Plastic-Free, Organic Period Tips
August 18, 2021 • 5 min read
Sustainability has never been more top of mind than it is right now, with many of the planet’s issues on the world stage for discussion. Though it can seem overwhelming as new topics arise daily – plastic, pollution, pesticides – there are many opportunities to choose better for our personal health, our communities, and for the well-being of our planet.
Specifically, in period care realm, sustainable period products are erupting, as we’re beginning to realize just how wasteful the mainstream disposable options are. While the new emerging products in the space may seem like revolutionary innovations, much of what we’re seeing is actually a resurgence of how menstruators dealt with their periods for centuries. Cups were invented in the 1930s, and pure cotton wads or bits of reusable fabric have been widespread since the dawn of humankind. This brand created the world’s first ever organic cotton tampon, leading the change since 1989.
Not only are the products getting attention, but our moon cycles are being understood and talked about in a way that ancient cultures and Indigenous groups intrinsically knew. Knowing that everything is connected, teachings from these folks show us that our cycles are directly in tandem with the natural world around us. When we heal our beings and bring balance back into our physical realms, we not only restore ourselves, but the living ecosystems that surround us. The relationship between our bodies and the environment is often in total synchronicity, demonstrating that when we choose better on a personal level, we do better for the earth as well.
We’ll be sharing gentle ways of being during our moon cycles, touching on everything from plastic-free period products that are kinder to the earth, as well as tonics, herbs and practices that provide support and warmth.
You might also like: How to Create an At-Home Spa
Environmental Impact of Period Products:
It should come as no shock that our periods are generating quite a bit of waste in the world. In the U.S. alone, 19 billion tons of pads and tampons enter into landfill every single year. According to Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation, the average person throws away 250 to 300 pounds of period products in their lifetime, which is the equivalent to around 11,000 items.
Since most widespread disposable menstrual products contain different types of plastics, they can’t be recycled or reused, meaning they spend eternity on earth, far outliving our menstruating years. Most of us don’t realize that pads are 90% plastic, and this is not including the packaging. Even the upper layer that resembles cotton or fabric is often made of a plastic woven sheet. The pad itself, alongside all the additional materials it comes with (packaging, plastic wings, adhesives, etc.), contains the equivalent of five plastic bags!
A single pad takes between 500-800 years to decompose, so we can only imagine the number of products floating around in landfill, sewage systems, and water bodies. To make matters worse, menstrual products that contain SAP break into microplastics, which end up contaminating the soil, water and air around us. If we were to map the number of period products found washed up on beaches, it would be the equivalent to two million items along the U.K.’s coastline! Tampon applicators and pads are the fifth most common plastic item to be found on the shores of Europe.
Where did all this plastic in period products even begin though? We know that up until very recently (pre-1960s), menstrual products had always been sustainable – cotton wads, bits of fabric, soft bark or moss were all used in different parts of the world. Reusables were the norm, and periods remained low-impact for centuries. When the plastic revolution came, alongside the new era of disposables, menstrual products hit the drugstore shelves, claiming that they’d made menstruators “modern, efficient and happy”. While this did elevate the makeshift strategies that had been used for years, providing women with more freedom, it also meant they were required to stock up every month, locking them in to decades of spending, much to the manufacturers delight.
With this knowledge in hand, we have to wonder – if the plastics industry is responsible for creating this bloody mess, shouldn’t they be the ones to clean it up? Well…in an ideal world they would. In the meantime, savvy consumers are leading the change. And while we don’t believe that everything is down solely to individual action, with recent realizations in the sustainability conversation pointing to the fact that only 100 fossil fuel companies are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that corporations absolutely need to take responsibility for the mass destruction they cause if we’re ever going to try and save this planet, it’s no doubt that consumer behaviour does drive market change.
With the dialogue around sustainability and conscious consumerism at an all-time high, the demand for reusable and eco-friendly period products is rising incredibly fast, with many of the big brands entering the zero-waste game. Discerning between greenwashers and actual change makers is as important as ever though. Keeping in mind that reusables are often not as profitable as single-use products made cheaply from crude oil (plastic), it’s essential to differentiate between the brands that are using clever marketing for a piece of the period pie, versus those that believe in better products and better health for menstruating humans.
