In light of a recent decision in Ireland to ban an advertisement for tampons that used the phrase ‘you gotta get ’em up there girls’, I thought it apt to do a post on sustainable ethical menstrual products. Afterall the best reaction to censorship is to keep talking about the issue! Please share this post if you agree.
When it comes to sustainable ethical period products we’re talking reusable menstrual cups, reusable cloth sanitary pads (csps), reusable period pants and plastic-free (often organic) tampons and pads.
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The main environmental benefits of using reusable period products is obviously less waste, between 5,000 and 15,000 sanitary pads or tampons over a lifetime, but I’ve also heard people say that their menstrual pains improved after switching to reusable products. Personally I didn’t find this.
Most people aren’t aware that regular tampon or sanitary pads are mostly made from plastic, or register that any cotton in it will have been sprayed with pesticides while growing and bleached when processed. No studies have directly linked such materials or practices to poor menstrual health, but it’s worth noting that there’s actually been very little research on menstrual health and period products.
Personally I don’t want plastic or bleached, weedkiller-sprayed fibres in or near my private area, but always keen to challenge my bias I looked for contrary views. I read this article about the safety of regular single-use period products, but it didn’t allay my fears. As always it’s not for me to tell you what to do, I just present the information and you, as a grown-ass adult can decide what’s best for you.
I have published a supplementary post to this one outlining my personal experience of most of some of these products. It’s available to patrons of this website. Visit the Patreon website to become one, or make a once off donation via Paypal.
Okay so let’s dive into the various types of reusable period products;
Reusable Menstrual Cup (see photo above)
Simply put ‘a menstrual cup is a reusable tampon alternative worn inside the vagina that collects flow rather than absorbing it’ (Source: Put a Cup in it). These cups are made from medical grade silicone or TPE and generally last 10 years. The main benefit of a cup is how infrequently you need to change it; on average days you can go 8-10 hours. The main downside is cleaning in public bathrooms; it can be a very messy affair! Also there can be a bit of trial and error getting one that fits well. which can end up being expensive and wasteful. To help in this regard a very useful guide was created by the website Put a Cup in it, To be honest this website is so amazing I’m just going to refer you to it for future reading on the various brands making this product, although I will mention the Flex Cup, which is meant to be easier for people with dexterity issues to use. I used a Mooncup for a while but it didn’t work out for me. It seems that menstural cups can prevent a complete emptying of the bladder in some women, leading to bacteria build up and infections, i.e. urinary tract infections (UTI).
Just to note, there have been rumours that reusable menstrual cups have a higher risk of toxic shock syndrome than tampons, primarily due to the fact that the user can leave them in longer but research has shown this not to be the case.
Reusable Cloth Sanitary Pads (CSPS)
These come in a whole host of pretty colours and designs and you can fall into the trap of splurging on them. Knowing how many to buy depends on your flow. I suggest buying a one or two to trial and then investing once you know they work for you.
Quite a few of the CSPs on the market are made by one-person-bands at home and available online. A few Irish-based makers include Handmade by Kata, Other Mother Creations (who uses existing fabric), pads.ie and Sweet Lavender and Chilli Flakes. Etsy. is another good spot to find hand-crafted CSPs.
I came someone making CSPs according to dress size, which is very interestly, particularly for those of us who don’t fit into the ‘average’ category.
Companies involved in larger-scale manufacturing of CSPs that are available in Ireland include;
Eco Femme, a social enterprise in India making beautiful reusable menstrual pads from organic cotton. Part of the price for their pads goes towards an education scheme for adolescent girls in India, which includes a set of free pads for them. You can buy Eco Femme pads through some Irish reusable e-tailers including You Me in Waterford.
ImseVimse, a Swedish brand making csps from organic cotton flannel or jersey. Interestingly they have a snap-free version for those that cycle, and a reusable tampon made from organic cotton too. They don’t state where their products are made. You can buy this brand from quite a few Irish reusable e-tailers and stores.
Baba and Boo, a UK-based brand of the least expensive CSPs that I’ve found on the market. Their products are made from bamboo fleece, microfibre and a polyurethane laminate and are widely available from a lot of reusable etailers. They support an orphanage in Tazania. They don’t state where their products are manufactured.
Cheeky Wipes, another UK-based company offering reusable sanitary pads made from polyester fleece, two layers of microfibre, and an inner layer bamboo charcoal microfleece or bamboo terry. They don’t state where their products are made. You can buy their products from Irish etailer Fluffy Bums and Bumble Lane
Bloom and Nora, a UK brand making reusable period pads made from either OEKO-TEX certified polymide or bamboo fleece, with a polyester microfibre and recycled plastic PUL core. They don’t state where they’re manufactured. You can buy these in Holland and Barrett stores and from and from Irish e-tailer My Cotton Drawer in Dublin.
