The mul­ti­mil­lion mar­ket for mens­trual pro­ducts is domi­na­ted by two pro­ducts: Tam­pons and pads, which  end up directly in the trash after only a few hours of use. These are often the only two opti­ons tal­ked about in sex edu­ca­tion in schools. They are also the pro­ducts that pre­do­mi­nantly deco­rate the shel­ves in drugs­to­res and we see in adver­ti­sing. Many mens­trua­ting people use the same period pro­ducts for years. Often sim­ply because they lack the know­ledge of pos­si­ble alter­na­ti­ves. Only rarely do we ques­tion what we actually use every month and whe­ther there are other, perhaps even bet­ter solu­ti­ons for our body and our environment.

Interested in a plastic-free menstruation?

Nowa­days there are won­der­ful sus­tainable inven­ti­ons without plastic, espe­cially in the bathroom such as solid sham­poos. But during mens­trua­tion, the trash can fills up fas­ter than you’d like it to, mostly with dis­po­sable pro­ducts and lots of plastic pack­a­ging. But remem­ber, tam­pons and pads are not your only opti­ons! You’ll be sur­pri­sed at the variety of pro­ducts that are rela­tively easily avail­able today. Mean­while, the reus­able alter­na­ti­ves are at least as absor­bent and good (if not maybe much bet­ter!?) as tra­di­tio­nal dis­po­sable products.

Zero Waste Menstruation: What sustainable products are actually available?

By now quite a lot, but if you ask me, unfor­tu­n­a­tely still not enough. It would be pretty cool if there were a lot more to come in the next few years and new inno­va­tions were to be laun­ched. But here is an over­view of five alter­na­ti­ves that are not only good for our envi­ron­ment, but also for our period.

1. Menstrual cups

Mens­trual cups (also cal­led mens­cups or sim­ply cup) are cur­r­ently the most popu­lar pro­duct among the reus­able alter­na­ti­ves and not without rea­son. They can be worn for up to twelve hours and make you for­get that you have your period. Nowa­days, one in ten people use a mens­trual cup during their period. Did you know that they were deve­lo­ped in the 1930s, but have only become a trend in recent years? Mens­trual cups collect the mens­trual blood inside the body (up to 30ml depen­ding on size) and can be used for up to ten years. They are usually made of medi­cal sili­cone, rub­ber or latex and because not all bodies and pre­fe­ren­ces are the same, they come in many dif­fe­rent colours and sizes.

2. Period underwear

Mens­trual under­wear, also cal­led period pants or period pan­ties, looks like nor­mal under­wear at first glance. In the crotch area, howe­ver, they have several lay­ers of fab­ric and thus also addi­tio­nal func­tions. The dif­fe­rent fab­rics ensure that the geni­tal area remains dry as far as pos­si­ble and that the mens­trual blood is absor­bed. The manu­fac­tu­rers write that the under­wear can absorb up to three tam­pons of mens­trual blood. They are used, for example, as addi­tio­nal pro­tec­tion to other pro­ducts, such as the mens­trual cup. Howe­ver, they can also be worn alone. Unfor­tu­n­a­tely, mens­trual pan­ties can some­ti­mes reach their limits in the event of heavy blee­ding and it may be a little awk­ward if they have to be chan­ged on the move. Howe­ver, they are par­ti­cu­larly sui­ta­ble on ligh­ter days or as a backup.

3. Washable cloth pads or panty liners

Cloth pads are usually made out of cot­ton, are com­for­ta­ble to wear and absorb mens­trual blood directly. They often have small wings (simi­lar to the dis­po­sable ver­sion) with snap fas­te­ners to easily attach the pad to the under­wear. The use of (old) fab­rics and was­ha­ble pads during mens­trua­tion used to be quite nor­mal. Feel free to ask your grand­par­ents what they used during their period. They will cer­tainly have some inte­res­ting sto­ries to tell – you can share them in the comments or write us a mes­sage. Howe­ver, the wealth and power of the mens­trual indus­try has meant that most mens­trua­ting people today no lon­ger use fab­ric pads. For many, it is more con­ve­ni­ent to use tra­di­tio­nal dis­po­sable products.

Make your own cloth pads:

If you feel really inspi­red now, you could even sew your own reus­able pads. All you need is a sewing machine, the right fab­rics and a little time and crea­ti­vity. Click here for the DIY guide.

4. Crocheted tampons

If you want it to be wild, there are even cot­ton cro­che­ted tam­pons fil­led with natu­ral bam­boo fab­ric. They work like con­ven­tio­nal tam­pons and are also very simi­lar to them in their func­tio­n­a­lity, inclu­ding return rib­bons. The dif­fe­rence, howe­ver, is that they can be reused.

5. Natural sponges

You pro­bably know natu­ral spon­ges from the bathroom to soap your body with a won­der­ful spa fee­ling. Natu­ral spon­ges for the period are a purely natu­ral pro­duct, as they are extrac­ted from the Medi­ter­ra­nean Sea and grow back again. They are also cal­led sea spon­ges because of their mate­rial. Have you ever heard of them or pos­si­bly used them? Then please write us about your expe­ri­en­ces. If not, don’t worry, because they are still a niche pro­duct. They are basi­cally inser­ted into the vagina in a simi­lar way as tam­pons, where they absorb the blood directly and should be chan­ged at least every eight hours. The fine-pored spon­ges are was­hed with water and can then be used again. This bio­lo­gi­cal alter­na­tive can be used for one year before it should be repla­ced with a new sponge.

Free bleeding

Last but not least there is of course the option to free blee­ding, where no addi­tio­nal pro­ducts are nee­ded. It can­not get more natu­ral and envi­ron­ment­ally friendly thant that! If you can’t really ima­gine how it works, take a look at our detailed arti­cle all about free blee­ding.

You decide what feels good

It is important to find a pro­duct that you are 100 per­cent satis­fied with and that you really feel good about during your mens­trua­tion. It is part of your self-care. And it doesn’t mat­ter which option you choose. Maybe a mix of dif­fe­rent pro­ducts is right for you. Always be aware that you have com­plete free­dom of choice! The only important thing is that you know the ent­ire range of mens­trual pro­ducts so that you can make an infor­med and con­scious choice. Edu­ca­tion is key here. Because we are respon­si­ble for what we use. To be able to choose bet­ween dif­fe­rent period pro­ducts during your mens­trua­tion is a pri­vi­lege, luxury and sim­ply won­der­ful. This allows us to decide freely and indi­vi­du­ally what feels and works right for us. As dif­fe­rent as our peri­ods, needs and bodies are, so should the inno­va­tions in this area be.

Diversity is something wonderful

For me, the most beau­ti­ful thing about dif­fe­rent opti­ons is the diver­sity and the free­dom of choice that it gives to us mens­trua­ting people. Per­so­nally, I am a huge fan of inven­ti­ons or redis­co­ve­ries in the world of mens­trua­tion that change and improve the mens­trual expe­ri­ence while pro­tec­ting our envi­ron­ment. Per­fect combo, I’d say. Are you already thin­king about how to make your next mens­trual period a zero waste expe­ri­ence?

Note: All alter­na­ti­ves pre­sen­ted must be was­hed pro­perly after use before they can be used again.

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Co-Foun­der Vulvani | | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-foun­der of Vul­vani. She loves rese­ar­ching, wri­ting and designing new arti­cles or inno­va­tive edu­ca­tio­nal con­cepts about mens­trua­tion all day long. When she is not tra­vel­ling the world, she enjoys spen­ding time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.