No Waste. Period.

Current Location: Geneva, Switzerland

We are approaching the last days of August and I still haven’t written about my August challenge! I’ve decided to make my challenge this month to stop apologizing for male fragility. Just kidding. My August challenge is going zero-waste on period products. Even though I’m fairly confident that the only male reading this blog is my dad (and as an OB/GYN I seriously hope this doesn’t make him uncomfortable), I’m not going to censor the language on this post out of fear of grossing anyone out. Menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide, and writing about this is as normal to me as my post about zero-waste hair care (so semi-weird and a little personal but hey it’s my blog).

According to a life cycle project from the University of California, the average woman uses 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. Think about how much plastic and cotton waste that produces. Even the cardboard-applicator tampons still produce tons (and I mean literal tons) of waste. Pads and tampons are both incredibly wasteful and incredibly necessary.

I chose this challenge for August because I ran out of tampons. I honestly think that’s the best way to go about converting to a lower waste lifestyle. Whenever I run out of something, before I restock, I ask myself “Do I really need this?” And if the answer is yes, the next question is, “Is there a lower waste version of this product I could be using?” With period products, it turns out there are multiple options for lower or zero waste.

1) Stop having a period

Women don’t actually need to have a period. There are multiple hormonal birth control options which can eliminate or reduce menstruation completely safely.

2) Reusable pads and period underwear

I have never used pads because as a former competitive swimmer, pads were not an option for me. For those women who do use pads, there are a lot of really great and easy to use options that will save you money and reduce period waste. You can find lots of great choices for reusable cloth pads on Package Free Shop’s website. Another option that is becoming increasingly popular are THINX period panties. Through some magic (technology) they have designed underwear in multiple different styles which can hold up to 2 tampons’ worth of menstruation. Awesome.

3) Menstrual cups

This is the option I went for. Back in April I bought a LENA menstrual cup off of Amazon and then proceeded to stow it away for 3 months out of total fear. I’m not going to go into the details of how to use a menstrual cup or how it works since there are plenty of guides online. I was very nervous about using it because it seemed complicated and difficult. When I finally ran out of tampons and was forced to use it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually super easy to use. Here is my overall take on using a menstrual cup:

  • PRO: Save money. You buy one once, and then you don’t have to replace it for years.
  • CON: It requires slightly more effort/skill than using a tampon.
  • PRO: No waste!
  • PRO: You don’t have to think about your period all day. Once it is in, you don’t have to change it for 12 hours.
  • PRO: You don’t have to carry tampons with you.
  • CON: If you forget your menstrual cup and you are caught by surprise, you have nothing (but this is also a problem if you forget tampons anyway…)
  • PRO/CON: You are confronted with your period. You do have to clean the cup which means you are seeing exactly how much you are bleeding. Which is both good and bad because you get to understand a little bit more about your body, but if blood bothers you…
  • CON: Having to change it in a public facility is a little more difficult than changing a tampon. I haven’t actually experienced this yet, but I can see how this could be challenging.
  • PRO: No risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome or any of the other potentially harmful chemicals that are in many tampons.

Overall, I found the pros to significantly outweigh the cons, and I would highly recommend this product to anyone. I found it incredibly liberating to not have to think about my period: not to worry about leaks, when to change my tampon, if I brought enough products with me when going out, how to be discreet, etc.

I recognize how fortunate I am in my life to have access to period products and not to have my life interrupted by my period. Even in developed countries there is a stigma about periods, despite the fact that about 50% of the population has or will experience menstruation. There are girls and women in low-income countries who still face many challenges because of the stigma of menstruation and the burden of periods on their lives. Girls in low-income countries may miss school time when they have their periods as a result of inadequate hygiene products and facilities. I highly recommend reading this photojournalism piece on Nepalese girls entitled “When I have my period I’m not allowed to…”

Since I am now saving money every month because I no longer have to buy tampons, I decided to donate some of my current and future savings to the THINX Foundation. The THINX Foundation, an offshoot of the THINX company that produces period panties, has initiated a project called the THINX Global Girls Club (GGC). The objective of the GGC is to “[provide] girls worldwide with safe spaces to learn about their bodies, enhance their financial literacy and explore their entrepreneurial potential, all while changing the global narrative around menstruation.” The project specifically targets the following three goals:

  1. Educate & empower girls and women.
  2. Eliminate shame associated with menstruation & women’s health.
  3. Lower our carbon footprint by committing to reusable products.

These are three goals that I can absolutely get behind. You can read more about the organization on their website and donate here. There are also other organizations running one-to-one programs to help bring period products to girls in need.


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