Plastic Free Periods: Protecting Our Bodies & Preventing Plastic Pollution

July 28, 2021 , 12:00 pm 1:00 pm

The topic of menstruation is still considered taboo to discuss in many cultures, despite the fact that half of the people on our planet menstruate every 28 days. Join us for our July webinar, Plastic Free Periods: Protecting Our Bodies & Preventing Plastic Pollution, where we will discuss the connections between plastic pollution, menstruation, and social change.

This webinar is sponsored by Plastic Pollution Coalition member Natracare and in partnership with Coalition member Menstrual Cup Coalition. Together, we will learn from activists and leaders about period justice and how to protect your body from toxic chemicals in products, while exploring the movements happening now around menstrual practices toward a more just, equitable world.


July 28, 2021
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm PDT
Event Category:
Event Tags:
, , , ,


Plastic Pollution Coalition
View Organizer Website

By Jackie Bolen

Plastic waste is a big problem. It’s filling up our landfills, clogging our oceans, washing up on beaches, and killing wildlife. If you’re reading this, you’re probably concerned about this situation and looking for ways that you can make a difference.

The good news is that there are some simple things that we can do to reduce the amount of plastic waste we create. For example, using reusable containers instead of zip-top bags, carrying a reusable water bottle around at all times, saying “No” to plastic straws, just buying fewer things, etc.

What about period products? Many disposable pads and tampons contain little bits of plastic that’ll still be hanging around in 500-800 years from now.

One estimate says that the average person will throw out 300 pounds of period products during a lifetime. Can we do better?

Let’s find out!

Option #1: Menstrual Cup

The first environmentally period option you may want to consider are menstrual cups. Some of the brands you may have heard of include the Diva Cup, Lunette Cup or Mooncup. Although some companies say to replace your period cup every year or two, most people find that the top quality ones last for 5-10 years.

Think about this. If the average person menstruates for 40 years, and a menstrual cup lasts for 5 years, that’s 8 of them over a lifetime.

Estimates vary, but all of them say that the average person will use more than 10,000 tampons during a lifetime.

Thousands of tampons vs a handful of menstrual cups? The winner is clear if you’re considering which option creates less plastic waste.

As a bonus, you’ll also save a ton of money, reduce your risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, and lower your exposure to toxic chemicals. There isn’t much not to love!

Option #2: Reusable Cloth Pads

Disposable pads are particularly harmful for our environment. They contain large amounts of plastic, particularly the heavy, overnight ones. Is there a better way? Yes!

Consider making the switch to reusable cloth pads. They’re similar to disposables but are made mostly from natural materials like cotton, charcoal, or bamboo. Like menstrual cups, they can last for years and potentially save thousands of pads from going to the landfill.

Most people find that they need 5-6 pads to make it through their period in style. Although they cost a bit more up-front, you’ll save money over the medium to long-term by making the switch.

Option #3: Organic Pads and Tampons

The final option you might want to consider for a more environmentally friendly period are organic pads and tampons. Although they’re a disposable product, they have a number of advantages over conventional products.

First of all, organic feminine hygiene products contain no harmful chemicals. Although regular pads and tampons contain only small amounts of this stuff, exposure to it can add up over time.

Secondly, the vast majority of organics are also plastic-free, including the packaging.

Not only are you making a better choice for your health, but the environment as well. The only real negative is that these products can be a bit expensive. However, you can often save a ton of money by shopping online instead of the local health shop.

Ready to Make the Switch to Environmentally Friendly Period Products?

It really can make a difference. Imagine the possibilities if every single menstruating person in the world had a reusable menstrual cup or cloth pad in their hands? Change starts with me and you, and then spreads as we tell our friends and family members about it. Get started with eco-friendly period products today.

Jackie Bolen is a tree-hugging friend of the Earth who can usually be found on top of a mountain, or drinking organic coffee around Vancouver, Canada. You can find her on YouTube or Facebook.

Learn more about menstrual cups.

Photo: Some of the 415 plastic tampon applicators volunteers cleaned up on a beach in Lake Ontario, Canada. An estimated 20 billion applicators end up in North American landfills every year. 

By Sarah Wylie, Life Without Plastic

Let’s break the period taboo and talk plastic-free feminine hygiene products! This is an important topic to explore because these monthly visits from ‘Aunty Flo’ can have a large impact on our bodies and our environment.

Did you know that feminine hygiene companies aren’t required to disclose all of the ingredients in their products because the products aren’t considered medical devices? This is alarming considering many of the conventional disposable feminine hygiene products contain synthetic materials including plastics, adhesives and artificial fragrances, and toxic chemicals like phthalates, dioxins, and petrochemical additives.

Women’s Voices for the Earth commissioned an analysis in 2014 of various Always pads and found they contained traces of “styrene (a human carcinogen), chloromethane (a reproductive toxicant), chloroethane (a carcinogen), chloroform (a carcinogen, reproductive toxicant, and neurotoxin), and acetone (an irritant).” (for full article click here, for the testing results, click here). YUK!

Furthermore, the average woman will use 12,000 to 16,000 disposable feminine hygiene products in her lifetime and it can take up to 100 years or more for something like a plastic pad or applicator to break down! Luckily there are actually all kinds of safe plastic-free options that are available in various (and very interesting) shapes and sizes to suit your needs and match your comfort level.

