Curious about sustainable period products? These people were, too. (2023)


8 min



Throughout their lifetime, a person who menstruates will spend about seven years on their period and use about 12,000 single-use tampons.

For some, that might be hard to visualize. But for Taylor Abramson, a 25-year-old library science graduate student at the University of North Texas, it has become an integral part of how she thinks about the environmental impact of menstrual products.

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“I was thinking about how many of these products I personally was throwing away each month,” she said. “And I hadn’t even really thought about it in terms of how many menstruating humans there are on the planet at any given time and how many products collectively we’re throwing away.”

Then, in 2016, Abramson got turned onto reusable menstrual products when a childhood acquaintance became a sustainability influencer. The friend posted quizzes about which period cups work best for different lifestyles, and that is how Abramson started using the reusable Dot Cup, which collects rather than absorbs fluid.

A period comes to an end: 100 years of menstruation products

Abramson isn’t alone in trying out sustainable menstrual products in hopes of lessening her ecological footprint. As interest grows, studies have found such products are less expensive over time and less harmful to the environment.


Johanna Mall, a 27-year-old landscape architect in San Diego, said she has spent only $20 on her menstrual products in the past nine years — but she has bought at least four menstrual cups for friends to try in that time.

Mall said she is loyal to her cup, which has a life span of up to 10 years. She’s starting to search for its replacement, but she said she will be sticking with a cup because of its performance and price tag. “How much money do you spend on tampons and pads per year versus a one-time cost?” she said.

That number is different for every person who menstruates. Cost depends on flow, preference and how often a person changes products. Studies suggest the cost of single-use menstrual products over a lifetime can be from about $2,000 to $6,000.

Given the potential benefits for individuals and the planet, environmentalists have been pushing reusable menstrual products as a worthwhile sustainable swap, and the global menstrual cup market is growing: It is projected to reach $636.16 million by 2027, as concerns about single-use waste rise and users become more aware of their options.


More research has also been done in recent years around the effect of single-use menstrual products. One study this year found that in the United Kingdom, 28,114 tons of menstrual waste is produced annually, and about 3,363 tons are lost to the environment.

“Once it’s flushed, only half of it will reach the wastewater treatment plant,” said Raffaella Villa, a co-author of the study and professor of environmental bioengineering at De Montfort University in the U.K. She said the remainder will stay in sewers or flow out into the environment through seas or rivers.

Meanwhile, Villa and her colleagues’ research found that reusable menstrual products would reduce waste by 22,907 tons a year and greenhouse gas emissions by 7,900 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year. For context, the Environmental Protection Agency found that in 2018, a typical vehicle emitted about 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide per year.


Other studies have found that reusable menstrual cups’ environmental impact is roughly 1.5 percent of their disposable competitors’ because of the reduced production associated with them.

“I think what most people don’t think about is all of the energy and the water and the emissions associated with making products — most people only think about the end of life,” said Susan Powers, director of the Institute for a Sustainable Environment at Clarkson University and co-author of a 2019 life-cycle assessment of menstrual products. “The bottom line is when you use any disposable product, most of the impact comes from the manufacturing.”

Early puberty cases in girls have surged during covid, doctors say

Four years after switching to a menstrual cup, Abramson also bought period underwear to try out during the pandemic. The time at home allowed Abramson to monitor her flow and when she would need to change her period underwear, she said. (Estimates suggest that regular, nonorganic pads may take 500 to 800 years to break down.)


“I was worried that it was going to feel like a diaper, but actually I realized, ‘Wait a minute, single-use pads feel more like a diaper than this,’ ” she said.

Period underwear is made of absorbent fabric that traps menstrual blood so it doesn’t leak. When the underwear is full, users can wash and use them again. Each pair lasts about two years, according to manufacturers, and ranges in cost from around $20 to $40. Experts say the main issue with reusable underwear is that it is not widely able to be recycled.

