wasn’t very comfy. After a bit of research to find an alternative, I settled on the Ruby Cup, which was great until the birth of my second child but now it doesn’t quite sit right any more. I still use it at night as it holds quite a lot, but now I’ve bought some period pants to experiment with.
For me, the advantages of menstrual cups are that they hold bigger volumes and need changing less often and they are more comfortable once you find the right one. They are made from silicon and are therefore washable and sterilisable. Because you aren’t sticking something super absorbent in your vagina, some people find they have less period pain.
On the downside, it takes a bit getting used to inserting it and getting it in the right place. They can leak if the position is wrong or if it doesn’t sit well. And obviously, if you need to keep trying new brands to find the right fit, the cost can add up. That said, there’s a huge variety of cups and there are various websites and guides you can use to work out which is right for you.”
In the interests of research, my lovely and extremely helpful friend also asked her younger sister for her menstrual cup experiences, who in turn asked her friends. Turns out menstrual cups are all the rage in the early 30s age group! Here’s what they had to say:
“I LOVE it, it was great in Ghana where there were limited options in sanitary products as I was in a rural spot. Also, it’s like it’s not even there!”
“Pros: Great not buying tampons. Comfy. Practical. Cheap. Cons: Sorry to say this but…messy. Awkward to find time to clean it. So much to deal with, at school they say a period isn’t much blood but the amount shocks me!”
“No leaks! I can go to sleep and know it’s fine. I genuinely forget that it’s there!”
“Love the idea, sustainable and longer lasting especially for heavier periods. The design isn’t fool-proof which is disappointing. Once I bought one with a tiny handle and I couldn’t get it out. It’s healthier, as Toxic Shock Syndrome is a real concern. I imagine it’s a game changer for third world countries.”
So, it seems that menstrual cups are a really great sustainable option, although it can take a bit of time to find the right one for you and the fit may change after childbirth. If you’re interested in trying a menstrual cup, the website Put A Cup In It has a Menstrual Cup Quiz to help you find the right cup, as well as other useful resources.
Hopefully, this has given you a little insight into the options available when it comes to reusable period products. I appreciate that these reusable options all incur an upfront cost and the practicalities can be a little daunting. If you’re not sure if these reusable options are for you, you can still choose plastic free period products like those from Natracare, made from all-natural materials such as organic cotton, which are better for your body and the planet.