Published in the Summer 2004 issue • Body Politics
Green products for when you’re seeing red
Sick of traditional tampons and pads? Here are some earth-friendly alternatives
In your lifetime, you’ll have approximately 500 periods, use between 10,000 and 15,000 pads or tampons, and spend upwards of $5,000 if you use conventional menstrual products. Whether you’re frustrated with the expense of pads and tampons, sick of putting bleached materials inside your body, or concerned about the impact the waste from these products has on our environment, you need to know about the alternatives.
CupsHow it works: Fold and insert a small cup the size of a shot glass into your vagina. Each cup holds two tablespoons of menstrual flow. Empty the cup, rinse or wipe off, and reinsert as necessary. Cups come in two sizes, depending on whether or not you’ve had vaginal childbirth.
Price: The natural gum rubber Keeper is about $50, and the Canadian-made silicone DivaCup retails for about $40.
Pros: Depending on your flow, it can be worn for up to 12 hours. Fans report that when used correctly, you feel nothing at all. The Keeper has a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, while the DivaCup has a full year guarantee.
Cons: If you’re anxious about emptying your cup in public or if the idea of insertion freaks you out, this method probably isn’t for you.
Unbleached organic tamponsHow it works: Just like a regular tampon. Insert with or without an applicator to absorb menstrual blood.
Price: Varies, depending on the store. Grassroots in Toronto charges $8.99 for a package.
Pros: Organic tampons don’t contain rayon and haven’t been through a bleaching process, which means that by using them you’ll be less susceptible to Toxic Shock Syndrome (a rare bacterial infection caused by high absorbency tampons, or bits of tampon left in your vagina that promote bacteria growth) and perhaps even cervical cancer.
Cons: They are more expensive than the multi-national brands, and you’ll still be chucking away lots of paper products, which isn’t so hot for the environment.
Reusable cotton padsHow it works: Lunapads, Lunapanties, Power-pads, Glad Rags and countless others are just like regular pads, except you wash them in cold water instead of throwing them out. It’s good to have a half dozen or so handy, depending on how often you want to do laundry.
Price: Expensive at first. One pad will run you anywhere from $8 to $20, depending on what kind you like — Lunapanties, which have a pad built into undies, are pricey at 20 bucks a pair — and if they’ve got fancy designs. They’re an investment, but pay for themselves quickly when you’re not buying disposables.
Pros: They’re very friendly to the planet, last for a long time and are softer than disposable pads. Plus, if you really dig them, you can learn to sew them for yourself and for your friends. Check the internet for free patterns.
Cons: You might get a few funny looks at the laundromat, but screw ’em.
Sea spongesHow it works: Sea sponges are plant-like creatures from the ocean. Dampen, squeeze gently and insert the sponge like a tampon. You can sew on a dental floss tail to ease removal, but it isn’t necessary.
Price: Two sponges will cost you about $12 at Montreal’s Urban Armor.
Pros: Like unbleached tampons, sponges can be healthier for your vagina. They also cut down on paper product waste.
Cons: They don’t last forever. The Sea Pearl manufacturer suggests getting a new one every three to four months. If you’re squeamish about rinsing them out in public washrooms and don’t feel like carrying plastic baggies and extra sponges around, they can be a bit of a hassle. Also, because sea sponges are not regulated, you cannot be sure of where they come from. These are living organisms that may be pulled from polluted water.