Jennifer Lincoln, an OB/GYN, lactation consultant and creator of a popular TikTok channel dedicated to reproductive health education, said she wishes period underwear had been around for her teen years. But now, it’s the younger generation leading the reusable charge, she added: Gen Zers “are the ones that are adopting these. They are onboard using period cups and period underwear.”


Lincoln said she counsels patients to explore which sustainable period products will work best with their bodies — adding that some people may need practice to get the correct positioning of a menstrual cup or disc. She posits that the newness of reusable menstrual products is a big barrier to being more mainstream.

As she put it: “A tampon just seems a little more straightforward.”

There’s a market barrier as well, said Nicole Darnall, foundation professor of management and public policy and director and co-founder of Arizona State University’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative.

“If you go to buy an organic carrot, a carrot is still a carrot,” she said. “If we talk about sustainable menstrual products, it’s a completely different product, so we’re having to educate consumers about the novelty of a product they have never been connected with before.”


But, Darnall said, when the public is educated on these products, they begin to connect on a more personal level. With new studies coming out about the presence and health effects of microplastics in tampons, choosing sustainable menstrual products may be a decision that benefits the health of the user as well as the health of the planet.

Darnall’s research has found that a higher percentage of consumers consider sustainability if it directly affects them. A 2018 study she co-wrote, for example, found that 7 percent of consumers regularly consider sustainability that does not directly affect them, while 22 percent think about sustainability if a product’s sustainability will benefit them personally.

With that 29 percent of people, she said, “we’re reaching a critical tipping point where we can actually shape markets.”


An individual’s purchasing power can feel small in the grand scheme of the U.S. economy, Darnall noted, but she still likes to focus on the positives. “Collectively, if we’re all embracing the power of one, then we can radically shape the markets,” she said.

The benefits of sustainable menstrual products can also go beyond price and sustainability, but shopping for period products was never enjoyable for D. Ojeda, a senior national organizer at the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Ojeda, who is nonbinary, describes traditional single-use period products as “not gender-affirming” because of their location in the feminine hygiene aisle, as well as language on packaging.

“People are already stereotyping me as this woman when I’m not,” Ojeda said about what it has been like to purchase traditional period products.


Since the start of the pandemic, Ojeda has switched to using reusable period underwear from TomBoyX, with occasional backup from pads.

“I have really horrible periods, so it’s been a very comforting thing to wear when I’m not feeling my best,” Ojeda said.

For Ojeda, using the boxer brief period underwear serves as “less of a reminder, less of a trigger that people are seeing me as a woman because of my menstruation.”

Rebecca Reicherter, a consumer insights consultant and birder living in the Philadelphia suburbs, said that she has been environmentally conscious for years, but didn’t initially find the maintenance of reusable period products appealing. But eventually, she said, her conservationist conscience won out.

Four months ago, the 33-year-old switched to a silicone menstrual disc.

“It wasn’t a very difficult transition,” she said. “I was anticipating that it would be uncomfortable or would feel icky, but for me it works, and honestly I think less about period maintenance now.”

In fact, she added, she has turned her period “into a positive thing”: “There’s this weird satisfaction in knowing that instead of throwing out who knows how many tampons every month, I’m not anymore.”

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What are sustainable period products? ›

Menstrual Cups

These are possibly the most sustainable option out there as you only need one product which can last for up to 10 years. Again they come in different shapes and sizes.

What are the benefits of sustainable period products? ›

In addition, the manufacturing and transportation of disposable period products contribute to carbon emissions and pollution. Reusable period products offer a more sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to disposable options. By choosing reusable products, you can reduce waste and save money in the long run.

How do period products affect the environment? ›

Over the course of a lifetime, a person who menstruates is predicted to throw away roughly 400 pounds of packaging from these products, and those harmful plastics often end up in landfills, sewer systems and waterways.

Why are menstrual products important? ›

When girls and women have access to safe and affordable sanitary materials to manage their menstruation, they decrease their risk of infections. This can have cascading effects on overall sexual and reproductive health, including reducing teen pregnancy, maternal outcomes, and fertility.

