The Cost of Being Eco: switching to reusable period products

2 min • 14 Jul 2021
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Lauren Bravo delves into what switching to reusable period products will mean for your money

Periods are evolving, and it’s about bloody time. Thanks to the hard work of activists like the Free Periods campaign, access to free sanitary products is improving for those most in need. But for the rest of us, that time of the month can still bring with it an unwelcome one-two punch of eco anxiety and financial strain. On top of the cramps.

The environmental cost of disposable sanitary products…

Everybody (and every body) is different, but the average person who menstruates will use roughly 11,000 disposable period products in their lifetime. That’s 11,000 pads or tampons sitting in landfill, where they’ll take anywhere upwards of 500 years to decompose – a figure that has increased since plastic applicators replaced cardboard ones – or worse, if flushed, block sewage systems and pollute oceans with microplastic. They’re resource-intensive to make, too. Friends of the Earth estimates that a year’s worth of single-use sanitary products for one person creates the equivalent of 5.3kg of carbon dioxide.

…and the financial cost

Then there’s the outlay. Money Saving Expert calculates the rough cost of a lifetime’s worth of branded sanitary towels at £2,625, and the equivalent in branded applicator tampons at £1,785. Though many of us have long-standing brand loyalty, often passed down by our mothers, switching things up could make a big difference – for the planet, our bank balance and our lives.

Getting to grips with non-applicator tampons is one way to do it. As well as containing 97% less plastic than their extendable cousins, they’re invariably cheaper too. But all those tampons still have to end up somewhere.

Exploring the alternatives – menstrual cups

Meanwhile, silicone menstrual cups such as Mooncup, Diva Cup and Luna Cup have shed their hippie image to become a zero-waste alternative that many people swear by. Reliable, comfortable (once you master the knack of insertion) and far more eco-friendly, one cup will last for many years and keep hundreds of tampons out of landfill. Mooncup claims its cup (£20.95) pays for itself after 6-8 months, and estimates that a 30-year-old could save £834.93 across their lifetime by making the switch.

And period pants

But for those worrying that their cup may runneth over, there are other options. Recent years have seen the rise of period pants, which look and feel like regular underwear but have a super absorbent, odour-proof layer that can hold up to five tampons’ worth of blood without leaking. They can be washed just like normal knickers, so the extra admin and laundry costs are minimal.

Like menstrual cups, period pants are an initial investment with long-term returns – although unlike a cup, you will need to buy multiple pairs to see you through a whole period. The cheapest we’ve found on the market are £12, but popular brands can average around £25-30 for a single pair. Though many offer bundles of three or five pairs at a discount, it will still take a couple of years of use before they start to work out cheaper than pads or tampons.

Reusable pads

Or if you prefer the reassurance of a pad, there’s still a greener way to go. Made from cotton or bamboo, reusable sanitary pads claim to be more breathable, more comfortable and more reliable against leaks than the disposable kind, and they can last up to five years.

Sets from hi-tech brands like Dame and Eco Lily start at around £22, but there are cheaper versions to be found on sites like Etsy in an array of cute prints. Because periods might be a pain, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have them in style.

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