Speaking of greenwashing, beware of new-age tampon applicators masquerading as “sustainable and plant-based.” We’ve been alerted to this wave of greenwashing by some tampon brands, and Greenpeace’s analysis of these so-called green applicators found that they are chemically identically to oil-based plastic applicators, meaning they will never decompose. Look out for brands that specifically mention that their tampons and applicators are biodegradable and home-compostable!
When it comes to reusables (period underwear, menstrual cups), we’re definitely big fans over here. But before claiming that they’re the only or best way forward, we do want to acknowledge that there can be quite a few barriers with reusables. For anyone who doesn’t have regular or any access to clean water, reusable products can be quite a hindrance. Additionally, period poverty is a very real problem all over the world, and largely in North America as well. For anyone in this kind of a situation, buying a reusable (often $40 a pop) is just not financially possible. With this said, making sure period products are accessible, affordable, and kind to the earth is important in breaking down stigmas around sustainability and who gets to participate in it. This is why for the masses, we love organic menstrual products that are biodegradable, home-compostable, and easily available.
See below for a brand that entered the sustainable period game way earlier than the others (they’re the OG hipsters when it comes to low-waste periods), and how they’ve quietly been contributing to better periods for decades.
Herbs for Pain Relief:
Nettle: Nettle is one of nature’s greatest multivitamins, extremely rich in sulphur, nutrients, minerals, and iron, all the things we need to help us thrive and replenish our bodies pre and post cycle. Making a stinging nettle infusion is a great way to support your body during the days of your bleed.
Shatavari: A beautiful adaptogen that is native to India and that has been used for centuries in Ayurveda, this herb supports the womb in all phases of womanhood, helping balance sluggish menstruation or a heavy flow. This can be taken as a tea, capsule or tincture.
Red Raspberry Leaf: One of the more popular menstrual herbs, red raspberry leaf is a blood cleanser and known to be a uterine tonic. It helps to support and tonify the uterus pre-menstruation, relieves menstrual cramping and pain, as well as helping with heavy flows and endometriosis. This herb is lovely as a tea or tincture.
Wild Yam: Wild yam is an anti-spasmodic, helping with PMS, cramping, and pain. This can be used as a topical cream.
Maca Root: Known to increase sexual desire, Maca is a tuber with high nutrient and protein content. It provides excellent support for PMS, moodiness, and to regulate hormone levels. This herb is best taken in powder form.
Mushrooms: We’re big fans of shrooms over here, and adaptogenic mushrooms such as turkey tail, agaricus, lion’s mane, shiitake, maitake, chaga, cordyceps, and reishi are all excellent in helping with irregular cycles, heavy blood flow, PMS, and stress relief. These mushrooms can be prepared in a soup or broth, or taken in a tincture.
A brand that we really love is Natracare. They’ve been in the sustainable period game since the early 90s, making organic tampons and compostable pads easily accessible and widespread, far before this neo-revolution took off.
When it comes to materials, all of Natracare’s cotton is 100% organic, which is much better for our planet, skin, and hormones (plastic is a known endocrine disruptor, with chemicals like phthalates, bisphenols, parabens, triclocarban, dioxins and glyphosate all present in mainstream period products ).
Organic cotton is the only ingredient in Natracare’s environmentally-friendly tampons. Their pads and liners have an organic cotton cover, while the absorbent core is made from certified sustainable wood pulp from Finland. This layer is home-compostable, a very important distinction to be made when separating the greenwashers from actual sustainable brands. To understand and learn more about how you can home-compost your pads and tampons, click here. To read more about Natracare’s pads and their carbon footprint, click here.
Aside from also being vegan and cruelty-free, Natracare protects the livelihoods, homes and health of the workers where the materials are grown for their products, choosing to pay a fair and ethical wage. They also believe heavily in inclusivity, recognizing that gender has no significance when it comes to menstruation. Not all those who bleed are women, and not all women bleed. Lastly, Natracare gives back, with many charitable partnerships. To name a few, Natracare supports:
- 1% for the planet
- The Gaia Foundation
- 5 Gyres
- Just a Drop
- Women’s Earth Alliance
- Just Food
- Turning Green
- Plastic Oceans
And many more. See full list here.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but with consistent action, loud consumer demands, and widespread awareness, we can begin to address the issues at hand, and how we can do better – for ourselves, the collective, and our earth.
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