Zero Waste Periods

5 Options for Zero Waste Periods

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Women have been menstruating forever, yet disposable period items have only really been around for a blip in history. Luckily today there are quite a few options for zero waste periods.

So, how did women deal with their periods in ye olden days?

Funnily enough, there isn’t exactly an abundance of information recorded around periods. There was heavy shame surrounding women and their monthly cycles, thanks to the patriarchy and church. Periods were also associated with witchcraft, with lots of superstitions surrounding the topic.

In the medieval era, it seems that women just bled onto their clothes, but tried to hide it and used herbs to detract from the smell of blood. Or, they would use rags to absorb the blood.

In the late 1800’s the “Hoosier” Sanitary Belt was invented, which held washable pads in place. Kinda reminds me of a chastity belt!

"Hoosier" Sanitary Belt
Photo: Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health

Around the same time, the first disposable pads became available for sale by none other than Johnson & Johnson. The 1920’s saw the first tampon, while the 1970’s brought about the first adhesive disposable pad.

Righto, now that you’ve had your history lesson, lets’s talk about options for zero waste periods in the 2020’s.

These days we have different ways to collect the blood and absorb the blood, so that we can go about our daily lives without a worry.

Options for Zero Wast Periods:

  1. Menstrual Cups
  2. Cloth Pads & Liners
  3. Period Underwear
  4. Cloth Tampons
  5. Organic Tampons

The benefits of transitioning to zero waste periods are many.

Not only will you be reducing the amount of waste that you’re personally producing, but you will be keeping toxic chemicals out of and away from your body. Yep, you read that right. There are chemicals involved in the production of menstrual items which can cause various cancers and also increase cramping. No thanks!

A zero waste period will allow you to be much more self-sufficient. No long will you have to rely on having a stash of supplies from the supermarket on hand or stress when it’s Saturday night, your period arrives and you realise you’re all out of pads!

As a modern society we have become way too reliant on the supply chain meeting our every need and have forgotten how to be self-reliant with what we’ve got on hand.

Benefits of Zero Waste Periods:

  • Cheaper (no monthly costs for disposables)
  • More sustainable (no or low waste)
  • Self-sufficiency (no more relying on supermarkets for your supplies)

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Options for Zero Waste Periods

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are a soft, silicone piece that is inserted into the vagina to catch the blood. Once inserted, the rim of the cup will suction to the vagina wall and can safely stay in place for up to 12 hours!

The cup can take a bit of getting used to when it comes to inserting and admittedly, they’re not for everyone. A bit of organic coconut oil is helpful as a lubricant while you’re trying to figure it out.

To remove the cup, use the stem to pull it down and press on one side of the cup to release the suction.

You can empty the cup into the toilet and rinse it at the sink, then reinsert if need be. You can also remove and rinse while you’re in the shower.

If you find yourself needing to empty your menstrual cup in a public toilet, just use a bit of toilet paper to give it a quick clean, then reinsert until you get home.

Made FromMedical grade silicone, latex or rubber
How Often to ChangeGood for up to 12 hours
How to Clean1. Empty blood into toilet or down the sink
2. Rinse under cold water
3. Sterilise clean menstrual cup in a pot of boiling water on the stove before next period
PriceOn eBay from $5.99 AUD →
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Cloth Pads & Liners

Reusable Cloth Pads

Reusable cloth pads and liners are fantastic!

The pads are generally made from natural fibres, such as cotton, hemp and bamboo. They fasten to your underwear with a snap clip, instead of the adhesive backing you’d find in the disposable variety. You just use them as you would a normal pad or liner.

I’ve found that making sure you’re wearing a nice, firm pair of underwear helps to keep the pad snug and in place during the day. I like to use them overnight when I’ve got my period and going to bed.

Once you’re finished using the cloth pad you can either throw it into a bucket of water to soak, or just rinse it under a cold tap. Hang to dry or leave soaking in the bucket until you next put a load of washing on. Throw used cloth pads into a lingerie bag, then put through a cold wash with the rest of your laundry. Hang to dry.

There are many different size and style cloth pads on the market to suit all sizes and flows.

Made FromNatural fibres (cotton, hemp, bamboo)
How Often to ChangeEvery 4 – 6 hours (depending on flow)
How to Clean1. Soak in bucket of cold water or rinse under cold water
2. Hang to dry until you’re ready to wash
3. Throw into a lingerie bag and wash on cold with regular laundry
PriceOn eBay from $8 AUD →
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Period Underwear

Modibodi Period Underwear

Period Underwear are literally undies that have an in-built absorber (kinda like a pad). They’re actually really comfy and feel much less bulky than wearing a pad with normal undies. Plus, you don’t have to worry about leakages.

