The Menstrual (Re)Cycle: Green Responses to the Red River

Interview by Eilis Fitt
Graphic by Juliette Baxter

People with periods know that menstruation isn’t always a breeze. Your hormones are swinging, there’s stress about blood leaking through your jeans, and now, we’re told that the methods we rely on to get by during those bloody times are contributing to the destruction of the planet.

According to the BBC, the average menstruator will use up to 10,000 pads and tampons in their lifetime. That’s a heck of a lot of single-use materials ending up in the landfill, with pads containing up to four bags worth of plastic. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and let down; for many of us, the practices we’ve been taught to cope with our periods are in direct opposition with other messages we receive about the importance of recycling and caring for the environment. 

Luckily, there is now a range of reusable period products on the market and many bleeders have already switched to more sustainable period practices. However, for others, the transition isn’t as straightforward. These products can seem expensive if you don’t know what you’re signing up for and it can be daunting to use them for the first time. To guide you through it, we have asked Bossy readers to review their eco-friendly menstrual products for us. This is what they had to say:

Abby: Menstrual cup

How long have you been using a menstrual cup? What prompted you to try it?

I’ve been using my menstrual cup for about a year and a half. I decided to try it because I was concerned with the waste that is created by pads and tampons and I was sick of having to pay each month for them. It was an obvious choice. 

Tell us about the first time you used the cup. Were there any problems?

The first time was a bit logistically tricky, and it did take time to get used to, more mentally than physically. It is fiddlier (than non-reusable products), and sometimes removal is harder than insertion; but it’s not hard once you get used to it. It comes with helpful instructions on how to use it, so I just followed those, and I was fine using it after the first period.

What’s your period routine like now?

Now I only ever use a menstrual cup; I don’t use any other products. For me, there is no point in using anything else because the main reason I use it is for financial and environmental purposes. There is also no need to, it’s fine to use the cup, even when it is a light bleed or spotting. You can’t feel it once it is inside you.

What would you say to other people who are considering a menstrual cup?

I would recommend it to EVERYONE who bleeds! I understand not everyone can use one (if you struggle with using tampons, the cup probably won’t work either). But if you’re worried that it will be uncomfortable or too messy, please consider the massive financial, environmental and physical benefits of using it! On top of that, the biggest benefit to me is that I don’t feel it when I have my period. Tampons and pads always felt uncomfortable, and I was always worried about leaking or leaving it in too long. You won’t leak with cups, and you can leave them in for up to 12 hours. For me, I can forget I’m on my period when I use a menstrual cup, which is an amazing feeling.

Ultimately, the menstrual cup helped me appreciate my period again. I always hated it as a teenager because of all the uncomfortable feelings caused by pads and tampons. As a result, I always skipped my period using the pill. The cup helped me to stop doing that and to start regulating my cycle again by allowing it to happen each month and not hating it. It’s by no means a pleasant experience, but it has helped me a lot.

Aurora: Reusable pads

How long have you been using reusable pads for and why did you decide to try them?

I’ve been using Hannahpads reusable pads for about a year and a half.

The idea of disposable pads had crossed my mind, but I hadn’t looked into it much until I was at a vegan festival, where Hannahpad had a stall. After a conversation with the Australian company director and his wife, I was convinced mainly by the sustainability factor. The pads are biodegradable and the plastic snap fasteners are recyclable; while disposable pads can take hundreds of years to break down. I also liked the fact that the pads were organic, vegan, free from toxins and harmful chemicals and were made from super soft cotton compared to the contents of regular pads, which are not regulated and don’t even need to be disclosed by manufacturers. Also, the pads I was buying were only $10 – $20 and last for years, as opposed to needing to spend money periodically on disposable products, probably costing hundreds for the same amount of time. I opted for reusable pads rather than a menstrual cup just because it seemed easier and less of a change compared to my regular period routine at the time. It just made a lot of sense. 

Did the pads meet your expectations?

The pads were absorbent enough for me to wear the whole day and smelt a lot less than the disposable pads I had been using. According to the Hannahpads website, the typical smell occurs because of a reaction between chemicals, menstrual flow and sweat creating bacterial growth which makes a smell when exposed to oxygen. So, because Hannahpads are free from these chemicals, I didn’t notice a smell at all, and this exceeded my expectations.

How long did it take for you to adjust?

The hardest part is getting in the habit of washing the pads and, at first, this was kind of weird. You have to rinse in cold water, lather with detergent, soak for a few hours then wash and let dry. I’m pretty lazy so I don’t soak them for as long as recommended, but this hasn’t been a problem. Now I’m comfortable with handwashing them – I think we just need to get over thinking that periods are gross.

Are reusable pads part of your regular period routine?

Yes! I usually use a tampon or the small pad for the first day, then medium overnight while the small pad dries, and alternate these for the next two days. My period is short and light (yes, I know, I’m sorry!), so I feel bad using non-reusable products because they are super unnecessary for me. I do still use tampons when I’m doing sport or dance, but I have ordered a menstrual cup online and can’t wait to try it out.  

Would you recommend this type of period product to others?

Yes, especially for overnight use because they are much more comfortable than sticky, plastic disposable pads. There might be a bit of a stigma and some misconceptions surrounding reusable pads, but honestly, they are healthier, more comfortable, better for the environment and equate to being cheaper than disposable pads. 

Caitlin: Period underwear

When did you first try period undies and why?

I started using period underwear two years ago because I was having problems with pads leaking overnight. I also hated how pads and liners wriggled around when I was going about my day, but I wanted something easy and just-in-case for days when I had light spotting. Also, my mum saw an ad for them and got excited and offered to buy me two pairs. Thanks, Mum!

Tell us about the first time you used them.

It was exciting! They come in a cardboard box, so it felt super fancy and special to open them for the first time. When I put them on, I was concerned about leaking, either around the sides or bleeding through. That’s never happened. I can’t say that it won’t, but it’s never been a problem for me. Straight away, the period undies surpassed my expectations. Like, I was worried it would feel icky and wet or that I would bleed through, but that didn’t happen at all. After my first period using them, I was converted! I wanted to replace all my underwear with them and never think about planning for a period again (but I haven’t done that because I am cheap). It’s pretty much immediate to adjust to period underwear, you just put them on and go about your day. 

What’s your current period routine?

At the moment, I use the period underwear, plus a menstrual cup on heavy days. I like that I can wear the underwear a couple of days ahead and not worry about a surprise period and that you can just keep wearing them until you’re sure it’s over. It’s easy and I don’t have to think about it. I still love my menstrual cup and I use it on heavy days, but I’m finding I’m ok with just the underwear mostly; and the convenience and ease of use are high so I’m mainly just doing that. I’m trying to stick to reusable products so that’s about it for me right now. 

Would you recommend this type of period product to others? 

Yes, I think they’re great and I do recommend them frequently! I love how little I have to think about my period when I use period underwear. I feel like it does free up a lot of mental energy about logistics that I used to have to constantly run through and manage. However, if you have a heavy flow, period underwear alone might not work for you for a full day. It’s never been a problem for me yet, and if you’re using them as a backup for tampons/cups (which is great for ease of mind), then you should be fine. They do take a while to air dry because of the absorbable fabrics (and I don’t think you can put them in a dryer), so it’s worth having at least three pairs to give time for them to wash and dry. 

You can get them in a surprisingly large range of styles and colours (including ones with lace!), and most brands have a decent sizing range (I use Modibodi and they go up to a size 26). You can look pretty and feel comfortable in them, which I think is important. They make me feel like a happy woman in a tampon commercial who is eating yogurt and horse riding on the beach!

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