What are the best examples of sustainable products? ›

Eco Friendly Home Items
  • Certified Compostable Bin Liners. ...
  • Recycled Toilet Tissue. ...
  • Recycled Plastic Toothbrush. ...
  • Recycled Sari Table Linen Collection. ...
  • Recycled Plastic Rugs. ...
  • Ballpoint Pens Made From Recycled Water Bottles. ...
  • Eco Friendly Decking. ...
  • Recycled Floor Mats.

What are good examples of sustainable products? ›

Here are some examples of sustainable products:

Furniture made with recycled or reclaimed wood. Electronics made with recycled materials and energy efficient components. Renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power. Green building materials, such as low-VOC paints and recycled insulation.

What is the purpose of sustainable products? ›

Sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal.

What are the three major benefits of sustainable development? ›

The three advantages of sustainable development are as follows:
  • It helps in ensuring a better life for present and future generations.
  • Lowers the impact on the environment by reducing air, water, and soil pollution.
  • Helps in achieving long-term economic growth.

What are the four important benefits of sustainable design? ›

Sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments.

What are the issues with menstrual products? ›

Chemicals of concern commonly used in feminine care products include carcinogens, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, and allergens.

What is worse for the environment pads or tampons? ›

If you have to choose between pads and tampons, tampons, especially tampons without applicators, are the more environmentally friendly choice because they require less plastic than pads. Why don't more women use menstrual cups if they are so much more sustainable and economical?

Why should period products be free? ›

86.9% of women said that they've found themselves away from home when they got their period, without any period products on them. The inability to access products at a crucial moment can easily be avoided, as well as the stress and trauma associated with it, by supplying free products in your business.

What is the safest period products? ›

Natural period products like organic pads and tampons, menstrual cups, and wipes are the best options because they're nontoxic and made more sustainably than traditional products that use plastics and harsh chemicals, along with other no-nos.

What is the menstrual equality? ›

What is menstrual equity? Menstrual equity refers to equal and comprehensive access to menstrual hygiene products, and to the right to education about reproductive health, which both removes barriers to care and reduces stigma surrounding it.

Are sustainable products better? ›

Environmental and social benefits of sustainable purchasing

save natural resources, eg by choosing products and services that use recycled materials or waste as a raw material or resource. reduce waste sent to landfill, eg by buying products which can be reused or recycled.

Who uses sustainable products? ›

Companies that use green marketing are those that highlight the environmental benefits of their products or services. Among the companies that are known for the best examples of green marketing are Patagonia, Starbucks, Nike, IKEA, and Timberland.

Why is sustainability important? ›

Sustainability improves the quality of our lives, protects our ecosystem and preserves natural resources for future generations. In the corporate world, sustainability is associated with an organization's holistic approach, taking into account everything, from manufacturing to logistics to customer service.

What are 5 examples of sustainable? ›

Examples of Sustainable Development
  • Wind energy.
  • Solar energy.
  • Crop rotation.
  • Sustainable construction.
  • Efficient water fixtures.
  • Green space.
  • Sustainable forestry.

What are three sustainability examples? ›

Clean water and sanitation: Such as learning to avoid wasting water. Climate action: Acting now to stop global warming. Life below water: Avoiding the use of plastic bags to keep the oceans clean. Life on land: Planting trees to help protect the environment.

What is the quality of sustainable products? ›

Key characteristics of a sustainable product: Product is made from renewable resources; it does not deplete our natural resources. Product production and distribution requires minimal energy consumption and minimizes waste. Recycling and reuse options are available.

What is the main point of sustainability? ›

Sustainable practices support ecological, human, and economic health and vitality. Sustainability presumes that resources are finite, and should be used conservatively and wisely with a view to long-term priorities and consequences of the ways in which resources are used.

