We’ve all seen the pictures on the internet: heaps of trash piled high into the sky, patches of the ocean covered in rubbish, and sea creatures tangled up in plastic. With the ongoing climate crisis on our minds, society has been looking at ways to reduce using throwaway items like plastic straws, bags, and utensils. But what about the plastic waste that comes about during “that time of the month?”
One of the biggest culprits of plastic waste is menstrual products, specifically from tampons and pads. According to one National Geographic article, a single menstruating person will use between five and 15 thousand pads and tampons in their lifetime—and these plastic-containing products will very likely end up in a landfill. Isn’t there a better way?
Old habits die hard, and we know that switching to a new routine isn’t always easy. That’s especially true if you’re a creature of habit like yours truly (why try a new menu item when you could order the same thing every single time, am I right?). We’re here to tell you that switching to an eco-friendly period routine isn’t just better for the planet––it’s better for all of us menstruators.
Don’t believe us? Prepare to be enlightened, dear reader. We’ve come far since the days of bulky sanitary pads and sea sponges. Let’s compare two of the most modern eco-friendly period products that may just revolutionize your periods: the menstrual cup and period underwear.
Menstrual cups vs period undies: Which eco-friendly period product is right for you?
The menstrual cup
Although the menstrual cup was patented way back in the 1930s, it didn’t gain traction until much, much later. It wasn’t until 1987 that the Keeper became the first latex rubber cup manufactured and sold in the United States.
Unlike the Keeper which was made out of rubber, most cups today, including popular brands Mooncup and Diva Cup, are made out of medical-grade silicone, making them exceptionally durable and hypoallergenic.
Okay, but what the heck is it, and how does it work, you ask? A menstrual cup is quite literally a small, squishy, cone-shaped cup with a short stem on the bottom for removal. Actually, you could think of it as a chalice of sorts, except this little bowl is for blood, not wine. Like a tampon, the cup sits directly inside the vaginal walls, but instead uses suction to create a seal, keeping it in place and preventing leaks.
To change the cup, all you have to do is dump the blood out into the toilet or wash it out with a sink. If there’s not a sink closeby (like in a public restroom stall), use a bit of toilet paper to wipe it out. Et voila! It’s ready for you to use again. Be sure to give the cup a proper clean between cycles if you want to keep using it in the long run (boiling it with hot water is a great way).
Usually, menstrual cups come in at least two sizes, with a slightly smaller one recommended for those who’ve never given birth, and a somewhat larger one for those who have. Some newer brands also offer cups in several sizes, including for different types of cervical positions (yay, inclusion!).
It’s durable. Some companies suggest replacing your menstrual cup every one or two years, but as long as you take good care of yours, it can last even longer, even up to a decade.
You can’t feel it. Unless you inserted the cup incorrectly, you shouldn’t be able to feel the cup at all.
It rarely leaks. So long as you empty the cup as its guidelines suggest, you can look forward to a full workday free of leaks.
You can wear it for up to 12 hours. Yep, you heard right. Just think, in 12 hours, you would already have thrown away two tampons or pads!
You’re doing your part for the environment. Seriously, consider just how many pads and tampons you go through a year. Imagine never having to throw used menstrual products in the trash again!
It’s perfect for the pool. Swimming with a menstrual cup is, simply put, amazing. Thanks to the light suction, there’s very little chance anything will leak into the water. Sorry sharks, you’ll have to work a little harder to find this gal!
Craving sweets while on your period? We outline why that is in our article about food cravings during that time of the month.
There’s a little bit of a learning curve to get used to putting the cup in, but once you figure it out, it’s smooth sailing from then on.
The initial purchase may be pricey. On average, cups cost between 20 and 40 dollars. However, simple math shows that with the cup, you’ll save so much more money in the long run—just think about how often you buy a new package of tampons or pads in a year.
It can feel a little messy at first. For those who’d rather not touch anything down there, the diva cup can feel really, well, hands-on. But hey, getting in touch with your body is never a bad thing!
It’s super exciting to see the innovative new period products on the market today, especially the period underwear brands that have recently burst onto the scene. While reusable pads have been around for a while, period panties are rather new in comparison. Like cloth pads, period panties are washable and reusable. The difference is that they provide full coverage and are manufactured using new absorbent materials that prevent leakage.
Some of the most well-known brands include Thinx from the US and ModiBodi from Australia, but more and more smaller brands are sprouting up around the world. Time for a closer look!
You don’t need to worry about destroying your usual underwear. No more stains! With period panties, you’ll have special underwear that you can save for the occasion.
Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow… Ah, the freedom of not having to use any special product! Just slip on the undies and go on with your day.
Less plastic to throw away. No more plastic tampon applicators or disposable pads—reusable period underwear is undoubtedly much more environmentally friendly than the usual stuff.
They look and feel like regular underwear. Although you might expect them to be bulky, period panties aren’t that different from the regular kind. And, you can even wear them when you’re off your period, so what’s not to love about that?
You have to rinse them out before washing them. After using period underwear, you’re supposed to rinse out the underwear with cold water before washing them in the machine. For some folks, that’s not a problem at all. For others, it’s an extra step they’d rather not have. Or, maybe the sight of the blood rinsing out is an issue. Like we said before: getting in touch with your body and its natural functions is a good thing!
They take a little testing. Some people have reported that they can make it through the workday without leaks, while others need to change. If you have a heavy flow, you may need to test the panties out a couple of times before deciding to wear them at work or school.
You may end up needing to use tampons (or another product) alongside the panties. Depending on your flow, you may find that the period panties don’t provide enough coverage. If that’s the case, you might have to supplement with other methods, which may mean the old-fashioned way: with throwaway products.
They’re pricey. Most period underwear starts at around 30 dollars a pair. Since washing between every wear during your period seems pretty unlikely, you’d probably need to get at least five pairs or more if you want to rely on the underwear alone.
Exercise + period = good? Read our tips for exercising during your period here!
Some final thoughts
Here’s an idea: Give both of the eco-friendly period products above a try to see what works for you. It’s a win-win—use the menstrual cup for swimming, wear the underwear on light-flow days, and on heavy-flow nights, combine the menstrual products to ensure a super secure slumber.
We’re excited for what’s to come in this burgeoning industry. Keep your eyes peeled!