27,938 used tampons and applicators are found on the world’s beaches every single day. Let’s change that. As the world’s first in-depth study of sanitary products finds menstrual cups to be as reliable as tampons and pads, we look at the 6 best eco-friendly sanitary brands to know.
In September 2017, photographer and beach cleaner Caroline South discovered no less than 13 plastic tampon applicators littered on the sand. In washed-down colours that ranged from a faded green to a deep blue, the applicators made for an Instagram-ready photo. However, there was an alarming message behind the image.
Why should we use sustainable sanitary pads and tampons?
There are estimated to be around nine plastic applicators for every one kilometre of a beach in the UK, with each one making its way into the water by being flushed down toilets (around half of the women in the UK do this) or dumped there from landfill. Considering that the average woman is estimated to use around 14,000 tampons in her lifetime, and that tampons and sanitary pads produce around 100 billion pieces of waste every year, it’s hardly surprising that 27,938 used tampons and applicators are found on the world’s beaches every single day.
Are reuseable sanitary products hygenic?
While tampons and pads have traditionally been produced with plastic (most 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. Even Tampax have now created a reusable menstrual cup as an eco-friendly alternative. All of the products listed below are hygenic and safe to use.
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.
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.
“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.”
OHNE will donate 5% of revenue to the Girls Programme, run by the School Club Zambia, for every month a user subscribes to the service. The Girls Programme delivers sexual health and hygiene education to girls in Zamnbia, while improving access to clean toilets and period products.
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 will be launching in Waitrose in January. In the meantime, you can buy yours from Indiegog 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.”
Freda also donates a portion of its profits to charities working to end period poverty.
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
We’re on board with any brand that produces sustainable products through zero-waste manufacturing, so Lunapads ticks all of our boxes.
The Canadian-based business is dedicated to building a ‘better period’ for women all over the world, and sells reusable pads and ‘leak-free’ underwear. The pads are slightly more expensive than regular ones, but cost less in the long run, as they simply need to be machine washed after each use before they can be used again. Plus they are produced in soft, comfy materials and come in a variety of patterns and colours - just in case you feel like having an extra fancy period while you’re at it.
Prices from $11.99 (around £7)
You can buy yours here
All images courtesy of brands
Mooncup illustration by Erin Aniker for Stylist
This article was originally published in June 2018