The average number of periods prehistoric women had in a lifetime is estimated at 106. The average number of periods women experience today is 318. Given these stats and today’s conservation message, perhaps “reduce, reuse and recycle” should apply to menstrual products…
Throughout her lifetime a woman can use between 8,000 and 15,000 disposable pads, tampons and liners. The impact of all that on the earth is not limited to landfill concerns: The manufacturing processes for the cotton and plastic used in some products also take a toll on the environment.
Before the modern convenience of disposables, women used strips of folded cloth to absorb menstrual flow. Now those old-fashioned reusables are making a comeback, but with a modern spin.
Take Vancouver-based company Lunapads, for example, which makes washable pads and liners, as well as underwear with built-in padding. Based on the number of women using her products, co-founder Madeleine Shaw estimates that a million disposable pads and tampons are diverted from landfills every month.
“The pads are definitely our most popular product,” she says. “On average, one reusable Lunapad replaces 120 disposable pads throughout its five-year lifespan, so our customers are saving money as well as feeling better about dealing with their menstrual cycle in a way that is more positive for themselves and the environment.” It’s an idea that is catching on: Lunapad sales have increased 30 per cent in recent years.
Image via Lunapads.com
Lunapads sells Lunapanties with sewn-in pad holders. All Lunapad products can be machine washed and dried, or hand-washed and hung to dry, and are available in various natural food stores and eco-focused retailers throughout Canada (and at lunapads.com). Their reusable pads are a snap to use, literally. A base wraps around the bottom part of panties and snaps together on the underside for a snug hold. Then, a reusable pad is placed inside the base, and is kept in place via two small straps at the front and back.
For some women with skin sensitivities, these products are a great option. “While disposable pads and tampons are safe to use for the majority, reusable cotton pads and liners can be a good alternative for those who are sensitive or allergic to synthetic tissue,” explains Dr. Corinne Leclercq, a gynaecologist in Victoriaville, Canada, and president of the Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Quebec.
“If washed and dried thoroughly to avoid bacteria buildup, they are safe and reliable.”
For the 70 per cent of menstruating women who use tampons, eco-alternatives are also available. The DivaCup, for example, is a small, flexible funnel-like gadget that is placed inside the vagina, and sits at the lower base of the vaginal canal. Made of silicone, it comes in two sizes. You choose the correct one based on age and whether or not you’ve given birth. Rather than absorbing flow, as a tampon does, the DivaCup collects menstrual flow. It has a small tab at its base that you grasp to remove it.
Another advantage of such a device: Conventional tampons soak up not only menstrual flow but also the vagina’s natural lubricant. With this silicone alternative, the natural lubricants remain, so vaginal dryness isn’t an issue.
“For some women, it takes a bit of time to learn how to position the cup so it’s comfortable,” says Leclercq. “But these products are safe, and are a good alternative to tampons.”
The DivaCup can be boiled or microwaved in water each month and should be replaced annually. It’s available in health food stores, eco-retailers and some pharmacies, and online at grassrootsstore.com.