The mul­ti­mil­lion mar­ket for men­strual products is dom­in­ated by two products: Tam­pons and pads, which  end up dir­ectly in the trash after only a few hours of use. These are often the only two options talked about in sex edu­ca­tion in schools. They are also the products that pre­dom­in­antly dec­or­ate the shelves in drug­stores and we see in advert­ising. Many men­stru­at­ing people use the same period products for years. Often simply because they lack the know­ledge of pos­sible altern­at­ives. Only rarely do we ques­tion what we actu­ally use every month and whether there are other, per­haps even bet­ter solu­tions for our body and our environment.

Inter­ested in a plastic-free menstruation?

Nowadays there are won­der­ful sus­tain­able inven­tions without plastic, espe­cially in the bath­room such as solid sham­poos. But dur­ing men­stru­ation, the trash can fills up faster than you’d like it to, mostly with dis­pos­able products and lots of plastic pack­aging. But remem­ber, tam­pons and pads are not your only options! You’ll be sur­prised at the vari­ety of products that are rel­at­ively eas­ily avail­able today. Mean­while, the reusable altern­at­ives are at least as absorb­ent and good (if not maybe much bet­ter!?) as tra­di­tional dis­pos­able products.

Zero Waste Men­stru­ation: What sus­tain­able products are actu­ally available?

By now quite a lot, but if you ask me, unfor­tu­nately still not enough. It would be pretty cool if there were a lot more to come in the next few years and new innov­a­tions were to be launched. But here is an over­view of five altern­at­ives that are not only good for our envir­on­ment, but also for our period.

1. Men­strual cups

Men­strual cups (also called menscups or simply cup) are cur­rently the most pop­u­lar product among the reusable altern­at­ives and not without reason. They can be worn for up to twelve hours and make you for­get that you have your period. Nowadays, one in ten people use a men­strual cup dur­ing their period. Did you know that they were developed in the 1930s, but have only become a trend in recent years? Men­strual cups col­lect the men­strual blood inside the body (up to 30ml depend­ing on size) and can be used for up to ten years. They are usu­ally made of med­ical sil­ic­one, rub­ber or latex and because not all bod­ies and pref­er­ences are the same, they come in many dif­fer­ent col­ours and sizes.

2. Period underwear

Men­strual under­wear, also called period pants or period panties, looks like nor­mal under­wear at first glance. In the crotch area, how­ever, they have sev­eral lay­ers of fab­ric and thus also addi­tional func­tions. The dif­fer­ent fab­rics ensure that the gen­ital area remains dry as far as pos­sible and that the men­strual blood is absorbed. The man­u­fac­tur­ers write that the under­wear can absorb up to three tam­pons of men­strual blood. They are used, for example, as addi­tional pro­tec­tion to other products, such as the men­strual cup. How­ever, they can also be worn alone. Unfor­tu­nately, men­strual panties can some­times reach their lim­its in the event of heavy bleed­ing and it may be a little awk­ward if they have to be changed on the move. How­ever, they are par­tic­u­larly suit­able on lighter days or as a backup.

3. Wash­able cloth pads or panty liners

Cloth pads are usu­ally made out of cot­ton, are com­fort­able to wear and absorb men­strual blood dir­ectly. They often have small wings (sim­ilar to the dis­pos­able ver­sion) with snap fasten­ers to eas­ily attach the pad to the under­wear. The use of (old) fab­rics and wash­able pads dur­ing men­stru­ation used to be quite nor­mal. Feel free to ask your grand­par­ents what they used dur­ing their period. They will cer­tainly have some inter­est­ing stor­ies to tell – you can share them in the com­ments or write us a mes­sage. How­ever, the wealth and power of the men­strual industry has meant that most men­stru­at­ing people today no longer use fab­ric pads. For many, it is more con­veni­ent to use tra­di­tional dis­pos­able products.

Make your own cloth pads:

If you feel really inspired now, you could even sew your own reusable pads. All you need is a sew­ing machine, the right fab­rics and a little time and cre­ativ­ity. Click here for the DIY guide.

4. Cro­cheted tampons

If you want it to be wild, there are even cot­ton cro­cheted tam­pons filled with nat­ural bam­boo fab­ric. They work like con­ven­tional tam­pons and are also very sim­ilar to them in their func­tion­al­ity, includ­ing return rib­bons. The dif­fer­ence, how­ever, is that they can be reused.

5. Nat­ural sponges

You prob­ably know nat­ural sponges from the bath­room to soap your body with a won­der­ful spa feel­ing. Nat­ural sponges for the period are a purely nat­ural product, as they are extrac­ted from the Medi­ter­ranean Sea and grow back again. They are also called sea sponges because of their mater­ial. Have you ever heard of them or pos­sibly used them? Then please write us about your exper­i­ences. If not, don’t worry, because they are still a niche product. They are basic­ally inser­ted into the vagina in a sim­ilar way as tam­pons, where they absorb the blood dir­ectly and should be changed at least every eight hours. The fine-pored sponges are washed with water and can then be used again. This bio­lo­gical altern­at­ive can be used for one year before it should be replaced with a new sponge.

Free bleed­ing

Last but not least there is of course the option to free bleed­ing, where no addi­tional products are needed. It can­not get more nat­ural and envir­on­ment­ally friendly thant that! If you can’t really ima­gine how it works, take a look at our detailed art­icle all about free bleed­ing.

Are you curi­ous to try free bleed­ing and exper­i­ence your period in a new way? Then our online course "Men­stru­ation without products: Learn Free Bleed­ing" is per­fect for you

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You decide what feels good

It is import­ant to find a product that you are 100 per­cent sat­is­fied with and that you really feel good about dur­ing your men­stru­ation. It is part of your self-care. And it doesn’t mat­ter which option you choose. Maybe a mix of dif­fer­ent products is right for you. Always be aware that you have com­plete free­dom of choice! The only import­ant thing is that you know the entire range of men­strual products so that you can make an informed and con­scious choice. Edu­ca­tion is key here. Because we are respons­ible for what we use. To be able to choose between dif­fer­ent period products dur­ing your men­stru­ation is a priv­ilege, lux­ury and simply won­der­ful. This allows us to decide freely and indi­vidu­ally what feels and works right for us. As dif­fer­ent as our peri­ods, needs and bod­ies are, so should the innov­a­tions in this area be.

Diversity is some­thing wonderful

For me, the most beau­ti­ful thing about dif­fer­ent options is the diversity and the free­dom of choice that it gives to us men­stru­at­ing people. Per­son­ally, I am a huge fan of inven­tions or redis­cov­er­ies in the world of men­stru­ation that change and improve the men­strual exper­i­ence while pro­tect­ing our envir­on­ment. Per­fect combo, I’d say. Are you already think­ing about how to make your next men­strual period a zero waste exper­i­ence?

Note: All altern­at­ives presen­ted must be washed prop­erly after use before they can be used again.

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Co-Founder Vul­vani | | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-founder of Vul­vani. She loves research­ing, writ­ing and design­ing new art­icles or innov­at­ive edu­ca­tional con­cepts about men­stru­ation all day long. When she is not trav­el­ling the world, she enjoys spend­ing time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.