Zero Waste and Menstruation: Are They Compatible?

Leading a “zero waste” life may sound difficult. It’s so easy to carry your food in a disposable container, then throw it in the trash can and forget about washing dishes or cutlery.

Plastic certainly boomed with industrialization; it was easy to transport, easy to consume, and offered low costs and high practicality. However, it was not until the mid-1970s that science and health organizations noticed something important: we were running out of resources at an alarming rate, our protective ozone layer had a huge hole, and this was all because of pollution and excessive consumption

Fortunately, more and more people today have bravely decided to take a step towards reducing their mark on the planet.

Of course, reducing our waste is a challenge and much more so talking about intimate hygiene. With menstruation and the use of pads and tampons, it sounds like an uphill battle. But on the positive side, it’s not impossible; in fact, it’s very easy.

For many, it’s already a lifestyle. But if it’s not your case, there are many habits you can start to contribute to the cause and won’t make you feel like you’re sacrificing too much from the start.

Visit our article: Living Plastic-Free: How to Menstruate Without Harming the Oceans

First: What is zero waste?

What is the Zero-Waste Movement?No, it’s not a hippie movement. “Zero waste” is a trend, movement, and lifestyle which aims is to reduce the waste and garbage that we generate as much as possible. Although it’s called “zero” waste, we know it may not be possible to eradicate what should be discarded, though what we discard can be reduced significantly.

First of all, we must clarify that in this philosophy the difference between garbage and waste is very clear. The first includes everything that can be reused and recycled, as is the case with plastic bottles, paper, food containers, bags, etc. Waste, on the other hand, are items that have exhausted their potential for reusability. An excellent example that we all know is pads and tampons.

Zero waste has five pillars identified as the 5 “Rs”:

Reject what is not needed, such as straws, plastic cups, or coffee cup lids.
Reduce what we regularly need to use.
Reuse or repurpose what we already have.
Recycle what can be used for other purposes.
Rot. Try to generate compost from the waste of certain foods.

How can I reduce waste if I menstruate every month?

Yes, women are confronted with an extra challenge when we talk about being “zero waste.” Although it’s possible to retain menstrual flow by practicing free bleeding, not all of us have mastered that art.

Intimate hygiene products are undoubtedly necessary. Tampons and pads have dominated the market for decades, as they are practical, prevent leakage, and sold at a low price per package. This, of course, equates to a high cost over time, not only for our pockets but for the environment.

Fortunately, the menstrual cup is the best ally for our environment and our bodies and is here to stay. It complies with the basic principles of zero waste since it’s reusable. With the purchase of a menstrual cup, you can guarantee that you will have sustainable periods for up to 10 years.

You no longer have to throw away hundreds of tampons and pads every month, every year, and every decade of your fertile life.

Additionally, you won’t just reduce your carbon footprint; medical-grade silicone is 100% hypoallergenic and doesn’t produce inflammations or release toxic substances as plastic-based materials do. In fact, it has been scientifically proven to be safe and leak-free.

So yes, it’s possible to become part of this ecological culture and at the same time not worry about leaks and stains on your clothes.

Why the menstrual cup is eco-friendly

As mentioned above, it is reusable: at the end of your period, you can sterilize it by boiling it and save it for your next period. This can be done for up to 10 years.

And what happens after these first 10 excellent years of use? You can cut the silicone from your cup into small pieces to make compost. The basis of silicone is silicon, one of the most abundant elements on planet Earth. After a while, your cup will disappear.

Menstrual cups do not contain contaminants inherent in fragrances and preservatives found in other intimate hygiene products.

If we put it into perspective, each woman in her fertile stage menstruates 10 times a year on average. About one pack of pads or tampons is used per period (and sometimes even more); and if each package has 10 pads, that’s 100 products a year we’re adding to the trash.

It should be noted that this amount of garbage is only produced by one woman in a year, so how much garbage is generated annually among all women of childbearing age on the planet? And menstruation won’t stop.

On the other hand, plastic can be “recycled” only once. It then becomes trash, breaks down into small pieces, and pollutes the soil and oceans.

Likewise, the materials from which these products are made are highly toxic to our body and to the environment. There you can find polyethylene, which is plastic, polypropylene (plastic-based fabric), cotton, bleaching, and flavoring containing agents such as:

  1. Chlorine: the main bleach used for cotton and other textiles used in pads and tampons.
  2. Rayon and cotton: Rayon is a synthetic textile from chemical processes of oil, wood, and coal. It’s associated with vaginal infections and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). On the other hand, cotton is a natural fabric, but we must remember that cotton crops are often fertilized and treated with chemical pesticides which may end up harming our health.
  3. Polyacrylate: the famous super-absorbent gel in tampons and pads. It is an artificial product also associated with TSS.

Our menstrual cups, such as Sileu Rose, will come in packs made of PLA (polylactic acid), a material based on vegetable glucose that biodegrades in contact with the earth within six months and approved by EN 13432.

On the other hand, the cotton in the bag where you will store your menstrual cup will be organic, 100% compostable, and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certified to ensures the textiles used are eco-friendly and socially sustainable.

Other ways to join “Zero Waste”

This pro-environmental movement is promising, and the results can be seen as more people become aware of the changes we need to make to ensure our future safety.

Each of these actions you add to your habits counts, so don’t be discouraged; it’s very simple. Some of the first steps you can take to joining the movement are:

  1. Don’t buy bottles, glasses and disposable plastic plates. You can carry water in a reusable bottle (there are very nice, practical ones on the market.)
  2. Recycle what you have at home: reinvent your wardrobe or donate those clothes you no longer wear. You can recycle the paper you’ve already used, even to wrap gifts.
  3. Disconnect mobile phone chargers when not in use. Even when connected, they expend energy.
  4. Take your own cloth bags to the supermarket, so you won’t need to use plastic bags.
  5. You can produce very good compost material with eggshells, vegetables you no longer use, or from any leftover salad.

