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Low Waste Period Care

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While this can be a real habit shift to get around, shifting your period care products to something that is more low waste is actually something I would recommend even if you hated the environment

Actually! I said it.

And, I really meant it.

Like a switch to a safety razor in place of disposable plastic razors, this is one area of a low waste lifestyle that makes so much more sense - moving away from single use, disposable pads and tampons saves money, is kinder to our bodies, increases our awareness and relationship with our bodies, and this is all without even considering the lessened impact it has on the environment.

Why Shift?

Most period products these days are made from petroleum products and highly bleached paper products. Petroleum is the synthetic plastic product bits of the pads we wear, and in reality, that's actually crude oil that's been extracted and heavily processed fossil fuels. While single use paper products technically use the renewable (regenerating) resource of trees, their impact does not stop at the felling of a tree. Most paper product processing is a highly intensive process that involves bleach and high water usage, and of course we can't ignore the fact that Canada has just lost an exceptional number of forests this past year with the worsening impacts of climate change. Once used, these products will take over 500 years to decompose, which is a very scary number indeed when we consider the short period of time that they were in use for. While there are a lot of items that we cannot switch away from easily when it comes to single use paper and plastics in a society dependant upon them, this is one of those things that there is an alternative for. 

We also can't ignore that generally, if something is not kind to the earth, it generally isn't kind to our bodies. Over the last five or so years, more and more studies are being done on the impact of using these types of products in some of our most sensitive areas. The unfortunate truth is that these products expose our nether regions to phthalates, bleach, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and volatile organic compounds that are absorbed through the skin (see this PubMed study here for more direct information). A woman can experience up to 1,800 days of their period, and so this is a lot of direct contact with some very dangerous, impactful chemicals.

Period poverty is also a real issue for so many, and although some of these options are more expensive at the get go, there is a decreased cost over time when choosing reusable options. Choosing some of these options can bring more awareness to your cycle and this in turn can create better body awareness and empowerment in an area that has notoriously been ousted as something embarrassing, unsanitary and hidden. 

1. Menstural Cups

As a real menstrual cup lover, I enjoyed the scene in "the Last of Us" when the main character's given a cup and they actually showed this on TV - there's too many apocalypse shows that just glaze over all the work it would be to learn how to get back to reusable things when we've been dependant on disposables for so long. Cups can be a long-term solution to remembering to buy - and paying for - disposable products over and over, which is the real clincher of convenience living. A menstrual cup is made of food grade silicone, and when it finally reaches the end of its useful life after a few years, it can literally be thrown in a campfire (or other fire) and burn cleanly to break down into non-toxic elements. We really love Aisle's menstrual cups, as they come in completely plastic-free packaging, are made transparently in Canada, and have really nailed down a non-gendered approach to period care and branding in terms of their values.

Cups can be a bit of a learning curve, but provide the greatest understanding of your flow and body. Most users find these to be much more comfortable than soggy paper, and the smell of the whole process is essentially removed (as there is no paper to soak things up and linger around afterward). Most cups work via suction and if you can feel it, you're likely not wearing the correct size or need to adjust how it has been inserted. The traditional menstrual cup is simple to fold and insert, and there are also alternatives to that style as well. Nixit makes a round dome shaped cup that sits on the pubic bone internally (so it does not rely on suction). The blood is dumped directly into the toilet, so there is no waste left behind. This can be a great option for camping and travelling, and most cups come with a small baggie so that it can be transported easily on your travels.

Depending on your age and whether you've had children, there are a few different options for sizing when choosing your cup. Cups can provide less maintenance in that you often only empty it once or twice a day, depending on your body and your flow. I find, after two babies, that I have one day in my cycle that I can always count on to be a heavy flow day, and that day I add a reusable liner in order to catch myself in case I forget to empty my cup. Cups can be worn overnight without the fears that are present with tampons left in that long, or you can switch it out for period underwear or a reusable pad.

Cups can be washed with a mild natural soap (an unscented, biodegradable dish soap or Castile soap work great, and are available at a lot of refilleries like ours) and then boiled for ten minutes (or microwaved in water and vinegar) to sanitize them at the end of your period. 

2. Reusable Pads + Liners

Another option for alternative period care is the reusable pad or liner. These guys kick it back to the days of our grandparents, when "period rags" were a real thing. Much more evolved that a "rag", these reusables work via a snap around the underwear and come in the same type of categories that paper products do, with mini pads, liners, regular, heavy, and overnight options. These are absolutely more comfortable and softer than a soggy, bleached paper option, and depending on your preference, can be fun prints or a solid colour tone that really soaks it in (like our options from Aisle).

Once thing that you may have to shift with this routine is being prepared to change your pad when you're out and about. We recommend a snack baggie with a zipper that has some "wet bag material" on the inside to prevent liquids from passing through. These can be found at a lot of low waste shops or even your local Bulk Barn. Stashing an extra pad in this baggie as you head out the door (really, the same amount of work you'd likely put in to bring disposables) is all you need to remember, and then you can swap the used for the fresh when you're out and about stress-free. 

To maintain your pads, you can hand wash out the blood right after you use the pad, or you can set them aside until laundry day and soak them in water and wring them out before placing them in the wash. I've even had a number of people tell me that they don't do either of those processes and just throw it in with their laundry, but this route helps remove most of the liquid pre-wash depending on how soiled the pad is (and your washing machine). You can place reusable pads in the dryer, but I find putting them out on a sunny day can really sanitize them naturally as well. Air drying will also help your pads last longer, as avoiding the dryer can do for all of our clothing and cloths.

3. Period Underwear

Period underwear can be another great option for shifting away from single use paper tampons and pads. We suggest if you go this route to ensure you're choosing a pair that isn't just comfy, but one that is also PFA free and of high quality. PFA free panties ensure that there are no "forever chemicals" that can be found in the manufacturing of disposable products. A higher quality underwear will also encourage long term use as generally these panties are made of petrochemicals and plastic fibres, so you'll want to use fewer of these over time and help them last longer. We highly recommend Period Aisle (sustainable fabrics range), Saalt (sustainable fabrics), The Period Company (organic cotton!), TomboyX (OEKO-TEK certified fabrics), Modibodi (merino wool options), WUKA (certified organic cotton), and Revol Cares (sustainable fabrics). 

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