Did you know that the average woman goes through 20 tampons per menstrual cycle? While this may not seem like a lot, it adds up to almost 10,000 throughout a lifetime. It’s estimated that a whopping 20 billion pads and tampons are used and then discarded every year — and that’s only in North America. These products fill up our landfills, pollute the environment and take hundreds of years to decompose.
They’re also terrible for our vaginas and overall health. In fact, tampons are toxic. They contain chlorine, pesticides, fragrances and plastics that contribute to hormonal disruptions, fertility problems and even cancer.
The good news is, there is absolutely no reason to continue to use these products. Plenty of alternatives that are both more sustainable and healthier exist, and some of them even cost less. Here are the pros and cons of five of these products:
Menstrual cups are soft, flexible cups made from rubber or silicone that “catch” menstrual blood rather than absorb it. When the cup is full, all you have to do is dump, rinse and re-insert.
Pros: Menstrual cups are very popular tampon alternatives — and for good reason. They’re practical, economical, reusable and non-toxic, which means they’re better for the environment, your health and your wallet than commercial pads and tampons. Although they can cost 20 to 40 dollars up front, most last for a year or more, so you’ll end up saving money! They can also be used for up to 12 hours — that’s four hours longer than tampons. Not to mention all of the trees and landfill space you’ll be saving by not using disposable period products.
Cons: Some women find menstrual cups uncomfortable because the shape of the cup doesn’t really “fit” them. This can lead to leakage or constant readjusting. However, this can usually be resolved by trying another brand.
Cloth pads have been around for centuries. Now they come in organic materials and beautiful designs.
Pros: Reusable pads are way more comfortable than commercial pads, which often contain itchy plastics and can feel like a diaper. Many of them are also surprisingly very pretty, and if DIY is your thing, there are a ton of tutorials available online that teach you how to make your own.
Cons: They are more of a hassle to wash than menstrual cups, and if you’re out and about, you’ll need to carry around your used pads in some sort of sealable bag before you can wash them. If you choose to buy them, they may be a bit more expensive than a menstrual cup since you’ll need to buy at least five. However, they last for years!
If you absolutely cannot give up your tampons, don’t worry, you don’t have to! Some companies sell reusable tampons made from materials like organic cotton, bamboo and hemp.
Pros: They absorb just as well as commercial tampons, and you can make them yourself.
Cons: Like reusable pads, they are more of a hassle to carry around and wash than menstrual cups and can be a bit more expensive since you’ll want to purchase at least five.
Newcomers to the alternative menstrual product scene, period panties are exactly what they sound like: underwear that soaks up all of your menstrual fluid.
Pros: According to Thinx, the company that invented them, the “heavy day” option can absorb twice as much as a tampon. I’ve also heard from friends who use them that they don’t leak, are super comfortable and actually feel dry while you’re wearing them.
Cons: They are the most expensive option, and again, not as easy to clean as a menstrual cup.
Probably what mermaids use every month, these are real pieces of dead sea sponge that are used like tampons. Throughout the day, you just rinse it, squeeze it out and then put it back in. In between cycles, it’s important to clean them more thoroughly.
Pros: Sea sponges are comfortable, absorbent and rarely leak. They last around six to 12 months and are cheaper than menstrual cups initially.
Cons: Although this is a “natural” option, it could still potentially contain pollutants from the sea and may carry the same risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) as tampons. It’s recommended that you rinse them out every three hours, which may be inconvenient for some women. They are also delicate and can tear easily.
It’s true that these options require more intimate contact with your menstrual blood. But honestly, we as a culture need to get over our squeamishness about menstruation. It’s not something we should be ashamed of — especially when shame about it leads to exposing ourselves to carcinogens and toxins. Celebrate your womanhood and protect the environment by using non-toxic menstrual alternatives!