Reducing Your Plastic Footprint, Every Single Month: Plastic Free Periods

Jasmine Tribe

Jasmine Tribe coordinates City to Sea’s campaigns to reduce plastic pollution at the source. She’s spreading the word about plastic free periods, and encouraging schools to stock plastic free menstrual products. Thinking about making the switch? Keep reading...

Two years ago, after an extremely long journey and multiple modes of transport, my ferry pulled up into a part of the world known for being one of the ‘most pristine’ environments left on the planet – Raja Ampat. The harbour that met us was a solid soup of plastic bottles, sweet wrappers, flip flops, drinks cans, shampoo bottles, lighters, polystyrene blocks, you name it. On many occasions elsewhere I’ve been surveying wildlife and swam straight into a foam of teabags, condom wrappers, and menstrual pads. I’ve seen manta rays and whalesharks filter feeding in those very same waters, mouths agape to try and get their fill of plankton. Working out in the tropics truly brings the full scale of the plastic pollution crisis into view.

But we all know that plastic pollution doesn’t only affect tropical shorelines! Go out onto your local UK beach and I’m certain that you’ll find nurdles (plastic pellets), cotton buds, wet wipes, bottle caps and other everyday items.

Jas participating in a beach clean. Photo: Jasmine Tribe

Jas participating in a beach clean. Photo: Jasmine Tribe

One group of products that I’ve found on beaches all over the world are… period products! Now I have a few crazy facts for you   

  • In 2010, a UK beach clean found an average of 23 sanitary pads and 9 tampon applicators per kilometre of British coastline.

  • An insane 4.3 billion disposable menstrual products are used in the UK every single year!

  • A conventional sanitary pad (like Lil-lets, Always and Tampax) contains around the same amount of plastic as four carrier bags. A mainstream tampon is made up of 6% plastic (not including the packaging or applicator!).

  • Although nothing other than the 3 P’s (Pee, Poo and Paper) should go down the loo, it’s estimated that every day in the UK about 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons, and 1.4 million sanitary pads are flushed down the toilet. Many of these items block our sewer systems, escape into rivers and eventually enter the ocean.

Tampon applicators found on a beach clean. Photo: Jasmine Tribe

Tampon applicators found on a beach clean. Photo: Jasmine Tribe

By the time I joined City to Sea I was three years deep into my love affair with my menstrual cup, but it was only after I started working on our Plastic Free Periods campaign that I realised how little awareness there is about what’s really in conventional period products. Bleach, synthetic fragrances, and plastic…

After a little research into plastic-free period products you’ll discover that there are now loads of options to help you reduce waste every single month! In fact, some products don’t just help you look after your body, and the planet, they can also save you up to 94% of the cost of disposables over your lifetime - win-win-win!

To save you some time and energy, and internet trawling, I thought I’d put the main plastic-free period options into one place for you:

  • Reusable period pads – Soft cotton, bamboo or fleece pads which you wash after use. A quick google will find you loads of colourful designs that’ll make you smile when you’re on your period! Some also come with a little bag to carry them in after changing.

  • Menstrual cups – Can last you up to 10 years and are perfect for travelling, exercising and being in the water (who wants to carry boxes of tampons and pads around whilst on the move?).
    Not sure about it? Check out Mae’s experience here
    Decided to take the plunge? Purchase a Mooncup here

  • Period pants – Absorbent underwear available in a variety of styles (even thongs!) and look like your everyday pants. Absorbency levels range from super light to heavy. They feature a slim 3 mm layered gusset which draws moisture away from the skin, is odour resistant, and naturally antimicrobial. Just change at the end of each day before bed, and again when you wake up in the morning. Wash, and reuse! They will last up to 2 years.
    Check out ModiBodi, THINX, Lunapads, Knix, Dear Kates, Intimate Portal
    Some of these brands also stock period-proof swimwear and activewear!

  • Organic disposable tampons – The same as your conventional products, only made with organic cotton, without the plastic, bleach or synthetic fragrances. Look for ones which come in plastic free packaging, such as TOTM.

  • Reusable tampon applicators – A perfect combo with the organic disposable tampons above. Dame created the first applicator, but there are other brands out there now.

  • Biodegradable sanitary pads - Beware of these ones, as they are made from organic cotton, but contain a PLA (plastic) lining to make them waterproof. This means they need to be commercially composted to biodegrade but they act the same as conventional products in landfill, so make sure they go in your compost! For more info on biodegradable plastics, watch out for our article on the 25th June.

I know that venturing into the world of reusable period products can be daunting if you’ve used disposables all your life, so to help you work out which product might suit you best I’ve put together a page dedicated to answering all your questions, supported by lots of different reusable product experts! You can also find a bunch of product discounts too!

Here’s to periods that are better for our bodies, our wallets and the ocean!

Photo: Jasmine Tribe, City to Sea

Photo: Jasmine Tribe, City to Sea

You can ask Jasmine any questions via Twitter or Instagram (@jas_tribe)

This month, The Marine Diaries will be sharing our knowledge on plastic pollution to help educate the public about the impact of our actions on marine life, in the hope of promoting change. Together we can fight plastic.

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