Tampons are so 1997! Time for zero-waste feminine hygiene

It has been a while since I last wrote anything for this blog. I didnt fall off the face of the earth, I was just busy traveling around the world (if youre curious you can read about that here).

A topic that has been on my mind since over a year ago is feminine hygiene. I was never a fan of the amount of waste I generated every month by using disposable pads and tampons, and then I read about the model who lost a leg due to toxic shock syndrome. That may be a one in a million situation, but why risk it?

Did you know that…

  • Tampons may contain elements that are in fact toxic, such as dioxins from bleach, left-over chemical fertilizers or pesticides from non-organic cotton, and maybe even unidentified “fragrances”
  • Dioxins, according to the World Health Organization, are highly toxic and can lead to reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, and cause cancer
  • The average woman throws away up to 300 pounds of feminine hygiene related products in a lifetime (source: “Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation”)
  • A woman using tampons can use up to 11 000 in a lifetime – think roughly 20 a month for 40 years or so
  • Tampons and disposable pads have an environmental impact through their production and disposal (read more about that here)
  • Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is rare but potentially lethal and most frequently correlated with the use of super absorbent tampons and the presence of staph bacteria

All that came to head when I was preparing to go on my yearlong around-the-world honeymoon. We were trying to pack light, so including a year’s worth of my go-to brand of pads and tampons was a no-go. I also didn’t want to have to worry about running around pharmacies or grocery stores in-between excursions and adventures to find potentially unreliable alternatives. It was time for a big change.

In the few months leading up to the departure, I started testing my options. I ordered some reusable pads from Gladrags and found them comfortable enough. However, I didn’t love the logistics of dealing with dirty pads, and having to hand wash them at home lead to the challenge of where I could hang them to dry without getting the side-eye from my husband who is very patient but still human.

Then Facebook hit the nail on the head when it targeted me with an ad for “Thinx: Period Underwear” – a new product designed as cute underwear with absorbing qualities which made it like a reusable pad except infinitely easier to manage (underwear hanging to dry is way more discrete than a cotton pad)!

However, that did not fully solve things as Thinx is underwear, not swimwear. So, in spite of very mixed reviews from the random sample of friends I asked and who had tried it, I bought a “moon cup” (also known as a menstrual cup or a Diva cup if you’re looking for a specific brand). It took a little getting used to, but at last I was ready to make the change from disposable pads and tampons to a more sustainable and zero-waste approach.

Now I use a combination of the above solutions to manage Mother Rose (a good friend’s preferred way of referring to her period): I have two reusable pads in a little bag at the bottom of my backpack for when I get caught by surprise – yes, that still happens; my faithful moon cup is in my toiletries case ready to go as needed; and I have enough Thinx underwear to last a week as a backup to the moon cup or for that last, light day.

No more waste for me!

I realize the convenience of disposable pads and tampons could be a significant hurdle to adopting a zero-waste approach, but even if you aren’t ready to take that leap, maybe you can find feminine hygiene products that are produced without harmful chemicals as a starting point? Or at least opt for products that generate slightly less waste like tampons without the applicator (o.b. estimates those create 68% less waste!) or pads that are not individually wrapped.

The good news is that in spite of the social taboo around feminine hygiene, and the challenge of convincing companies to sell something that is reusable rather than its disposable counterpart, there are an increasing number of campaigns around how to be healthy and environmentally friendly in your choices for feminine hygiene.


Have you tried any of the alternatives to traditional disposable pads and tampons mentioned above? If so, what did you think? Or do you know of other options not included above? If so I would love to hear about them!

Feature image: credit Louise Falcon via Flickr

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