Sanitary products are the fifth most common type of plastic found on Europe’s beaches. Let’s change that. Read on to hear about the six best eco-friendly period products you need to have on your radar.
Last week, Superdrug became the first health and beauty retailer in the UK to remove all plastic applicators from its own-brand tampons.
Why should we use sustainable sanitary pads and tampons?
In washed-down colours that ranged from a faded green to a deep blue, the applicators made for an Instagram-ready photo (see below). However, there was an alarming message behind the image.
The Women’s Environmental Network estimate that there around nine plastic applicators and 23 sanitary pads for every one kilometre of a beach in the UK, with each one making its way into the water by being flushed down toilets or dumped there from landfill.
Considering that the average woman is estimated to use around 10,000 tampons in her lifetime, and that tampons and sanitary pads produce around 45 billion pieces of waste every year, it’s hardly surprising that in 2013, a coastal cleanup found 27,938 used tampons and applicators washed up on the world’s beaches.
Are reuseable period products hygenic?
While tampons and pads have traditionally been produced with plastic (many sanitary pads contain around 90% plastic), things are now starting to change, as the industry wakes up to a growing demand for sustainable, eco-friendly sanitary products.
Here, Stylist meets the founders of some of the best sustainable sanitary brands around, and discovers why these products are shaking up the industry for the better.
Wear ‘Em Out
A single disposable sanitary pad can take a whopping 800 years to degrade, so switching to a reusable version is an easy way to help ease the pressure on the planet.
Wear ‘Em Out is a new UK-based brand of comfy, yet stylish, reusable sanitary pads. The pads were designed by brand founder Lauren Derrett, with the help of her teenager daughter, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
“I decided to create a brand of reusable period pads that talks to the mainstream – a pad that offers up a more body, and eco-conscious, alternative to current disposable menstrual products,” Derrett tells Stylist.
“The positive impact is immediate to both our bodies and our planet, and the overall environmental impact we plan on making is huge. When one woman switches to reusables, it reduces her landfill contributions by around 792 disposables (over three years). We want to get our products out there as widely as possible so we can bring the number of pads in landfill to a minimum. Our hope is that women start to see our pads as a cool, must-have accessory for every period.”
Prices from £7.99
You can order here
It’s not easy to make periods seem aspirational, but TOTM has got it nailed. The brand curates an Instagram feed that makes sanitary products look impossibly attractive, while providing empowering blog posts and information pages on its website, too.
Even better, TOTM has some seriously impressive eco-credentials. The brand’s tampons, pads and liners are all made with GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton and contain absolutely no rayon, perfumes, gels or chlorine bleach. TOTM also commits to using sustainable packaging where possible, meaning its tampons come complete with biodegradable cardboard applicators while its pads are wrapped in biodegradable or compostable biofilm. Even the packaging the products are shipped in is environmentally friendly.
“Since launching the brand we’ve been on a mission to tackle taboos and challenge the industry,” St. John Burke, co-founder of the brand, tells Stylist. “We are changing attitudes towards periods and providing eco-friendly alternatives that are designed to be kind to the body and the environment.”
With each purchase made, TOTM also donates money to Endometriosis UK.
Prices from £2.70 for a pack of 10
OHNE has a clear mission statement: to disrupt the period industry, and change the way we shop for sanitary products.
To quote the founders, Nikki and Leah: “we’re on a mission for transparency in the menstrual health industry, because it makes us pretty mad that there are stricter regulations on the labelling of hamster food than there are on tampons”.
To this end, the bespoke subscription service offers toxin-free tampons made with 100% organic cotton. The wrappings, boxes and shipping materials are all recyclable and biodegradable. And if you need any further convincing, OHNE is the only organic tampon delivery service in the UK to have been certified by both the Soil Association and GOTS (at the time of writing).
“There’s a real lack of transparency in the period product industry,” Nikki tells Stylist. “Women don’t know what’s in the products they’re using because we’re not talking about it.”
Nikki and Leah also hope to open up the conversation around menstruation, helping to both normalise periods and educate women about the best kinds of products to use for their bodies.
“OHNE is about more than making it easy for people to access organic tampons,” Nikki says. “It’s about starting the conversations we need to be having, and giving people the freedom of choice they deserve when it comes to managing their periods. We wanted to challenge mainstream conceptions of periods, but do it in a way that was authentic and relatable - and in packaging that doesn’t make you feel like a child.”
Prices from £5.80 for a box of 10 tampons
You can order here
“You can care about the environment and use tampons - the two need not be exclusive,” Celia Pool, co-founder of DAME, tells Stylist. And she’s right.
Pool is now aiming to tackle the problem of plastic waste with the invention of the world’s first reusable tampon applicator, named D. Designed to fit all sizes of tampons, the applicator works like any other, except you rinse it after use and store it in a specially designed travel pouch. Made of a smooth material called Mediprene, the designers promise it will be “the most comfortable applicator you ever use”. It also uses natural antimicrobial technology to help keep it hygienic.
“We hope more women will adopt this sustainable option because it asks very little from the user,” Pool adds. “Plus, DAME’s organic cotton tampons can be delivered to your door for free, because we believe simplicity and practicality will be the core drivers of change in the fight against plastic.”
Prices from £17
DAME is stocked in Waitrose and Boots, and can be ordered online here
Freda’s commitment to sustainability starts from the ground up. As well as offering tampons and pads made from 100% eco-friendly and renewable materials, the brand is careful to sources its materials in a sustainable way. To this end, it works with a Scandinavian factory that produces zero landfill waste and does not use fossil fuels.
Founder Affi said she set up the brand to challenge the taboo surrounding menstruation. “I have always been interested in why periods are so stigmatised, when in fact they should have positive associations – they are a sign of health and fertility,” she tells Stylist. “But somehow, pads and tampons are treated a little like illegal drugs – women ask for them in hushed voices, and we tuck them up our sleeves in case they’re spotted.”
With Freda, Affi is now hoping to normalise menstruation. “This will facilitate access and help put an end to period poverty,” she says. “More importantly, open conversations will help trigger consumer scrutiny on ingredient transparency and sustainability.”
Prices from £6.99 for a box of 16 tampons
You can buy yours here
Made of reusable silicone, the cup is worn inside of you (just like a tampon) and works by catching your blood. When it’s full, you take it out, give it a wash, and pop it back in. A Mooncup is about the size of a small egg, but it can hold up to three times as much blood as a regular tampon.
While the eco friendly benefits are undeniable (a Mooncup lasts for years, so doesn’t produce any plastic waste), there are also huge cost savings – especially since the average woman will spend £1,200 on tampons in her lifetime.
Want to know more? Click here for an in-depth review of what it’s really like to use Mooncups.
Prices from £21.99
You can buy yours here
Main image Getty. All other images courtesy of brands
Mooncup illustration by Erin Aniker for Stylist
This article was originally published in June 2018