• Holly Jo

Breaking the (Menstrual) Cycle of Unsustainable Periods

When you’re bleeding out of your vagina for 5 days straight, sustainability is not necessarily the most pressing thing on your mind; but after the cramps have stopped and your mood returns to normality, your period still leaves a serious, permanent dent on the environment.

Over 4.3 billion disposable sanitary products are used in the UK every year, with many of these being flushed down the toilet, blocking sewer systems and eventually ending up in the sea. To put this into perspective, the average woman uses and discards about 11,000 menstrual products in her lifetime, products that will then take longer than her life span to degrade. But disposable products aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of periods, and with this in mind I decided to give sustainable menstruation a go.

Finding the right product for you

If you aren’t a fan of tampons, don’t feel like you have to go straight to the menstrual cup. Reusable cups, such as the Diva cup and the Mooncup, are perhaps the most well-known sustainable alternative, something that can be determined by a simple Google search as they usually come up as the top suggestion for those looking to try a plastic-free period – but they are by no means the only option. Reusable sanitary towels and period underwear are also widely available, and can often be an easier alternative to the daunting menstrual cup. Personally, I went for the reusable sanitary towels since these were most familiar to me – I bought three Earthwise pads (all with very artistic designs) which set me back about £15.

The benefits

The most obvious benefit is waste reduction, and thus, less impact on the oceans – according to the campaign, City to Sea, ‘plastic debris kills more than a million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals every year’. Another obvious one is the cost – making a one-off purchase of £15 for three pads that can be used for countless cycles is certainly cheaper than paying £2 for a pack that will only last one cycle.

Many products also have the added benefit of supporting women’s charities around the world; for example my purchase of three pads provided a reusable pad to a girl in Kenya, in partnership with The Nasio Trust. Millions of African girls have been forced to miss school due to not being able to afford period provisions, while an average of 155 in every village in Africa have dropped out of education completely for this reason. 

The gory details

First I should preface that every period product should come with its own specific set of instructions, so make sure you read these before your first use (something which I stupidly did not do). The sanitary towels I used were super absorbent, so not quite the blood bath you might expect. I found myself getting through 2-3 pads per day, rinsing the used pad after removing, a system which worked pretty well for me and then throwing in the washing machine once my cycle finished; however in future I will be investing in a few more pads as I did end up supplementing my cycle with a few regular sanitary towels. The one downside was that the thickness of the pads meant they weren’t particularly breathable. Overall though I would say this (almost) plastic-free period was as pleasant as any period can be, so I will definitely be continuing this practice in future and I implore you (if you have a menstrual cycle) to do the same.

If you want to purchase your own sustainable menstrual product, here are some good sites:

Menstrual cups:

Period underwear:

Sanitary towels:


Image by: Josefin

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