I have not been sponsored by any brands for this blog, all opinions, images and graphics below are my own.
This year, I’ve been making progressive changes to my lifestyle by choosing products more consciously. There’s no running away from the fact that climate change continues to have a devastating impact on the environment surrounding us, including those that we live in. I used to think that any changes I made would be too small to make a difference, so why bother spending more time on finding eco-friendly products and simultaneously bear the inconvenience of paying a more premium price? But by thinking that, I am just perpetuating the idea that every other person has: that they’re too small as individuals to make a difference, so nothing ever changes. Even if I can inspire one other person by writing this, who then can kick start a chain reaction and incentivising someone else, perhaps the positive change in my behaviour, and consequently, on the environment, can be advance outwards, incrementally.
I work in the startup world, and I see some incredibly innovative early-stage ventures that disrupt long-standing industries with a status quo which has remained largely unchallenged for decades. One area of growing activity; feminine hygiene products. These industry disruptors are educating consumers and demanding change from the mainstream tampon and sanitary towel brands that are not only full of risky ingredients but also have a severe environmental impact.
According to Business Wire, the feminine hygiene industry is forecasted to expand at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate, a useful measure of growth over multiple time periods) of 6.8% and will reach a value of $52 billion by 2023, from $37.4 billion in 2018. This results in more than 45 billion tampons or sanitary pads used every year across the globe, creating 3.2 million kgs of waste (Change to Green).
Moreover, the Association of Reproductive Health Care Professionals has estimated that those who menstruate will have, on average, 450 periods over their lifetime. Again, on average, those individuals use 11,000 disposable tampons and pads during their life. That’s the equivalent of tampon inside you for an entire SEVEN years of your lifetime.
Just one menstruating person will likely contribute to 120kg of waste in their life, which takes 500 years to decompose (whilst releasing nasty chemicals into the environment as they do so). One pad is calculated to have the same environmental impact as 4 plastic bags, and a year’s worth of disposable period products leaves a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalents. Now I’m definitely not feeling too small to make a difference…
Beyond the plastic, they also contain dioxins, chlorine, and fragrance, all of which are endocrine disruptors and can actually make your cramps and periods worse!
Conventional cotton also uses a lot of pesticides, things you probably wouldn’t want to put in such a sensitive area, This is due to cotton farmers coming under greater pressure to return higher yields, forcing them to turn to pesticides. According to the World Health Organisation, 20,000 people die from cancer and miscarriages each year as a result of the pesticides used while growing traditional cotton.
Thankfully, as mentioned previously, there are numerous brands shouting about these very issues, and they’re taking action and providing alternatives. This blog focuses on how I’ve navigated these products to have an eco-friendly period.
I first started with the reusable Mooncup, made with medical-grade silicone and designed to last several years. They hold 3x more menstrual fluid than a regular tampon, without absorbing any of the vagina’s natural moisture (which tampons absorb 35% of). As well as the obvious environmental benefit of a reusable product, I loved the idea of not needing a cupboard full of different absorbency pads and tampons, avoiding the regular monthly expense, and inconvenience of remembering to carry extra products to last me through the day - which I regularly forget to pack in my bag before work.
Once the Mooncup arrived, I sanitised it through the recommended method of boiling it in water - to the bewilderment of my boyfriend who walked in on me “cooking” my menstrual cup. When my next period started, I waited until a heavy day to try it out. It was a very awkward process, I tried folding it in all of the advised ways to insert it, but all of them felt incredibly clumsy, and I could still feel it sitting uncomfortably every time. I must’ve taken it out and reinserted it about 7 times before I found a position where I couldn’t feel it anymore. I left it in for a few hours, and I was amazed by the lack of leakage; the seal protection was incredible. However, I think it was comfortable because of how far up it went, which meant removal was cumbersome - involving squats and various body acrobatics to surface it.
Throughout the process, I couldn’t stop worrying that the suction/seal capability of the Mooncup would suck out my copper IUD, which was exacerbated when I read some Google horror stories. Secondly, the consistency of any mucousy/clumpy menstrual fluid didn’t seem to collect well in the cup and was a far more messy experience than a tampon which I wouldn’t feel comfortable dealing with, in a public bathroom.
I haven’t used the Mooncup since; I just don’t think it’s for me. So, I went searching for other eco-friendly period products. There are several up and coming brands such as TOTM, DAME, OHNE, Grace & Green, Freda and Flo that offer 100% organic and biodegradable cotton tampons and subscription delivery services, either monthly or personalised to your own cycle.
After researching the various brands available, looking for eco-friendly pads and applicator tampons, I reviewed the following options:
TOTM offers a wide range of products: tampons, pads, liners, menstrual cups and various accessories such as a tote bag.