Reusable Period Pants
These are basically knickers with integrated reusable sanitary pads in them. Some use organic cotton but most are made completely from synthetic materials. You can buy them to suit different flow rates and some makers say they last about 2 years. Here are the most prominent brands out there.
Thinx were probably the first brand of period pants onto the market. A US brand they make their products from nylon or organic cotton and elastane with a gusset of cotton, elastane and PUL. Their products are OEKO-TEX certified as being free of many toxins, but recently there’s been concern over the existence of harmful chemicals in Thinx products. The company support a range of menstrual charities and non-profits with time and products. They don’t mention where their products are made. I’ve seen Thinx products on sale in The Hopsack in Dublin 6, who also have an online ordering service.
Australian brand Modibodi makes period pants and period swimwear. Their knickers are made from cotton lycra with a nylon trim and liner of merino, spandex & polyester. And their swimwear is made from polyamide lycra with a polyester & nylon trim and a polyester liner. Authors of a US based review of period pants stated that ‘Does not contain enough information about the technology used inside their product for us to tell how it’s treated or what it contains’ (Source: Mamavation) They don’t mention where their products are made. This brand also do a range of period swimwear. I haven’t tried these myself so not sure how reliable they are, but some people swear by them particularly for teenagers.
Canadian brand Aisle (formerly Luna Pads) was the only brand of period pants found to be free of PFA’s in the Mamavation review of period pants in Jan 2020. Their pants are made from Tencel, organic cotton and spandex, recycled poly /organic cotton with a gusset of recycled polyester and organic cotton and thermoplastic polyurethane laminate. They don’t state where their products are made. This US brand isn’t available to buy in Ireland or from any Irish based reusable e-tailers but they can be bought from UK based e-tailers Earthwise.
Flux is a UK brand of period pants made from Tencel Modal (a close-loop form of rayon / viscose, read my post on sustainable ethical fibres and fabrics to find out what this means) and elastance with a polyester trim. Strangely they don’t disclose what their gusset is made of, they simply state absorbtive material and breathable PUL. Some pairs have a clever side clasp meaning you won’t have to undress you change them. For every pair of pants bought the company donates a reusable pad to a girl living in disadvantaged circumstances. 60% of their garments are made in China, the rest in the UK. You can buy their products in Holland and Barrett stores and from Irish e-tailer My Cotton Drawer in Dublin.
Wuka in the UK make their period pants from Lenzing MicroModal (another close-loop fabric) and organic cotton with polyester sides. Again the make up of the gusset is only stated as absorbant fabric and PUL. They also do period bikini briefs. Their garments are made in China. They’re now available to buy in Ireland from Pax Whole Foods in Westport, and Eco Annie Pooh in Co Wicklow.
UK brand Cheeky Wipes, as mentioned above, now offer period pants made from nylon and elastane, with a middle layers of cotton and elastane and a waterproofed outer layer of thermoplastic polyurethane laminate. You can buy them from Irish e-tailers Fluffy Bums,
Love Luna is the least expensive brand of period pants I’ve found online. Their knickers are made from nylon and elastane with a cotton / elastane liner and gusset of polyester, viscose and elastane. They’re an Australian brand made in Indonesia but you can buy them from department stores Goods in Kilkenny or McElhinneys in Donegal.
Although not designed as period pants, and most likely only suitable for light-flow days some people are wearing incontinence pants from Marks and Spencer as period pants. These products are made polyester and elastane with a polyester gusset.
Plastic-free / Organic Single-use Products
Before I launch into this section it’s worth noting two things. Firstly that these products are single-use and generally in the zero waste world we hate single-use because it uses far more energy and reources than reusable options. Secondly although a lot of these products are made using natural materials they are not automatically compostable, despite what some companies are saying on their websites and social media channels.
When I started emailing some companies to check information I was shocked at the level of greenwashing / fudging / misunderstanding. As I said to them, just because a product doesn’t contain any materials derived from animals does not mean it is vegan! Just because a product only contains plant-derived materials does not mean it’s compostable!
Some of the companies listed here are using what they describe as ‘biodegradable’ bio-film / bio-plastic. As the term biodegradable is not legally defined for plastic, this term means nothing. I could put the label ‘biodegradble’ on a material that takes 40 to reduce by 10% and I wouldn’t be breaking the law. Now the term compostable is legally defined but these companies aren’t using that term.
