In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes about the “throwaway culture” in which we live. This culture starts with the material things that we throw into a trash can on a daily basis, but also permeates the attitude that we have toward individuals who we place at the margins of society once they’re no longer convenient to have around. In an effort to stop participating in this culture, I’ve tried to gradually reduce the amount of waste I produce. But there’s one area of life where I haven’t been able to motivate myself to make the switch to something eco-friendly and sustainable: period products.
Making the Switch to Sustainable Period Products
Women use up to 15,000 pads or tampons in their lifetime, the vast majority of which end up in landfills. The average pad or tampon contains several different types of plastic, including plastic applicators, thin layers of plastic in absorbent pieces, and plastic wrappers.
I remember hearing women talk about their Diva cups and thinking something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s something I should really do, but… ew.” This feeling of dirtiness and shame associated with menstrual blood is part of the reason why women switched to the more-easily disposable products in the first place: they’re easier to hide than fabric that needs to be washed. Companies launched marketing campaigns that boasted these products for modern and efficient women, thus clinching a reliable source of monthly revenue for the roughly 40 years that each woman menstruates.
With my period being a normal part of my life as a woman, I’ve grown more convicted about trying to embrace and celebrate it. Switching to sustainable period products would help me with both my goal of producing less waste, and my goal of feeling more empowered in my body.
This Earth Day, I’m resolving to find a more sustainable period care solution. I wasn’t sure where to start among the plethora of options that are now on the market, so I did a little research and some crowd-sourcing from the FemCatholic community on Instagram to compare my options.
Here are the sustainable period products I found and what women had to say about them. Whichever product you choose, remember that you can now use your HSA/FSA accounts to pay for them.
These are silicone cups that are inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. They can be worn for up to 12 hours and reused each month. Here’s what our FemCatholic community had to say about them:
“I love my Diva Cup. I am so bummed I didn’t try it sooner. I have a really heavy flow and it’s perfect.”
Diva has been around for 18 years and is probably the most well-known brand of menstrual cups. Diva is a certified B-corp and partners with organizations that work “at the intersections of climate crises, lack of accessibility to safe and sustainable products, and the destigmatization of a life-giving bodily process.” Once you’re done using your cup, you can recycle it so even that doesn’t have to be thrown away.
“Love love love my Lena Cup! Shorter periods, no chemicals in my body, and I can go 6+ hours on a medium/light day without changing it!”
In addition to their large or small sizes, Lena offers a “sensitive cup” with slightly softer silicone for people with increased sensitivity or menstrual cramping. They’ve also donated their products to several different organizations in local communities to improve access to menstrual care.
“Love the MeLuna cup. Different options for your comfort, more tailored compared to others.”
The MeLuna cup has the most customizable design, with the ability to choose how squishy it is, how short it is (depending on the height of your cervix), what sort of handle it has for removal, and how large it is. They donate cups to Cloth Connection Outreach, which provides free, reusable menstrual kits to women in need.
“Saalt menstrual cup! Fewer chemicals than tampons/pads and much more sustainable.”
Another certified B-corp, Saalt has a whole line of sustainable period products, including the cup, the disc, and underwear. The cups are similar to others on this list, but the reusable disc is positioned behind the pubic bone, making it “ideal for those with bladder sensitivities, a weak pelvic floor or a low or high cervix.” It also has a finger notch for easy removal.
“Garnuu is a new brand that celebrates women, is pro-life, and fights human trafficking.”
This company works with women in Nepal who are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Specifically, they work with the bottom of the Nepali caste system called the Badi, who are referred to as the “untouchables” and raised to believe they’re unclean. Garnuu partners with the organization Venture to teach women about their bodies, teach them how to use reusable menstrual kits, and provide them with trauma training to help them overcome gender-based violence. Garnuu sells both menstrual cups and organic tampons.
Period underwear can replace pads or be used as a backup for days when you really need protection from leaks. Here are the two options our readers recommended:
“LOVE Knix period underwear. After 3 kids, it’s the best option for my body: no leaks or discomfort.”
Knix offers a variety of styles and absorbency levels. It has three different layers that fight odor and keep moisture away from your skin and your clothes.
“Thinx! Long-lasting, secure, comfortable and cute.”
Thinx has an even larger variety of styles, from thong to “super hiphugger.” The company also donates its products to people in need and engages in advocacy. Through its Thinx2020 campaign, it called on every 2020 presidential candidate and member of Congress to prioritize menstrual equity and to end period poverty.
These are worn like disposable pads, except they don’t have the chemicals and additives that can sometimes interfere with how our body works and cause irritation. Here's one suggestion if you want to make the switch:
“Hannahpads. They are organic cotton & white, meaning I can see the color of my flow & assess.”
Hannahpads may be white on top, but they have cute designs on the bottom. They come in sets with various sizes for different points of the menstrual cycle.
Chemical-Free Disposable Period Products
Because none of us are perfect and – let’s be honest – sometimes we need the convenience of disposable products. Without the harsh chemicals found in some of the mainstream period products, these brands have a more friendly impact on the earth and on our bodies. They all use organic cotton. Plus, each of the brands that our community recommended has a mission that focuses on social impact:
“L. organic tampons! They leave out all the chemicals that are in normal brands of tampons. I didn’t realize how harsh the regular brands were until I used L for awhile. Now whenever I use regular brand tampons, the chemicals from them actually make my V hurt so bad.”
L. has a one-for-one model where, every time you buy an L. product, one is donated to someone around the world who needs it. Plus, you can buy their products at Target.
“Honeypot because they hold well and the lavender mint is refreshing.”
Honeypot makes both herbal and non-herbal pads, as well as organic cotton tampons.They set aside 2% of their online sales toward social impact, and each purchase helps with a different project.
“Cora! Cleaner ingredients. Gives back. Less comfortable but so worth it.”
Cora makes applicator-free tampons to cut back on the amount of plastic used with tampon insertion. They also make tampons with traditional applicators, along with discs, cups, and underwear. Cora provides menstrual resources and education in the U.S. and abroad, with 81% of their domestic donations going to organizations that support BIPOC communities.
And in case you want a few other options, we also recommend Seventh Generation, Veeda, Lola, and Organyc products.
Happy (sustainable) shopping!