I would need to purchase 1 x medium flow tampon pack, 2 x medium flow pads pack, 1 x super flow pads, 1 x liners every month = £16.55 p/m. Since I would be ordering 2+ items, the delivery is free.
DAME offers two products: non-applicator tampons and a reusable applicator.
Bar the initial cost of the reusable applicator (£24.99); I would need 1 x pack of non-applicator tampons (regular) once every 2 months = £5.75 p/m (including £3 delivery) + (cost of liners and pads from elsewhere).
OHNE offers applicator and non-applicator tampons, as well as a pro-period CBD oil. The tampons pack is customisable, which is a really great feature!
I would need 1 x pack of applicator tampons every month = £6.50 p/m, free delivery (+ cost of liners and pads from elsewhere).
Grace & Green offers pads, applicator and non-applicator tampons and liners, all of which are cheaper when you subscribe to regular delivery (subscription discount is 5%).
I would need 1 x pack of applicator tampons, 2 x regular pads pack, 1 x super pads pack, 1 x liners every month = £25.34 p/m for one-off payment (including £0.99 delivery), or £23.14 p/m subscription.
Similar to Grace & Green, Freda offers pads, applicator and non-applicator tampons and liners, all of which are cheaper when you subscribe to regular (free) delivery.
I would need 1 x pack of applicator tampons, 1 x regular pads pack, 1 x super pads pack, 1 x liners every month = £32 p/m for a one-off payment, or £27.96 p/m subscription.
As with the previous two brands, Flo offers pads, applicator and non-applicator tampons and liners, all of which are cheaper when you subscribe to regular delivery. However, the tampon and pad packs you choose are a pre-established mix of regular and super (or day and night), without the flexibility that OHNE has to customise the number of products with different absorbency in a pack.
I don’t really need the super tampons, so they seem a bit of a waste addition, if the pack contained 16 regular tampons then I’d probably only need one pack per month, but in this case, I’d need 2 packs, and probably end up wasting the super tampons.
So it would be 2 x pack of applicator tampons, 2 x pads pack, 1 x liners every month = £26.15 p/m for a one-off payment (free delivery), or £23.55 p/m subscription.
The most expensive option was Freda, followed by Flo and Grace & Green successively, so those options were unfortunately a no-go. So I’m left with TOTM, DAME and OHNE.
Since both DAME and OHNE would both require an additional purchase of pads and liners, I wanted to look elsewhere for cheap, but biodegradable and organic cotton products. One of the cheapest brands I came across was Natracare, available from Holland & Barrett on a monthly subscription:
= £4.56 p/m (free delivery From Holland and Barrett)
Natracare products are soft, certified organic cotton, plastic-free and made from biodegradable materials.
I ended up choosing DAME’s reusable applicator tampon “D”, and by purchasing it, it included 34 free non-applicator tampons.
D is made of Mediprene® by UK medical engineers. BPA free, leak-free, and built for life. Antibacterial Sanipolymers® inside the. Mediprene® act as natural sterilisers, helping D to stay clean.
After use, you wash it thoroughly under running water, wipe dry with a clean paper towel, and pop it in the provided cotton travel wallet. It is exactly like using any other applicator tampon, there’s just one extra step required of adding a tampon into the device before using. It works wonderfully, and it’s one of those inventions that you can’t believe was made sooner. However, I do give you a warning, don’t try it for the first time while you’re sitting down on the toilet - as I was figuring out how to use it and include the extra step required, I accidentally dropped it down the toilet. Serious face-palm moment.
It perfectly met everything I was looking for, and I signed up to the subscription every 2 months, along with the Holland & Barrett monthly delivery of liners and pads I absolutely love the DAME brand, the packaging and the brand motto: “Bleed Red, Think Green”.
Although I didn’t necessarily choose their products, I want to advocate all of the brands compared in this blog for actively making progress in the industry and taboo-smashing menstruation. Women have been menstruating since time began, yet the industry uses the language of discretion, perpetuating shame, and embarrassment. We hide tampons and pads up our sleeves, we take our bags to the toilet and feel obliged to buy other products when shopping to disguise the fact we’re buying period products. Here are some of the body-positive messages they share across social media:
So, after some research and testing different products I can officially say that as a result of my brand switch from Tampax and Always, I’m not out of pocket as a result, and I avoid producing 120kg of lifetime waste that takes 500 years to decompose, and my body will no longer be subjected to non-organic cotton with harsh chemicals, synthetic additives or plastic. Every person is different, so try a few different products until you find out what works for you, hopefully, the cost breakdown I provided will help you figure out where to start.