Words and art by Liss Vainio
We talk about banning straws to reduce plastic—but the average pad can be made up of 90% plastic, meaning one pad can contain as much plastic as four plastic bags. Keeping that in mind, approximately 20 billion menstrual products are dumped yearly in the U.S. alone. It’s a curious thing that menstrual products aren’t often included in the discussion, despite the ludicrous amount of environmental damage both the creation and disposal of them causes.
The thing is, drugstore products are both generally ‘cheap’, at least on the month-to-month basis, as well as easily accessible–we get the appeal. But menstrual products, just like any product that is on the market, is susceptible to market demand. This means that the more people purchase them, the more benefit there is for pharmacies and stores to provide them. This is where individuals can make a real difference. We can work together to ensure ethical products we actually want are stocked readily, cheaper and in turn, easily available to all.
We also need to consider that drugstore menstrual products contain some seriously scary components. I used to swear by a certain drugstore brand because of how comparatively comfortable it was and how well it held back leakage. My (TMI) criteria always included the amount of blood it would actually hold, and how would it feel to wear during the day (read: chafing). It never occurred to me to consider how the items were made and with what ingredients. I simply assumed that products made specifically to be face-to-face with one of the most sensitive ecosystems in my body would be healthy for me, but I was wrong. Capitalism is a real shocker, ladies and gentlemen.
In a scary summary of what I’ve learned: drugstore menstrual product brands don’t need to disclose all the ingredients in their products. These ingredients, from bleaches and dyes to an entire roster of chemicals, are something that should hardly be touching the skin, let alone the vaginal environment. For example – dioxins, which can be created through the bleaching process many drugstore brands use, have no safe levels of exposure. Even trace amounts are linked to suppression in the immune system, abnormal tissue and cell growth around the abdomen and reproductive organs, as well as hormonal disruption. Considering that the vaginal wall is permeable and allows these things to pass through it with ease, there is a very real consequence in continuing the use of these products. Don’t even get me started on the fragrances.
So, let’s talk alternatives for people with uteruses…
Reusable cotton menstrual pads
Hannah Pad $13-35
I’m spotlighting this company from the get-go: Hannahpad is the place to go for reusable, sustainable, eco-friendly, organic, leak-proof, washable menstrual pads. They’re also hypoallergenic. So many great words! They also last for years at a time. Perfect for those who want to dip their toes into the world of sustainable products.
Period subscription boxes
Kali Boxes $16-23 per month
Maybe you’re comfortable with using standard products, but you’re just looking for an easy, healthier option. Period subscription boxes are cool. They come straight to your door on a certain day every month and are fully customizable to what you need. These ones are good for your wallet as well as your body, considering that many available boxes offer completely organic, BPA/paraben/sulfate-free options. If you’re wanting to stick with standard products, these are definitely the best way to go.
We all have those undies that are the “period undies”. What if you actually had underwear specially made to make your period as comfortable as possible? If you’ve got a light flow—or you use a cup and would just like a little extra security—these might be a great fit for you. Thinx claims that their period-proof underwear can hold up to two tampon’s worth. If you’re nervous about possible spillage or just sick of wearing pads, this reusable option is great. They also have a wide size range which goes from XXS to 3XL.
I saved what I view as the best for last: the menstrual cup. I think the only downside is if you’re not fond of getting a little down and dirty with application and removal of it. Otherwise, they’re sanitary, can be in for up to 12 hours, come in different sizes (and colours) and are made of medical-grade silicone. On top of all that, they last several years. So while the initial price is a little steep, they definitely are worth the splurge long-term.