The Complete Guide to Zero Waste Periods
The average woman bleeds sixty days a year, and as you can imagine, the growing feminine hygiene market profits considerably. Our landfills are piled high with discarded plastic products and only recently have we collectively seemed to realize there might be a better way. I’m so grateful to be living in a time of incredible period-related innovation.
You don’t have to free bleed to be crunchy. There are a number of reusable options: menstrual cups, reusable cloth pads, period panties, sea sponges, and reusable tampons.
If your first reaction is “ewwww!” I just want to promise you right here that you’re about to enter a whole new world. This is not anything like emptying a trashcan full of week old pads and tampons and is a whole lot more like washing your underwear.
Each product has its own unique set of pros and cons but overall the best part is that you never run out, you don’t have to keep buying them, and after a few months you save a crap ton of money. It may be one of those zero-waste-isn’t-a-sacrifice kind of moments.
It took me three different cups and several cycles to learn to use one, but once you “get it,” it’s hard to go back. The fact that you only need one for any type of bleeding you’re having AND you don’t have to carry anything with you ever is worth the price of admission. You also don’t have to sit there and guess what size tampon you’re going to need over the next few hours and whether you might get toxic shock from picking the wrong size. You especially don’t have to worry about overnight use because it’s silicone, so even if you don’t bleed, no harm no foul.
Where cups shine more than ever is in swimming situations. I’m not sure whose idea tampons and swimming were but no. Just no. They don’t work, they leak, and if you get out of the water you have to discreetly grab a tampon and run to the bathroom. If you have children who like to get in and out of the water this is disastrous. All of these problems – 100% solved with menstrual cups.
The main drawback is that they can be difficult to size because – you won’t believe this, but every woman is different. That means our lady bits are all shaped a little bit differently. For example, you may have a high or low cervix, a tilted or straight cervix or a small or large canal (thank you childbirth). If you have a low cervix and you pick a long cup it will literally stick out of your body, and if you have a high cervix and use a cup made for people with low cervixes then you may need a medical professional to remove the thing. So picking the right size is super important or you’ll hate them passionately and slander the good name of menstrual cups.
Most cups work via suction, which means that getting them in and out requires you to get a little bit more up in your business than you may be used to. But you’ve probably had a pap smear and that’s way more awkward – at least in this situation no one’s watching.
It also takes some practice to empty them without looking like you murdered something, but you’ll get the hang of it – I promise.
Which is all to say that it’s a good idea to surround yourself with some menstrual cup love in the form of the following resources.
Menstrual Cup Resources
Check out CRAMPS on Facebook for a group of people asking questions you never even thought to ask. Have a crazy question? Now you know where to go.
Another great resource is Precious Stars Pads by a woman named Bryony from the UK who has over 500 videos on YouTube about reusable menstrual products. She’s 20 and started a reusable pad business when she was just 15 years old.
For sizing, check out Put a Cup in It, which features a cup sizing quiz about your anatomy and then spits out your best bet. Cups can be a little pricey so it’s worth spending a few minutes to do. If you end up buying one that doesn’t work out, there’s a market for used cups on eBay, so you can just resell it, or you can donate to the charitable organization Cloth Connection.
The major objection to cloth pads is the “eww” factor but I have to say that after you start thinking about what they put in disposables and after you try reusables, your thinking shifts. Suddenly, the disposable stuff seems gross – especially if you use cloth diapers or family cloth.
If you’re not on the crunchy path yet, once you adjust to not having to empty nasty garbage full of rotting disposable blood soaked plasticky cotton, washing cloth pads seems like a joy.
Some people say cloth pads slip around but I have been pleasantly surprised to not have any issues. I bought the set pictured above because I tried looking on Etsy and got overwhelmed. I will say that I do find them bulky – just like, well, disposable pads. Honestly I pretty much avoid pads as much as I can in whatever form they happen to exist, but there are some situations where they are necessary, and for reasons beyond my grasp, some people prefer them.
Cloth Pad Resources
CRAMPS on Facebook is not only a wealth of knowledge regarding cups, but also cloth pads.
LunaPads is a well known and reputable company with an excellent period panty/cloth pad combo design that’s worth looking into. You might also check out unique designs and patterns on Etsy or some very inexpensive options on Amazon.
If you’re a seamstress type, you can always sew your own.
I did a complete review of Thinx Panties here, but basically the concept is phenomenal and the execution needs some serious work. I confess I still wear them, even though I also kind of hate them.
The best usage is overnight for when you might have up-your-bum leaks, or for back up when you’re certain any leaks would be minor, or if you’re around the house and could change your undies if needed. They are also great for days when you might bleed, or when bleeding is very, very, very, VERY light (think one pantyliner all day long). Basically they’re like full coverage pantyliner underwear. A pantyliner diaper if you will, but pretty, and with no crunchy plastic sounds. And not bulky at all.
The claim is that they don’t smell, leak or feel wet and I will go out on a limb here and say that’s blatantly false. 100% false. In every way. I have pictures of leakage from about 5 seconds of leaking in this post. But they have their place in the world, it’s just different than their claim.
If you do decide to go the period panty route, I would veer away from Thinx due to aforementioned false advertising as well as some questionable business practices they have. You may want to check out LunaPads instead. They offer a wide range of products including period panties and cloth pads. I haven’t tried them personally, but will once my Thinx die.
I noticed after a quick google search that period panties are now popping up all over the place – I found Panty Prop, ModiBodi, and a lot of knock offs on Amazon. There are probably more – but this should be enough to get you started.
I have never used a sea sponge, but people swear by them. I’m all set with my FemmyCycle, but if you’re looking for something more tampon-like, this is a really great blog post about sea sponge tampons.
I’d love to hear about your reusable menstrual product experiences and any links or resources you might know about. Please leave a comment below!