Reviewing Your Options

When exploring safer plastic-free alternatives, here are some things to consider:

  1. Materials used in the product and how healthy they are for you
  2. Material used for the packaging
  3. How the product is used (and what your comfort level is)
  4. The lifespan of the product and it’s end of life options
  5. The cost over time

In our opinion, the healthiest options for you and our planet will be those made from organic and toxin-free materials, that have minimal packaging, that are not single-use and that have a longer lifespan. Best are those whose end of life option creates the least amount of persistent waste.

After thoroughly reviewing the different options available for feminine hygiene, we found that there is a lot of info to absorb. We want to help people make more informed decisions so we created a handy chart that runs through the options and their various impacts. Feel free to share it but make sure to give credit back to Life Without Plastic.

Reusable Products

Talking about reusable feminine hygiene products may raise some eyebrows and prompt some intimate questions, but no worries, we’ve got the answers! Some of these products may require a bit more preparation, but are overall a lot healthier and earth-friendly.

Reusable Cotton Pads

Periods Without Plastic

Let’s start with reusable pads. These are an amazing alternative to plastic pads on all fronts!

✔ Healthy: Pads are made from undyed organic cotton cloth and flannel that is free from harmful additives.

✔ Earth-friendly: Pads are reusable and prevent tons of plastic waste. The natural materials are biodegradable and compostable at the end of their life. The packaging is made from 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard and is itself recyclable.

✔ Long lasting: Pads can be reused for up to five or more years.

✔ Comfortable: Cotton pads are so much softer than the plastic ones. They also come in various sizes to suit your needs.

Use and care instructions: Place the inserts in the back of the pad. Place the pad in your underwear (smooth side up and insert side down) and snap the wings to secure it in place. Change your reusable pads as often as you would a normal pad. After use, separate the inserts from the holder. Soak everything in cold water and baking soda (optional) to help prevent staining. Machine wash cold using natural soap or detergent, and either hang to dry or tumble dry low.

Expert tip: Adding an enzyme cleaner to the soaking water may help protect against staining.

Glad Rags is the brand we carry, but there are other notable brands out there such as Oko Creations and Luna Pads (although some of their products contain PUL (polyurethane laminate) in the layers of the pad).

Reusable Menstrual Cups

Periods Without Plastic 2

These menstrual cups are meant to replace regular tampons, but rather that absorbing your flow, they actually collect it in the cup. This can be helpful for those who may need to monitor their cycle. Rubber and silicone menstrual cups are gaining traction as an eco-alternative to conventional tampons — and with good reason!

✔ Healthy: The GladRags XO Flo Cup is made from body-safe medical grade silicone.

✔ Earth-friendly:  The cup is reusable, which prevents the accumulation of persistent waste from disposable menstrual products.

✔ Long lasting: This one product can last you up to ten or more years!

✔ Cost-effective: Because it lasts for so long, you’ll only have a one time expense of $40-50 for multiple years of use!

Use and care instructions: Start by washing your hands, then press the ‘X’ sides to fold in half, then fold in half again so the rim makesa ‘C’ shape. Gently insert the cup (rim first) into the vagina. When it feels secure and comfortable, release and allow to open inside. These cups only need to be changed 2-4 times a day depending on your cycle. To remove the cup, gently pull on the stem and squeeze the base of the cup between your thumb and forefinger to break the seal. Empty the contents into the toilet bowl, rinse the cup and reinsert. To clean the cup, use mild, natural soap and water.

Expert tip: If you’re at a public washroom, simply empty the contents in the toilet bowl and use toilet paper to wipe the cup before reinserting.

We carry the XO Flo, but other options include the Diva Cup (silicone) and the Keeper (natural rubber or silicone).

Reusable Menstrual Sponges

Sea Pearl Menstrual Sponges are a unique and fairly underrated option. Essentially, they are sustainably harvested natural sea sponges that can be inserted and used like tampons to absorb your flow. These soft sponges require a bit of a change of practice, but are an amazing alternative for a number of reasons;

✔ Healthy: Simply made from natural sea sponges that are free of chemicals, bleach, chlorine, dioxins, fragrances, dyes or other synthetic materials.

✔ Earth-friendly: The sponges are sustainably harvested, biodegradable and compostable. These also prevent tons of plastic waste from disposable menstrual products.

✔ Long lasting: These sponges can last up to six months or more.

✔ Cost-effective: Since they come in a pack of 2 and last for so long, you’ll only have this expense every maybe once or twice a year rather than every month.

Use and care instructions: Start by washing your hands and the sponges. Squeeze out the excess water, scrunch up, and insert into vagina the way you would a tampon. Once saturated, remove the sponge, rinse it out with water and natural soap, and reinsert or let dry.

Expert tip: Tie a string around the sponge to help make removing it a bit easier.

Natural Pads Subscription Service

We also want to make a special mention to Tampon Tribe, a company who has made an extreme effort to create socially and environmentally responsible disposable feminine hygiene products. This international team of women is dedicated to stopping the use of single-use plastic where it is not needed and now sell tampons that are 100% plastic-free, toxin-free, hypoallergenic, chemical-free, and GOTS certified organic cotton. Furthermore, for every month of lady supplies purchased, they donate a day pack of products to homeless women!

We appreciate that everyone has different concerns, comfort levels, and priorities. We hope this review will help make you aware of the many healthier options you have at your disposal, and help you find one that is right for you. Some of the reusables may be a little out of the ordinary, but don’t let that scare you, they are totally worth a shot.

Go with your flow!

Sarah Wylie is the Operations Manager for Life Without Plastic. This article was originally published on Life Without Plastic. 

Joint our Global Coalition!

Take the pledge! Refuse single-use plastic!