Small Changes: Reusable Period Products
One of my favourite small changes that I’ve made is to switch to reusable period products. I actually made the switch a few years ago now and I thought I’d write about why I’ve really enjoyed making the change.
I grew up in a ‘don’t talk about periods’ house and just never mentioned it. I got my small stash of pads in a girls-only information session from the ‘period lady’ at primary school, followed by tampons in high school, again, girls-only. At the education sessions, invariably sponsored by companies that manufactured period products, we were taught about what would happen and what products to use. Basically, pads or tampons. We weren’t taught about any other options, or the environmental impact that pads and tampons can have, both in their manufacture and in the way we dispose of them. And sadly, it never even crossed my mind until years later. I feel that this silence surrounding periods has contributed to the ubiquitousness of pads and tampons – we just aren’t prepared to discuss other options. Not because we don’t care, but because, it’s well, ‘embarrassing’. We’ve only just seen adverts that show menstrual blood as red, rather than some generic blue fluid – and these adverts received hundreds of complaints. People who have periods are culturally expected to keep quiet and get on with it. Therefore we tend to choose the easiest, most convenient option. The options that are the most readily available – tampons and pads.
As the taboo surrounding periods started to break down both online and in the ‘real world’, we started to realise the impact that disposable products can have. However, the main focus of big business is in promoting disposable pads and tampons as the first choice for people who have periods. This is such an ingrained behaviour, started in many cases by the promotion of these products to young people in schools, that it seems an insurmountable challenge to shift the ‘normal’ from disposable to reusable. As a reusable product will last a lot longer than a disposable one, the consumer will not need to re-buy, therefore affecting profits that can be made. Is it surprising that larger companies aren’t putting any funding into development of alternative products?
It’s not just the disposal that’s the problem. The Chic Ecologist cites a study by Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology showing that the main ecological impact is caused by the processing of the plastics that make the backing of pads, and applicators for tampons. Applicators can take up to 25 years to break down into microplastics, which are then ingested by marine life.
It’s important to realise that period poverty means that some young people cannot access pads or tampons. In discussing alternatives, we must keep in mind that pads and tampons are still important to provide for those that cannot afford period products. The UK government announced funding to provide free period products in schools back in March 2019.
These are only a few of the complex issues surrounding the topic of menstruation as a whole. Contemplating even a few of these made me realise I wanted to do better and choose products with more intention.
I used both pads and tampons for different days of my period. I was very much an out-of-sight, out-of-mind person when it came to my period. However, I wasn’t averse to learning more about my body, so I decided to choose a menstrual cup. I didn’t choose a brand name one, I actually ended up getting an unbranded one off eBay for about £7. It’s made from medical silicone and I haven’t had a problem with it yet! I also purchased three cloth liners from earthconscious (they don’t make them any more!) and more recently, a heavy pad from Handmade by Lucy Davies on Etsy.
I started mixing up the products I used, interspersing traditional pads with the lighter reusable liners. However, I was terrified of using the menstrual cup! And I’m sad to say it languished in my cupboard for a good few months. I just couldn’t get it in – and once I managed, I couldn’t get it out again without a struggle. I’d heard that they took some getting used to, but I couldn’t get over the fear!
It was a video by Hannah Witton on YouTube that finally helped me ‘see the light’. Apparently, bearing down when removing is the key! And oh my goodness, it really is the key! The next period I had, I went for it and I haven’t looked back.
One of the unexpected benefits of using a menstrual cup is that I have become a lot more aware of my period. There’s no hiding from menstrual blood – it’s right there, gathered in a cup in front of your eyes, that you’ve just had to ‘extract’ from yourself. It’s safe to say I learnt a lot about my body! But, instead of being put off by this, I’ve actually really enjoyed it. I’m not grossed out by the blood at all and I feel more in tune with myself. I see my period as something natural that I am experiencing, rather than something I should just ignore and keep quiet about.
A menstrual cup can stay in place for up to 12 hours. I’ve found it so freeing – even on my heaviest days I can keep it in for a lot longer than a tampon and can sleep with it overnight. On my lighter days I use the reusable pads – I was scared that I’d leak through them so I got the heaviest one, however there is no sign of leaking so I’m looking forward to trying some of the other absorbencies. I just chuck them in the wash, over and over. As far as health issues, I haven’t experienced any negative effects. The Lancet has a good review and meta-analysis on the safety of menstrual cups.
As well as menstrual cups and cloth pads, there are other reusable period products such as period pants – leak-proof underwear. I asked my sister-in-law, who has just invested in some ModiBodi pants, about her experience. She advises that they are very easy to wash, even in cold water, but take a while to dry. She found them strange at first as the padding goes right to the waistband, but ended up feeling very free once she got used to them. Overall a thumbs up!
I’d be really interested to hear if you use any reusable menstrual products and what your experience is! Looking into it for this article, I came across so many issues that surround menstruation that I haven’t talked about in this post. I’m definitely going to look at the issues in a deeper way and educate myself further.