How does sustainability improve quality of life? ›

Environmentally, sustainable practices can help protect natural resources, mitigate and adapt to climate change and promote biodiversity. Social inclusion and sustainability benefits that result from sustainable development, are directly linked to electrification.

How does sustainable living improve the quality of life? ›

Living sustainably can improve our life balance by reducing our dependence on vehicles or machinery. By being less reliant on vehicles, we're more likely to walk or cycle, which helps us create healthier habits. We can also live healthier lives by consuming high-quality, local foods.

What is the impact of sustainable development? ›

Sustainable development practices help countries and businesses grow in ways that adapt to the challenges posed by climate change. This protects important natural resources for our current and future generations and allows communities to thrive.

What is given the most importance on sustainable development? ›

Following are the importance of sustainable development: 1. Using the available resources judiciously and working towards maintaining the ecological balance. 2.To prevent degradation of the environment and laying emphasis on protecting the environment.

What is the most important aspect of sustainable development? ›

Maintaining high and stable levels of economic growth is one of the key objectives of sustainable development. Abandoning economic growth is not an option. But sustainable development is more than just economic growth. The quality of growth matters as well as the quantity.”

What are the most important aspects of a sustainable community? ›

The Institute for Sustainable Communities developed a list of elements of a sustainable community, including leadership, civic engagement and responsibility; ecological integrity; economic security; and social well-being.

How can period products be free? ›

There are organizations that provide free menstrual hygiene supplies to people in need. Period poverty awareness and advocacy for equal access has helped eliminate taxes on menstrual products in some locations. Several states have made period supplies free in educational institutions.

What is the most used period product? ›

Tampons and Pads

Pads, followed closely by tampons, are the most frequently chosen period product for maintaining menstrual hygiene.

What is the most common menstrual problem? ›

Period problem: Menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) Pain that you get with your menstrual period is called dysmenorrhea (dis-men-uh-REE-uh). Pain is the most common problem women have with their periods. More than half of women who have periods get some pain around their period.

How much waste comes from period products? ›

The study found that an estimated 28,114 tonnes of waste is generated annually from menstrual products, 26,903 tonnes from disposable products of which about 4% (3,363 tonnes) is lost in the environment by flushing.

How much waste do periods produce? ›

Consider that the average American woman menstruates for 38 years—a period during which she can be expected to produce a grand total of 62,415 pounds of garbage (PDF). Thus, during your fertile years, period-related detritus should make up about 0.5 percent of your personal landfill load.

Which is safer tampons or pads? ›

Pads are easier and safer to use as compared to tampons. Pad can be a really good choice particularly if you're the kind of person who forgets a tampon is inside you only to find the bacteria which is growing inside is having a vampire party in your pants.

Are pads environmentally-friendly? ›

All of these harmful ingredients near your most sensitive areas are not good for your health. From an environmental perspective, pads are a major contributor to landfill waste. Did you know approximately 12 billion pads are added to United States landfills each year?

What is a sustainable alternative to pads? ›

Where to get sustainable alternatives to sanitary pads
  • Period underwear: Mooncheeks. Photography: Mooncheeks. ...
  • Period cups and biodegradable tampons: Luuna. ...
  • Period cups: Freedom Cups. ...
  • Period cups, discs, and underwear: Saalt. ...
  • Period underwear: Thinx. ...
  • Menstrual discs: Nixit. ...
  • Menstrual discs: Ziggy Cup Menstrual Disc.
May 26, 2023

Are period products recyclable? ›

Well, the answer is No. sanitary pads are not made with materials considered as recyclable. Many of them have been coated with thin plastic materials to make them effective. They are made for a single-use purpose.

Do we actually need periods? ›

The whole purpose of your menstrual cycle is to prepare your uterus for pregnancy each time you ovulate. If you don't want to become pregnant, there's absolutely no health reason you need to have a menstrual period. Moreover, as you approach menopause, your periods can start to be more irregular and unpredictable.