Living Plastic-Free: How to Menstruate Without Harming the Oceans

Reducing plastic use and environmental campaigns are in vogue. Not using plastic bottles, rejecting plastic bags, saying goodbye to straws and much more are part of the worldwide campaign to leave these polymers behind. However, living plastic-free isn’t as easy as it seems, especially for the 50% of the world’s population that menstruates.

plastic-free livingWe can’t simply ignore menstruation. Even though the topic of reducing plastic consumption has become increasingly popular, menstrual waste is still left out of the conversation. Thus, the question arises: what environmental impact do products such as pads and tampons have worldwide? Let’s put it into perspective.

Plastic-free Living: How much plastic do we women use during our periods?

Let’s do some menstrual math. All women menstruate for at least 40 years of our lives. On average, each menstruation lasts for five days, more or less. For each day of our period, we use at least two sanitary pads or tampons.

We use an average of 10 menstrual hygiene products every month, which brings us to 120 pads and tampons each year. One hundred and twenty multiplied by 40 years of fertile life gives us about 4,800 tampons and/or pads discarded and accumulated for every woman!

For more than half a century, our periods have accumulated large quantities of waste. According to studies, about 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons, and menstrual packaging build up annually on the North American coast.

Currently, a plastic island has been forming in the Pacific Ocean that covers an estimated area of 1.6 million square km–that is, three times the surface area of France and almost four times that of Spain–according to the academic research journal Nature. Ninety-nine percent of the trash found there are products derived from plastic.

We can’t stop menstruation, but we can make it more sustainable and try to live plastic-free. How? We’ll tell you later on.

What are menstrual products made of?

Due to advertisements boasting how gentle their menstrual items are, many women may ask themselves: aren’t my pads and tampons made of cotton?

Until recently, large companies that produce tampons, applicators, and sanitary napkins did not disclose the exact content of their items for menstrual hygiene. This is all because what mattered was not what they were made of, but rather the practicality of being able to discard these products after each use. There would be no need to see, touch, or wash anything.

However, due to the pressure from the increasingly aware public, large companies have had to reveal their essential ingredients: cotton, rayon, chlorine, polypropylene (pure plastic), polyethylene, polyacrylate, etc.

Despite being a natural product, cotton fields are usually treated with fertilizers and pesticides that have an impact on the environment. On the other hand, rayon is a synthetic textile that uses bleaching agents such as chlorine, which is directly associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Polypropylene, polyester, and polyethylene are used in the different layers that allow your pad to receive and retain menstrual blood. Polyacrylate is the magic gel that gives the absorbent power to these products and is present in both pads and some tampons.

Many of these components are found in plastic bags in supermarkets and items such as reusable containers, but we know that, just like disposable diapers, pads and tampons can only be used once.

Tampons, which are made from cotton fibers, usually have a small layer of these polymers to keep the cotton in place. Also, the cord from which the tampon is pulled is usually made of polyethylene or polypropylene.

Besides, an investigation by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm found that the main cause of global warming was the processing of low-density polyethylene, which is the component used in tampon applicators. This process requires a high generation of energy produced by fossil fuels.

How long does it take for menstrual products to break down?

As we have seen, pads and tampons are made of various materials.

Polymers such as polyethylene could take up to 150 years to decompose. Normally, it takes up to 1000 years for plastic to get rid of itself. The Menstrual Health Alliance of India states that for all the materials used, a sanitary pad could break down in an average of 500 to 800 years.

To this, we must also add the environmental impact and enormous carbon footprint left by the extraction of raw material, transport, manufacturing, and processing of these intimate hygiene products. In one year, the manufacturing of pads can produce the equivalent of 5.3 kg of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Another serious problem is that common plastic is not biodegradable. It puts seas and oceans at risk of becoming inhabitable by decomposing into microplastics which are then ingested by marine species.

Furthermore, these microparticles make the work of many environmental organizations–responsible for cleaning up the oceans and coasts–much more difficult, if not impossible.

How can we reduce our carbon footprint and make menstruation more sustainable?

Sileu RoseFortunately, plastic-free living is possible. We, women, have many options to support the cause and maintain good menstrual hygiene through our efforts. Menstrual cups have been determined to be one of the best options in reducing our carbon footprint and annual rates of accumulated plastic waste.

Menstrual cups are reusable for up to ten years. They are made of medical-grade silicone–a material based on silicon, oxygen, and other natural elements–and while not biodegradable, can be recycled. Many companies are responsible for manufacturing other silicone-based products.

This combines perfectly with the Zero Waste life philosophy, which aims to reduce environmental impact and pollution from home. Additionally, unlike plastic derivatives that give off toxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic substances, medical silicone is completely safe for the body.

Furthermore, as of November 2019, our Sileu Rose will be packed with a bag of biodegradable material known as PLA (polylactic acid), which is extracted from the glucose of plants such as corn. According to the European EN 13432 certification, it degrades within six months of coming into contact with the earth.

Similarly, our bags that store the cup will be made of 100% compostable organic cotton, under the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification, which regulates the production of ecologically and socially sustainable textiles.

Another way to live plastic-free living on your period is by using pads made of reusable cloth. However, the menstrual cup still beat out the rest of the intimate hygiene products by reducing the carbon footprint needed for its production.

Related: Advantages of using the menstrual cup