As I see it 100% cotton tampons should be compostable. That’s not to say that your waste collection company will be happy to accept them. If you have a home composter it’s up to you whether you put your tampons in it.
When it comes to pads the situation is different. All of the sanitary pads listed here are composites, i.e. made of more than one thing. Most are made from cotton and a plant-derived bio-film or bio-plastic. None of the brands could provide me with certification of compostability for the materials themselves or the sanitary pads themselves, therefore I would conclude that the menstrual pads listed below are NOT compostable.
Okay, so let’s talk brands.
Natracare is a widely available, well-established UK brand of vegan single-use sanitary pads and tampons made from organic cotton, sustainable tree pulp and compostable GM-free plant starch. Their products are free of plastic, perfume and chlorine and come in recycled cardboard boxes printed with vegetable dyes. The wrapper around their digital tampons is BPA-free plastic, but on their applicator tampons it’s paper. Their pads come with a paper strip and a paper pocket in a recycled cardboard box. The company is also a member of 1% for the planet. In my experience the costs of these items vary widely from store to store so shop around to get the best value.
Freda in the UK offers a range of single-use products by subscription. Their tampons are made from 100% organic cotton, with and without a BPA-free plant based plastic applicator. And their pads are chlorine-free and made with a high percentage of renewable and sustainable materials including organic cotton and chlorine-free wood pulp. They are made in Europe using 100% renewable energy with zero landfill waste. The pads come in bio-film wrappers but it’s not clear if they’re biodegradable. All their products appear to come in plastic pouches and there is no mention of packaging on the webite. The company does facilitate customers to donate products to period related charities at a discounted rate.
Dame in the UK sells a self-sanitising reusable applicator and certified organic cottons tampons free of perfumes, dyes, bleaches and plastic, either by subscription or as a once off. Their tampons come in a plastic wrapper in a box made from recycled cardboard. They don’t state where their products are made.
Einhorn in a B-corp in Germany offer reusable menstrual cups and and single-use period products. Their tampons are made from certified organic cotton tampons, wrapped in plastic and packed in cardboard boxes. Their pads are made from certified organic cotton and organic corn-starch bioplastic and packed in cardboard boxes. They state that their products are vegan but no certification is offered. Their tampons are made in Slovenia and their pads are made in Italy. They are working with a farm in Tanzania to use their ‘ultra’ sustainable and fair organic cotton. They also sell natural rubber condoms.
AndSisters in the UK offer single-use tampons made from certified organic cotton, and pads from organic cotton and biodegradable corn-starch bioplastic. They say that their unique rib weave design means they don’t have to use tree-pulp in their pads. Their applicator tampons have a cardboard applicator and come in a paper wrapper. The pads come in biodegradable bio-film wrapper. The tampons are made in Spain, while the pads are made in Italy. They say that they donate 10% of their profits to help tackle period poverty across the globe, but interestingly through their own foundation, not through independant charities.
Eco by Naty is a Swedish brand offering plastic, chlorine, perfume and latex-free period products. Their tampons are made from certified organic cotton tampons but don’t appear to be vegan. The applicator tampons come in a paper wrapper but the digital ones come in a plastic wrapper. Their pads are vegan and made with organic cotton and corn-based bioplastic. The pads are wrapped in recycled plastic wrappers in a FSC certified cardboard box. The tampons are made in Spain, while the pads are made in Italy.
UK brand Totm make their products from certified organic cotton and are plastic, chlorine and perfume-free. Their tampons can be bought with or without a cardboard applicator, the ones with an applicator come in paper, while the ones without come wrapped in polypropylene film, i.e. plastic. Both types of tampons come in a cardboard pack. Their pads are also free from wood pulp and wrapped in biodegradable bio-film and packed in a cardboard box. All of their period care products are registered with The Vegan Society and the company is PETA certified cruelty-free and vegan. Their products are made in the EU, in a facility that’s powered by renewable energy. The company also donates to the menstrual education charities Binti International and Endometriosis UK
Other interesting Resoures:
A great resource for info and recommendations on reusable period products is the Eco Sanitary Products Chat Group *Ireland*
Moista offers menstrual education workshops in Ireland and serve as a collection point for unused period products for people who are homelesss. They also very helpfully offer a list of discount codes for various sellers of reusable period products.
I thought this idea of balancing out hormone swings with seeds was very interesting. Thought you might too.
If you found this article useful please share it, Till next time peeps!