How to have a more eco-friendly period

How to have a more eco-friendly period. (Getty Images)
How to have a more eco-friendly period. (Getty Images) (Getty)

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Many of us are trying to live more of a more eco-friendly lifestyle, reducing the amount of single-use plastic we use on a day to day basis, but did you realise that a contributing factor to the world’s plastic problems could actually be your periods?

While you’re battling the impact of PMT, stomach cramps and other period side effects, the environment might be the last thing on your mind, but according to new research periods products are having some pretty detrimental effects on the planet.

That’s because the majority of period products such as tampons and sanitary pads are predominantly made from plastic, which makes it harder for them to be broken down when they enter the sewage system.

According to figures published in the Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences approximately 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet in the UK every single day.

Read more: Sainsbury's launches new range of period underwear Love Luna

Further research from the Marine Conservation Society and Natracare, a plastic-free period brand, has revealed that one pack of sanitary pads can contain the equivalent quantity of plastic as four carrier bags.

What’s more, one pad can take as long as 500 years to fully break down.

Menstrual cups and applicator-free tampons are just two of the ways to have a more eco-friendly period. (Getty Images)
Menstrual cups and applicator-free tampons are just two of the ways to have a more eco-friendly period. (Getty Images) (Getty)

It's hardly surprising therefore that disposal of single-use menstrual products - tampons, pads and applicators generates 200,000 tonnes of waste per year.

But steps are being taken to try to improve the situation with one brand recently becoming the world's first plastic negative period care company.

A company can classify as plastic negative once it removes twice as much plastic from the environment as generated by its supply chain and that's exactly what period care company Saalt have managed to do.

As well as reducing plastic waste generated by single-use period care products, the company is also offsetting its plastic footprint by funding the cleanup of low-value plastic waste and creating reusable and sustainable options for period care.

And there are many way's individuals can support the move towards more sustainable menstruation by trying to ensure they have more eco-friendly periods.

Period-proof underwear

While Thinx has been championing the period pant for quite some time, the UK is catching up and since the first period pants were launched, back in 2018, the products have come a long way, with many high street chains and supermarkets now stocking them.

Designed to save women hundreds of pounds each year as they’ll no longer need to fork out for costly tampons and towels, period pants could also have an impact on the plastic problem too.

The knickers are made of super absorbent material, allowing them to function a bit like traditional sanitary pads, but without the waste.

To clean you just have to pop in the wash like any other clothing item. Genius.

Read more: Period pants still being hit with VAT tax

Period Pants are becoming more popular and are available in many high street stores. (Getty Images)
Period Pants are becoming more popular and are available in many high street stores. (Getty Images) (Getty)


Research has revealed that a single woman can generate between 125 to 150 kilograms of sanitary waste during their menstruation years.

But the introduction of reusable period products could have an input in reducing this statistic.

In the past sanitary wear has relied heavily on single-use, throwaway products, but in recent years there has been a growth in reusables.

From reusable applicators, which you use, rinse and reuse, to cloth sanitary pads that can be washed and reused, the options for reusable products are on the rise, but according to Hannah Samano, founder and CEO of sustainable cycle care platform Unfabled it is vital you find the right reusable for you.

"The best way to have a more eco-friendly period is to get rid of disposable period products, but it's super important that you find the right reusables for you and your body," she explains.

"I'm personally a really big fan of period pants, but maybe reusable pads are more your vibe. It's all about knowing what works for your lifestyle so that you can make a switch that sticks."

Watch: Over half of women feel like they are not taken seriously when it comes to menstrual pain

Mooncup 2.0

According to Women’s Environmental Network, a menstrual cup is rated as the most sustainable option for those looking to make their period more plastic-friendly.

But the cost-effective and eco-friendly period products often get a bit of a bad rap with some concerned about leaks and the difficulty of usage.

According to a study published in the journal Lancet Public Health, they are “as reliable as other sanitary protection”.

Researchers compared the effectiveness of different sanitary products.

The results revealed that levels of leaks were similar between menstrual cups, pads and tampons - but one study found that leakage among the former was significantly less, so it could be time to give them another look.

In addition to Mooncup, which is perhaps the best known brand in the UK, common brands include Intimina, Athena Cup and Organicup.

Most come in two sizes - one for those below 30 years old who haven’t had children, and another for those who are over 30 or women of any age who have given birth to children vaginally.

A Mooncup is available for £20 and lasts ten years. Sustainable, cost effective and their packaging is plastic-free. And the newly launched Lily Cup One by Intimina will also help women to minimise the amount of waste they contribute to landfill each year.

The Lily Cup One costs just £19.99 and is made from body-safe, ultra-hygienic, medical-grade silicone which can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time.

The cup also lasts up to 10 years, meaning that the small investment can make a big difference to both your pocket and the plastic problem.

Read more: Flushable sanitary pads are here to help periods become more sustainable

Reusable sanitary pads provide a more sustainable option. (Getty Images)
Reusable sanitary pads provide a more sustainable option. (Getty Images) (Getty)

Remember not all disposables are bad

If menstrual cups and reusables aren't for you, it is still possible to switch to more sustainable disposable options.

"One of the easiest sustainable swaps I've made is switching out mainstream disposable period products for natural, biodegradable alternatives," says Samano.

"FLO pads are made with 100% organic bamboo, all individually-wrapped in biodegradable plant-based wrappers, and Daye's tampons have applicators that are made from sugarcane, with each of their tampons wrapped in water soluble wrappers."

Ditch the applicator

If tampons are your period product of choice, it could be time to give non-applicator tampons a try.

According to Samano 25 million plastic tampon applicators end up in UK landfills each week. 

"If that wasn't reason enough to ditch applicators, what if I told you that they were invented partly because many doctors and members of the public were uncomfortable with the idea of women touching their own genitals?" she adds.

"Don't be shy - try getting naked, non-applicator tampons for your next period," she suggests.

Try leak-proof swimwear

Sanitary pad underwear company PantyProp recently developed a pair of bikini bottoms that use the same technology as their leak-proof undies, to let you swim with ease while wearing a pad.

“We endlessly researched and designed a universal solution that provided security, comfortability, and a easy quick process for people universally to become worry-free while using sanitary pads,” explains the website.

“The developed, designed, and patented functional undergarment protects, conceals, and provides comfort all day while wearing a sanitary pad.”

Meanwhile Australian brand Modibodi, which specialises in period-proof underwear, have also turned their attention to swimwear.

The company has designed swimming costumes and bikini bottoms for teenagers so they can enjoy water-based sports, even when they’re on their period.

Shop eco-friendly period products

Vegan Full Brief | £27 from Modibodi

Mooncup Size B | £20.90 from Boots

Flo Organic Eco-applicator Tampons Regular & Super 14pk | £3.60 from Boots

Bloom and Nora Reusable Liner Pad Triple Pack | £11.40 from Holland & Barrett

Boots Bio Compact Applicator Tampons Super 20s | £2.10

DAME Reusable Tampon Applicator Set | £19.04 (Was £23.80)

Watch: One woman’s fight against period poverty