Illustration by Everette Cogswell. A uterus surrounded by pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. Just a few of the many forms of menstrual care products. 

“In the US, around 12 billion pads and seven billion tampons are thrown out every year,” reads a 2021 article from Global Citizen. The average American menstruator will have a period for 40 years of their life. Averaging five and a half days a month of bleeding, and twelve months a year for 40 years; the average menstruator will bleed for a total 2,640 days in their lifetime. That’s 2,640 days of using menstrual products. “In a lifetime, a single person who menstruates will use somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 pads and tampons and is expected to throw away roughly 400 pounds of period product packaging,” reports Global Citizen. With limited access and education on the topic, it can be hard to consider alternatives for the standard pads and tampons, but they do exist!

For many menstruators, there is an inherent shame when it comes to talking about menstruation. Limited options for period products is a result from the highly stigmatized nature of menstruation. With increasing initiatives to normalize conversations about menstruation and conversations about climate change, there are more and more alternative, low-waste menstrual products being discussed as options for menstruators.

Pads and tampons contain plastic waste, most of which takes centuries to decompose. From packaging to applicators, plastic can be nearly impossible to avoid with mainstream menstrual products. Packaging marketed as sleek with quiet wrappers increases the stigmatization that menstruation shouldn’t be heard, while still increasing the amount of plastic waste. While low waste alternatives tend to have higher starting prices, many can be used multiple times, lowering the number of purchases menstruators are making.

Menstrual cups are often viewed as a low waste alternative to the more common tampon. That being said, tampons absorb fluid, whereas menstrual cups hold it. With multi-sized options, these cups can hold more than most other menstrual products. With proper care, menstrual cups can be used for months to years before being replaced. This product is inserted, though without an applicator, which leads many menstruators to feel hesitant to try. The cup creates a suction seal that must be broken for removal. Some menstrual cup brands include, but are not limited to: DivaCup, Flex Cup, The Honey Pot, and Saalt.

A secondary insertable alternative to tampons are menstrual discs. Similar to menstrual cups, instead of absorbing fluid, the disc simply holds it in. Discs are inserted deeper than the cup and don’t create a suction like the menstrual cup does. Some brands that carry menstrual discs include Cora, Nixit, June, and Flex.

An alternative to the single-use pad is the reusable cloth pad. This option typically uses a snap instead of adhesive and follows a nearly identical concept to the more traditional pad. They last typically five to 10 years with proper care; washing reusable pads is a required and potentially inconvenient aspect to this option. Some brands with cloth pads are TreeHugger, GladRags, and LunaPads.

Similarly, period underwear is another non-insertion, reusable cloth alternative for menstruation. With this option, there is a built-in absorption section to what appears to be normal underwear. Period underwear can typically be machine or hand-washed. Some brands include Thinx, Knix, and ModiBodi.

While these options may not be for everyone, whether due to financial barriers or personal preferences, talking about options can be beneficial. Ultimately, it’s time for packaging and products themselves to be adjusted to fit our climate and environmental needs.