My Year of The Zero Waste Period
Last year I made a New Year’s resolution to have a zero waste period for the entire year. No pads, no tampons - only reusable menstrual products. This year my resolution is to write an article each month, so I thought what better place to start than write about last year’s resolution? I know there is a ton of personal information in this one, perhaps too much information, but when it comes to sharing experiences like these, I like to think that the info will help someone. So hopefully no one is offended by the talk of periods, and if so, maybe this article isn’t the best place for you to pick up this blog feed.
So why make the switch? There’s three main reasons...expense, waste and health dangers. The average woman has her period from the age of 13 to 51, which adds up to 456 periods over a 38 year span. With each cycle lasting anywhere from 3-7 days, we could be spending in a lifetime approximately 6.25 years menstruating. This can cost the average woman upwards of $3000 in supplies over that time frame. Calculating these numbers is astounding, to think that we could be throwing away anywhere from 9500-10,400 tampons and sanitary napkins that are full of plastics and other non-biodegradable materials. The worst part of it is really the chemical influence it has on our bodies. Each perfectly white tampon is bleached with a chlorine bleach solution, much like toilet paper and coffee filters. A by-product of this process is Dioxin, which is in the same family (organochlorides) of Agent Orange, and if anyone reading this experienced the 60’s and 70’s Vietnam War, you will know that it has pretty intense and long lasting effects. The vaginal mucosa is extremely absorbent, and studies show that Dioxin is a contributor to damaging health effects, including disruption of the hormonal and endocrine systems and endometriosis. It is toxic to the immune system and a cause of birth defects.
I have always had a small selection of reusable menstrual products at home but most of the time I would also use conventional (yet organic and plastic free) products. I realized that it was not only wasteful, but expensive, thus creating my goal of a zero waste period. After 1 full year and 12 cycles later, I can proudly say…I did it! Not one single use pad or tampon for 365 days, and I have no plans on changing that any time soon. The thought was daunting, and I wondered if I could truly succeed, and if I was feeling this way, I am certain a lot of you are too.
So, where do you begin? You’ll need to assess what supplies you’ll need…do you prefer pads or tampons? Or do you like to use both for different times? What is your flow like? By factoring those things, it is fairly simple to pick what you’ll need.
Personally, I like to have options. I have a medium/average flow with the occasional heavier flow. I am also very active with powerlifting and Crossfit so I need something that is going to STAY PUT and do the job without fail. For me, I ended up predominantly using reusable pads at night and a reusable menstrual cup during the day. Yep, the cup…this is my opportunity to dispel the yuck factor of it. I had, for a very long time, thought that the menstrual cup would not be for me. That it would be awkward, uncomfortable, disgusting, inconvenient etc. but to be very honest, it was none of those things.
The cup has been used in developing countries for a long time due to its simplicity and cost. It is one item that lasts for years. Most cups also come in a variety of sizes to accommodate different lengths and diameters of cervixes, as well as your age and if you’ve had a vaginal birth. If you pick the right one for you, then you’re in good hands. Most cups are made from medical grade silicone which is non-toxic and non-leaching. Each cup can be used for up to 5 years.
I chose the Diva Cup for two reasons. Firstly I sell it here at the store and have received amazing feedback over the years, and secondly because it is made in Canada. My first few times I had to insert it I was nervous. It takes a bit of practice to know it is in the right place and in there correctly, and sadly you won’t fully know until you give it time to do its job. The trick is in the seal. You have to fold it in on itself to get it in place, but then have to get it back to its round shape. This can be done by running a finger around the rim or by gently pulling on the tab to activate the suction. The latter seemed to work best for me.
Then, you walk away – for like, a long time. If you put it in in the morning, you can usually get away with leaving it until evening unless you have a very heavy flow. I was worried that I would have it filled within a couple hours, but it is eye opening with how little waste there is. By the end of the day it would be full but not overly. When it comes to removing the cup, I like to sit while some prefer to stand. The only thing to make sure of is to relax. If you are tense it makes it extremely difficult and slightly painful to remove. As well, be sure to be OVER the toilet to avoid less than stellar spills. Once you have emptied it, simply rinse with warm soapy water (use natural and unscented soap) and repeat. When you’re completely done with it for your cycle, boil it for several minutes, pat dry and store until next time.
Your other option is reusable pads. I like Luna Pads because they offer organic cotton options, many different sizes, are durable and made in Canada. There are plenty of different brands, fabrics, shapes and sizes out on the market, so you will have lots of choices in your area. I would wear them mostly at night or when I simply wanted a break from the cup. I would hand wash it in the morning and hang to dry, or if I had laundry going (which is most of the time) I would pop it in with everything else. The pads I’ve been using stay in place and aren’t bulky. Pads are probably the easiest of the two options to use, especially for beginners and younger women. They also double as bladder leak coverage if needed.
I had always worried that these methods would let me down while at the gym, in the middle of a heavy deadlift or during a Crossfit WOD. I am happy to report that I have not had any mishaps!
There are also tons of options for menstrual underwear that come in a plethora of sizes and coverage on the market. Most last approximately 2 years and you'd need anywhere from 2-6 pairs to get through a cycle comfortably. The initial investment can be a bit much with the average cost per pair being upwards of $45. Another option that I have not tried yet are reusable sponges. They act like a tampon but are reusable. I don’t know terribly much about them as I haven’t found a Canadian distributor for them. If anyone knows of a reputable brand, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
I hope you found this information useful, I am always here to answer questions. You can find us on Instagram and Facebook @allthingsbeingeco, www.allthingsbeingeco.ca and of course in store. Don’t be afraid, Kermit was wrong, being green IS easy.