Modibodi are an Australian brand, which I’ve been using myself for a few years. I still have my original pair of period undies and love them.

Period Underwear are great for:

  • Day or night time use
  • Period, pee, perspiration and pregnancy
  • Multiple styles, sizes and absorbencies

I’m going to be getting a few pairs of period underwear for my daughter as she nears puberty. These panties make the transition into womanhood so much easier for young girls, rather than having to deal with disposable pads in public toilets.

Made FromCan be a mix of bamboo, cotton, merino wool or synthetic fibres
How Often to ChangeEvery 4 – 6 hours (depending on flow)
How to Clean1. Rinse under cold water
2. Hang to dry until you’re ready to wash
3. Throw into a lingerie bag and wash on cold with regular laundry
PriceOn eBay from $25 AUD →
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Cloth Tampons

Cloth Tampons

So, a cloth tampon is basically a piece of fabric with a string attached to one end. You roll it up to resemble a normal tampon, then insert as usual. They also come in the crochet variety (mostly sold by homemade businesses on Etsy).

To remove the cloth tampon, just use the string to pull it out.

When it comes to washing the tampon, you’ll need to rinse it under cold water until the water runs fairly clear, then lay it out to dry. When you’re ready to do a load of washing put all of your little cloth tampons into a lingerie bag and wash in cold water as normal. Hang to dry.

Once your period is finished for the month and all of your cloth tampons have been washed, they’ll need to be sterilised ready for next month. To do this you throw them into a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, then hang to dry.

I haven’t personally tried cloth tampons as yet, so if you’re looking for an honest review, here’s the run down from a lady who used a crochet tampon for the first time.

Things to note with cloth tampons:

  • May not last as many hours a a regular tampon for those with a heavy flow.
  • Can be tricky to insert due to them absorbing moisture as they go in.
  • Need to rinse after use (not always convenient when out and about).
  • Need to boil clean cloth tampons in a pot for 10 minutes to sterilise.
Made From100% organic cotton & should be Oeko-Tex certified (guaranteed free from chemicals)
How Often to ChangeEvery 2 – 6 hours (depending on flow)
How to Clean1. Rinse under cold water
2. Lay to dry until you’re ready to wash
3. Throw into a lingerie bag and wash on cold with regular laundry
4. Hang to dry
5. Sterilise in pot of boiling water for 10 mins
Price8 Pack – $39.95 AUD >
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Organic Cotton Tampons

Tom Organic Tampons

If you’re really not keen on making the move from regular tampons, that’s totally okay. Simply making the switch from regular tampons to organic cotton tampons will still be making an impact.

Organic cotton tampons are free from bleaches, chlorine, coatings, pesticides and perfumes. With cervical cancer on the rise, we certainly don’t need any of those nasties inserted alongside our most sensitive bits!

How long does it take a tampon to break down?

  • Organic Cotton Tampon: 6 months – 5 years
  • Regular Tampon: 500 – 1000 years

If you have a compost system at home, you can break up or cut up your organic tampons and add them to the compost. Even if your tampons end up in landfill, they’ve got a better chance of breaking down than a non-organic tampon.

Tom Organic is a great organic tampon brand, which is available in supermarkets – easy to pick up in the shopping.

Made From100% organic cotton
How Often to ChangeEvery 4 – 6 hours (never exceed 8 hours)
PriceOn eBay from $5.50 AUD →
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Donate Your Unused Period Products

It’s hard to imagine but ‘period poverty’ is a real thing in Australia. Thousands of women and young girls across the country just do not have the money or access to the necessary products required for their monthly cycle.

Share the Dignity is an Australian women’s charity helping to provide period supplies for women experiencing homelessness, fleeing domestic violence or doing it tough.

Here’s how you can help Share the Dignity:

  • Donate your leftover (unused) period products to their twice-yearly collection drives.
  • Donate extra items – pads, tampons, period underwear, menstrual cups.
  • Sponsor a bag of items that will go to someone in need.
  • Make a financial donation.
  • Register your workplace or business as a donation collection point.

Find all of the information you need over at Share the Dignity.

If don’t live in Australia, google “period donations” and see if you can find a local charity to donate your unused period products to.

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