Why feminine hygiene should be free? ›

An estimation of around 20% of industrial water pollution is from garment manufacturing, which contributes to climate change. As making sanitary products free would mean less people would be buying new pants/ leggings/ trousers, it would also help with the pollution from the machines that make them.

Why should period products be free in school? ›

Free menstrual products give an opportunity to students who would otherwise not afford it be able to attend school. For example, schools in New York City that started stocking free menstrual products observed a 2.4% improvement in student attendance.

Can a 12 year old wear a tampon? ›

Any girl who has her period can use a tampon. Tampons work just as well for girls who are virgins as they do for girls who have had sex. And even though using a tampon can occasionally cause a girl's hymen to stretch or tear, it does not cause a girl to lose her virginity.

Which pads are not toxic? ›

Organic 100% cotton tampons and pads

Seventh Generation offers non-toxic tampons, pads, and panty liners made of organic cotton that are chlorine-free with no added fragrances and deodorants. Organyc offers natural tampons, pads, maternity products, panty liners, and more made of 100% organic cotton.

What's cheaper pads or tampons? ›

What are menstrual pads? Pads are usually seen as the less expensive, more convenient option. While they are cheaper and more accessible than tampons, they can also be a more environmentally-friendly option as they are often made from super-absorbent materials and don't need as many wrappings as tampons do.

Do all genders have a period? ›

Having a period is not a feminine thing, and people of all genders menstruate, including non-binary people, agender people and even plenty of men! Menstruation doesn't change anything about your gender, it's just a thing that some bodies do.

Is menstruation a no gender? ›

Having a period isn't tied to gender

It is part of a reproductive system that is largely associated with women, but not all women bleed. It can be a complicated topic for trans and nonbinary people. Menstruation can induce feelings of dysphoria for transmasculine or nonbinary people.

Do all females have periods? ›

Some cisgender women (assigned female at birth) don't have periods due to menopause, stress, disease or a hysterectomy. They may have never started menstruating due to a variety of medical conditions or they may be transgender or intersex.

Which period products are best for the environment? ›

Here are 5 eco friendly period products:
  1. Menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are significantly better for the environment than other period products. ...
  2. Period underwear. If you're ready to switch your period products, period underwear is a must-try. ...
  3. Reusable menstrual pads. ...
  4. Menstrual disc. ...
  5. Organic tampons.
Jun 5, 2022

What are the sustainable materials for sanitary pads? ›

The pads should be 100% organic unbleached cotton, sometimes hemp or bamboo are used. Sustainable period pads should also be free from fragrance, dyes, chemicals, chlorine and dioxin. Dioxin is a byproduct of chlorine and known to disrupt endocrine system and reproductive health.

How many tampons are thrown away? ›

The average menstruating individual uses approximately 11,000 disposable hygiene products, like tampons or pads, in a lifetime. This contributes to 12 billion pads and 7 million tampons going into the landfills annually1 (not to mention the total impact of producing, shipping, and packaging these products).

How sustainable is tampons? ›

Some tampons are made of 100 percent organic cotton or natural bamboo, which can be composted. Organic pads made of organic cotton, cellulose, and veggie gum glue are also compostable. It can take 18 months for these products to fully break down in the right compost environment.

Are pads environmentally friendly? ›

While in a landfill, disposable pads are estimated to take 500 to 800 years to break down, and materials such as plastic never truly biodegrade.

Why are menstrual cups eco friendly? ›

Women can also reduce plastic waste by using a menstrual cup. One cup produces an estimated 0.4% of the plastic waste that single-use pads build up, or 6% of that created by tampons in the span of 10 years, according to calculations in the review.

What is 1 example of sustainability? ›

Clean water and sanitation: Such as learning to avoid wasting water. Climate action: Acting now to stop global warming. Life below water: Avoiding the use of plastic bags to keep the oceans clean. Life on land: Planting trees to help protect the environment.

What are three sustainable? ›

The figure at the top of this page suggests that there are three pillars of sustainability – economic viability, environmental protection and social equity.


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