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Periods X Plastic

By: Ava Smith

Plastic period products have invaded the hygiene industry, almost any conventional period product, such as pads, are 90% plastic, other products like tampons trailing closely behind. One menstruator will use between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons throughout their lifetime. Even after these products are disposed of, they remain in landfills and will break down into microplastics that are environmentally detrimental to wildlife, aquatic ecosystems, and beyond. While menstruators are often taught that only pads and tampons can be used, there are many sustainable alternatives, though some may not be practical for everyone.

Photo from: Menstrual Cups

Although the main problem with pads is their high amount of plastic, tampons have another issue. Most tampons are made from cotton and synthetic fibers like rayon. Conventional cotton is the most heavily sprayed pesticide and accounts for 16% of all pesticide uses. Additionally, most tampons come with a plastic applicator. Most feminine hygiene companies in Europe do not even use plastic applicators, but countries like the United States do. Despite this saddening information, the environmental drawbacks of period products are not consumers’ fault, but rather the major corporations that value money over the environment. More importantly, period products can indeed be designed with plastic, corporations can adopt more sustainable manufacturing practices.

One of the least complex sustainable solutions in the period industry is bamboo pads. While no single use product is truly eco-friendly, bamboo pads hold less of an environmental impact than conventional pads. Bamboo pads take around 150 days to decompose after disposal, while conventional pads never fully biodegrade due to their plastic content. Viv for your v is one brand that sells pads and liners (currently working on tampons) made out of bamboo and corn fiber. Many wonder why bamboo and corn fiber are used, and that is because they are both very absorbent: bamboo is naturally antibacterial, and corn fibers make the products softer than normal cotton. A 12-pack of winged pads at Viv for your V costs $8.50, and 16-pack liners cost $6.50. Viv’s pads are 100% plastic-free and save the equivalent of 48 plastic bags per period. With a larger variety of more affordable products, Public Goods also sells bamboo menstrual products. They have regular packs and liners of 12-count pads for $3.00, and overnight pads for $10. Public Goods also sells an 18 count pack of applicator-free cotton tampons, for $4. These tampons are still made out of cotton but without the rayon of other products. The pads are also biodegradable like Viv for your V, and all products have a 4+ star review.

Photo From: Viv for your V

These disposable pads and tampons are a simple, more eco-friendly method for periods. For those who want even more sustainable options, menstrual cups and washable products are the next option. Menstrual cups are silicone or rubber cups that replace tampons and pads, collecting period fluid. They are a relatively low cost investment for the long term since the prices range from 20-40 dollars. Most are sold around 25-30 dollars and are completely reusable. These cups can be used for up to 12 hours, depending on the flow, and therefore can be used longer than pads or tampons. After each use, the cups need to be boiled in water to sterilize, which can make menstrual cups harder to take care of. Some brands that sell menstrual cups include DivaCup, JuneCup, and Viv for your V.

Period underwear has grown in popularity for the past few years, and for good reason. Although not everyone feels comfortable with this option, many appreciate the washable underwear designed for periods. Most period underwear contains 3 layers of absorbent material, and different underwear is designed for heavier or lighter flow. There is an extremely wide variety of colors and sizes, and most say that if there are leaks, it is usually because of the wrong flow level. Like menstrual cups, period underwear can be used for 12 hours, and then washed on cold in a washing machine or by hand. After they are washed, the only step left is to wait for them to air-dry. Period underwear is on the higher end price wise, with prices ranging from $35-40 dollars per pair. A simple search on the internet of period underwear will bring up a variety of sites, but some examples are Modibodi and Knix.

These products do not suit all menstruators but are all great alternatives for those who seek a more eco-friendly option. Although these products are not available to everyone, these small changes can make key differences. Most importantly, manufacturers, for the sake of the earth, must change the plastic of these products.

Discussion Questions:

  • If you are a menstruator, would you consider switching to a more eco-friendly product?

  • Do you think that these more eco-friendly options should be more widely available?


Admin. (2021, January 17). 2021'S top organic COTTON sanitary Pads & PANTY Liners. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from

Borunda, A. (2021, February 10). How tampons and pads became unsustainable and filled with plastic. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from

Menstrual care. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2021, from

Ryan, J. (2019, November 06). Sustainable period products: A guide. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from

Viv for your v. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2021, from


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