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Although period products are relatively small items, nearly 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons, and applicators end up in landfills in North America each year. The average person who menstruates will do so for about four decades and goes through approximately 9,000 to 10,000 tampons. That adds up to a big environmental impact.

Feminine hygiene products contain cotton, plastic, perfumes, and other synthetic ingredients. In the landfills, they contribute to the production of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. But flushing tampons or other period products is no better; it can cause costly blockages that result in sewage backflow and health hazards, and create an environmental hazard if they enter oceans and other waterways.

Fortunately, zero-waste period products are available that conserve resources and often save money. Let’s explore some of the most earth-friendly products to help you green your period.

Period Underwear

These panties soak up period flow, preventing leaks while keeping the moisture away from your skin. Women often use this underwear as a supplemental layer of protection along with a cup, disc, sponge, or tampon, replacing disposable pads and pantiliners. However, some women use period panties in place of other period products.

How To Clean Period Panties

Whenever possible, rinse the underwear in cold water immediately after use. Then, wash it in a washing machine or by hand using cold water and natural soap. Do not use bleach or fabric softener. Either line dry or dry on low heat in a dryer.

We Recommend Aisle Period Underwear

Aisle period underwear can absorb as much as eight tampons, according to the company. Aisle’s leak-proof product is comfortable and eliminates the need for uncomfortable pads and liners. It comes in a wide assortment of colors, styles, and absorbancy.

Washable Cloth Pads and Pantyliners

Most disposable pads contain a plastic backing, are bleached, and often contain perfumes. However, there are reusable cloth menstrual pads that can last for years, come in cute patterns, and are more comfortable to use. Although they cost more initially (unless you sew them yourself), they can also save a lot of money over time. In addition, cloth pads make a great backup option with a sponge, disc, or cup or for very light flow days.

How To Clean Cloth Pads

Follow the washing directions above for period underwear.

We Recommend Glad Rags

Glad Rags reusable pads and pantyliners come in fun patterns and many different colors. Glad Rags is a Certified B Corporation that uses recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable packaging. Its products are made in the United States, often with local suppliers.

Menstrual Cups

This reusable product is a flexible funnel-shaped cup made of silicone or rubber. Period cups are inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual flow. They are an alternative to tampons and are especially popular for women with a heavy flow.

Some people find menstrual cups a bit challenging to use at first, but many women swear by them once they get comfortable inserting them. You can keep a cup inserted for up to 12 hours at a time. These products are highly durable and will last months or even years.

Smaller cups are typically recommended for women under 30 who have not delivered a baby vaginally. Larger cups are recommended for women over 30, who have given birth or have a heavy monthly flow.

How To Clean Period Cups

After each use, thoroughly rinse the cup and apply a mild soap. There are also cup sprays available, such as the Hello Go Sterilizing Spray, which is ideal in public bathrooms when it’s difficult to discreetly use the sink. After each cycle, boil the cup in water for a few minutes.

We Recommend Cora Cup

Cora Cup makes menstrual cups from soft, medical-grade silicone, making them easier to insert and more comfortable to use. This Certified B Corporation also uses a percentage of its profits to provide pads and health education to those in need in India, Kenya, and the United States.

Reusable Period Discs

This product eliminates the need for tampons and collects period blood instead of absorbing it like a sponge or tampon. Although it may seem similar to a period cup, a period disc sits in a slightly different location and is held in place by gravity instead of suction. Discs are inserted into the widest part of the vagina, just before the cervix.

Discs are folded when inserted, and some contain a tab to make them easier to remove. There are both reusable and disposable period discs available on the market (we recommend reusable), and some brands advertise that they can be worn while having intercourse.

How To Clean Menstrual Discs

Reusable period disks can be washed and used repeatedly, whereas you should use disposable discs only once. To clean your reusable disc, follow the directions above for the menstrual cup.

We Recommend Hello Disc

Hello Disc is a new product featuring a looped tab for easy removal and is made of soft, BPA-free silicone. Impressively, it holds as much as about three to five tampons and, unlike a period cup, one size fits most women.

Menstrual Sponges

These aquatic organisms are filter feeders and digest plankton and bacteria. Sea sponges are also highly absorbent, and they expand as they retain moisture. When used as a period product, they function similarly to a stringless tampon.

Although some medical experts have concerns about yeast or bacteria in the sponge creating health issues, many women find them an eco-friendly alternative to tampons. They are reusable for up to six months and contain no synthetic ingredients. In addition, many women find them very comfortable because they adjust to the contour of the body.

How To Clean Period Sponges

You should clean sea sponges at least every eight hours (or less for heavy flow) by rinsing them in water and ringing them out. If desired, use a gentle soap. Periodically, soak the sponge for 5 to ten minutes in 1 cup of warm water with one of the following:

  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 to 3 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 1 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda

Then, rinse and wring out the sponge. Do not boil period sponges because it makes them shrink and toughen up.

We Recommend Jade & Pearl

Sea Pearls Reusable Sea Sponges from Jade & Pearl are an excellent period product that comes in small, medium, large, or extra-large. Jade & Pearl cleans and trims their products, and the sponges are free of dyes and harsh chemicals.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.