It’s 2021 and single use plastics are out, with reusables like straws and water bottles part of our everyday lives (or at least, we’re getting there). Thankfully for people with periods, attention has now turned to sanitary products. From washable applicators to reusable discs and menstrual cups, manufacturers behind menstrual products are finding ever more innovative ways to lessen their impact on the environment.
Not only are they inventive, but they’re a worthy investment, too. Considering that the average woman has her period for 2535 days of her life, buying a product that you can clean and reuse seems pretty practical. In the UK, an estimated 1.5 billion sanitary items are flushed down the toilet each year (note: never flush anything but toilet paper down there) and the average woman will dispose of 11,000 sanitary items in a lifetime. Many of these products end up in oceans or in landfill, and as 90 per cent of sanitary products are made from plastic, they’re not biodegradable.
From TOTM to Freda and Dame, pioneering brands—many of which were founded and are being led by women—are creating more eco-friendly menstrual products. It’s still early days, but these designs are a savvy financial investment if you’re looking for a better option that aims to protect the planet. Here, Vogue meets some of the leaders behind the brands aiming to pave a new, plastic-free path.
“A Freedom Cups can be likened to a reusable tampon. It is a small cup made of medical-grade silicone, that is is folded and inserted into the body. It sits at the base of the cervix collecting menstrual fluid for 8 to 10 hours a day, and one cup can be used for several years,” say founders of the homegrown Singapore brand, Freedom Cups.
Its mission is to be the best menstrual solution for the ‘body, wallet, and planet’. More than just a period cup business, Freedom Cups offers natural, organic, unscented, unbleached wipes and cleansers made of 100 per cent biodegradable bamboo. Its cleansers are “100 per cent plant based and certified organic, cruelty-free and vegan. Our cups are made of 100% medical-grade silicone,” shares Freedom Cups co-founder Vanessa Paranjothy.
Freedom Cups’ real passion lies in empowering women through menstrual care support, and work on a buy one, give one model. For every piece sold at full price, a cup is donated to a woman from an underprivileged background, Paranjothy explains. “We are passionate about our work at Freedom Cups because it is extremely necessary. Not just in terms of providing access to menstrual hygiene products in underserved communities, but ‘lobbying’ to get the issue of sustainable periods placed on the agenda and increasing the education and conversation around the topic everywhere we work.”
“We know our Freedom Cups are making better the lives of the vulnerable in underserved communities at a very fundamental level. They are allowing for better health and educational outcomes, while raising incomes and standards of living,” say Freedom Cups who have to date, initiated 30 resuable menstrual cup distribution projects in 10 countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Nepal, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and the US.
Sanitary pads contain up to 90 per cent plastic, according to the Women’s Environmental Network. Now consider for a moment, the amount of landfill contributed by single use period products over the course of your lifetime. With this in mind period panty makers, aptly called Period, has emerged as a best-seller in Japan according to Fermata. Unlike conventional pads, the Period Panty deodorises, absorbs moisture, and reduces the risk of leakage with its multi-layered fabric component. Best for light to moderate flow days.
Back in 2002, Su Hardy started her business from her spare bedroom. Now retired, the Mooncup is proving to be more popular than ever. It may be tricky to master at first, but after using it throughout the duration of three periods it certainly gets easier. “One of our fundamental wishes as a green business is to reduce the amount of waste created on our beautiful planet,” a Mooncup spokesperson tells Vogue. “We feel strongly that the extent of single-use plastic pollution needs to be addressed and have been working hard to do our bit. Not only through our game-changing reusable product, but also through our ethical business practices too.” One thing to note is that the Mooncup comes in two sizes: size A is for women who are 30 and over and/or given birth vaginally, while size B is for those who are under 30 and haven’t given birth vaginally.
Founded by friends Celia Pool and Alec Mills, Dame prides itself on having created the world’s first reusable tampon applicator—but it took taking the wrong business path to get there. “We started out running an online period subscription service delivering popular brands of tampons and pads to women around the UK, but we soon began to see the amount of plastic, chemicals and waste tied up in these everyday single-use products,” they tell Vogue. “100 billion period products are thrown away around the world each year, most of which contain plastic and cannot be recycled. We realised that our business was contributing to the problem, so we decided we needed to think of a solution.”
After two years of trying and testing, Dame was launched. Used like an average applicator, but never finding its way to the bin, the D-applicator is meant to be kept for life. “We also make our own organic tampons which are free from the pesticides and harsh chemicals often found in conventional tampons,” they explain. “Our products are designed to be displayed on the bathroom shelf, rather than hidden away, so that we can finally normalise periods as an everyday part of life for half the global population, while also helping to reduce the environmental impact periods currently have on our planet.”
Kept in a small case, the applicator can easily pop into your bag and be washed at your own convenience.
Dame’s organic cotton tampons are $7 for a box of 14, then D (the reusable tampon applicator) is $47 (and comes with a storage tin, travel pouch and 6x Dame organic cotton tampons).
“Consisting of mostly cotton, reusable cloth pads are more comfortable and breathable than disposables. Cloth pads also wick away moisture to the middle of the pad, so you stay dry and comfortable even in the humid climate. In contrast, disposables contain mostly plastic, including the top layers that your skin is in contact with, creating a moist environment that can promote the growth of yeast and bacteria,” says The Period Co’s Ann Gee.
“Cloth pads may feel slightly bulkier than disposables, since they are made of cloth. However, most users find the material to be softer and more comfortable, and people who suffer from allergies or rashes from disposable pads find cloth pads a soothing alternative.”