How to have a more eco friendly period with reusable menstrual products

Reusable menstrual products

I was recently asked by the lovely Fiona of the Beauty Shortlist to share some of my favourite plastic free tips for Plastic free July – You can read up on my answers here. One of the topics mentioned was reusable menstrual products, this is a topic that is gaining more and more interest and I get lots of questions about switching, what options are available and which are best. I have been using reusable menstrual products for around eighteen months now and whilst I definitely wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the topic, I have found it to be one of the best lifestyle changes I have made.

So why should you consider switching to reusable menstrual products? – According to the WEN (Women’s Environmental Network) who are raising awareness of reusable menstrual products in their Environmenstrual campaign, disposable menstrual products can contain up to 90% plastic. City to Sea another environmental group raising awareness on the subject estimates that most menstrual pads contain the equivalent of four plastic bags worth of single use plastic, you can see their hard hitting video on the topic here. Tampons, applicators and menstrual pads are routinely found in beach clean ups around the world, as many people think they are safe to flush down the toilet, which they are not.

Leaving the environmental impact aside, my experience and that of many others indicates that overall reusable products are simply far superior in quality and comfort; “now that I have switched I wouldn’t go back” is something I routinely hear from people who use reusable menstrual products. As reusable products come in a variety of fabrics and materials that are all free from synthetic fragrance which is potentially irritating, I also personally believe them to be overall a healthier choice for us as well as the planet. The added bonus with reusable options is never having to dash to the shops in an emergency!

If you are interested in reusable menstrual products what options are available to you? I am going to run through some of the main options as well as talking a little bit about what I use – As interest in the topic grows there are more and options available, so this isn’t an exhaustive list:

Menstrual cups – From left to right Fair Squared rubber menstrual cup and Mooncup.

Menstrual cups – Menstrual cups are one of the more popular reusable options and consist of a malleable cup that can be inserted in to the vagina to collect rather than absorb the blood. They can be routinely emptied and washed as many times as needed, but it is worth noting that the average capacity of a menstrual cup is bigger than that of a tampon, so they are a great option for heavier periods. Menstrual cups come in a variety of materials and sizes, some are firmer and some are softer and they also have different capacities and sizes depending on several factors such as if you have had a baby or not.

I am really just getting started with my menstrual cup journey, as I have been very happy with my reusable pads, but although menstrual cups require a bit of time in terms of research and getting used to insertion, I can see that they are a valuable product for those who aren’t keen on pads. There are lots of resources available now that talk about menstrual cups, so make sure you do your research if you think they might be the right option for you. Menstrual cups can last up to ten years, so they are excellent value for money and a really durable option.

Reusable menstrual pads – These are my preferred option and the one that I use most often. These are very similar to disposable pads in how they fit and how they perform, with the main difference being that instead of being single use, they are washable. Much like menstrual cups, washable pads come in all kinds of fabrics, sizes and absorbencies, so there is something for everyone. I have a generous amount of pads in my stash, a few have been sent to me, but the majority I have purchased over the last year, adding in new styles to try. To calculate how many cloth pads you might need for a cycle, think about how long your cycle usually lasts and how many times you would usually need to change and that should give you a rough estimate. One of the bonuses of cloth pads is that they dry quickly, so if you hang them out to dry overnight, by morning they should be ready to be used again.

Earthwise girls

Reusable pads by Earthwise Girls are some of my favourites – See my full review here.

Bloom and Nora pads

Reusable pads by Bloom and Nora – See my review here.

Tickletots wet bag

If you are going to use reusable menstrual products like pads then you will need a wet bag to store then in between washes. The one I have, was originally used for cloth nappies, but I find it works perfectly for this purpose as well. This wet bag has two compartments, the main one and a front compartment with a zip. It also has a removable mesh inside, so you don’t need to handle the contents of the bag before adding it to the washing machine if you don’t want to, which is a really handy feature. There are lots of options available, in different sizes for different needs and are generally a very handy item to own.

Period underwear – Period pants or period underwear is underwear with a level of absorbency built in to the underwear itself. They can be used by themselves, or can be really useful for using with other reusable menstrual products on heavier days or overnight as an added layer of protection. I haven’t tried any out yet to be able to give a personal opinion, but I am planning to try them in the near future as they seem like such a great solution. Just like washable pads, period underwear can be washed and reused over and over.

Reusable tampons and applicators – If a cup or pads are not for you, then you can now get reusable tampons and reusable tampon applicators that can be used alongside plastic free cotton tampons. The reusable tampons I have seen are made from organic cotton, and require similar care to cloth pads. It is worth mentioning that with reusable tampons there is still a risk factor for toxic shock, so remembering to change them often is essential.

Healthier disposables – If reusable menstrual products are not for you, or if you need to still use disposables for whatever reason, there are menstrual products on the market that use less plastic and more natural materials. Look for cotton pads and tampons (if possible organic) and always remember to bin not flush. Brands such as TOTM offer plastic free tampons that come with cardboard applicators, they even offer a subscription service which means you never have to run out again! Clever.

Like most reusable items, reusable menstrual products do have a higher upfront cost than disposables. When you look at how long these options last vs their disposable counterparts I believe they are actually great value, but I do appreciate they might not be accessible to everyone. If you are on a tight budget, I urge you to shop around and look for the best deals or you can even buy some items like cloth pads second hand.

Do you use reusable menstrual products? Are you shocked by the amount of plastic in single use options?

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Ana Green

Written by Ana – A beauty industry professional who is passionate about product and helping people navigate the marketing hype in the beauty industry.