The Zero Waste Bathroom: Plastic-Free Period Edition

zero waste period

The zero waste period is such an important goal, not just for the environment but for our own health. In this post, we’ll look into the scary parts of the “traditional” period products, figure out what the sustainable alternatives are, and chart a pathway to having a plastic-free period! We’ll save some money (oh, yeah!), improve our health, and help reduce the load on the environment. Let’s get started.

The Environmental Problem with Single-Use Period Products

Women have used cloth for their period for hundreds of years. That is, until the entry of plastic into our lives. Now, a large chunk of a conventional period pad is made of plastic. Did you know? A conventional, industrially manufactured, disposable sanitary pad takes 500-800 years to decompose. 


And thousands of tons of sanitary waste is generated every month across the world. Which means one year of one person’s use of any typical feminine hygiene product leaves a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalents. It’s hard to do the math without a chill running down my spine. How much are we polluting the Earth with just our menstrual products?

Tampons are similar. The average American woman uses up to 16,800 tampons over her lifetime – all single-use and non-biodegradable. Awareness is growing, of course, but not nearly fast enough. When I first heard of the environmental ramifications of my period and all the single-use products I had used, I was stunned. It was the same feeling as when I found out about plastic toothbrushes: I sat and counted the number of sanitary pads and tampons I’d used since my very first period. They all still exist in this world. All of them. All that toxic waste that was used for of my comfort and convenience. I was more upset about this than the fact that conventional pads and tampons can be incredibly harmful to our own health. But their effects on our health, too, is a big problem.


The Health Problem with Disposable Period Wear

plastic-free period

Most feminine hygiene products contain toxic ingredients. And manufacturers seem to get away with this because feminine hygiene products are considered to be “medical devices” – which mean there is no legal requirement to disclose the ingredients used.

But we do know that conventional sanitary pads can contain the equivalent of about four plastic bags. And we know enough about plastic bags. Toxic chemicals like BPA and BPS disrupt embryonic development, and are linked to heart disease and cancer. Phthalates, which are used to give tampon applicators a smooth finish, are known to mess with gene expression. Sanitary pads contain crude oil plastics, which restrict air flow and trap heat and dampness, leading to yeast and bacteria growth in your vaginal area. Also included in a sanitary pad are other toxic ingredients such as odor neutralizers and fragrances. Plus, they also contain chlorine which pollutes our water. (Please do not flush your pad or tampon down the toilet!)

If you haven’t watched this video yet, here you go: 

How perfectly lovely. And we’re sticking all this into a very vulnerable part of our body. Regularly and repeatedly. For decades of our life. 


A Plastic-Free Period 

This is very much possible with the host of period products available today. There are brands that offer organic-but-disposable pads and tampons, and those that offer reuseable-and-organic ones. There are brands that offer monthly subscription services, and those that only sell their products. There are brands that sell silicone cups that are the perfect solution for a zero waste period. There are brands that do all of the above.

Use this as a guide to all the possible options you have when it comes to switching to a plastic-free period. Explore more on your own, and make the change. You owe it to your body and to the planet. 



Organic Pads and Tampons

organic cotton tampon this is L-2

Not ready to experiment? Switch to organic! They’re made of organic cotton, and therefore have many advantages: they’re good for people with sensitive skin, they are free of synthetic ingredients, and they’re inexpensive in the long run. Plus, they are organic and biodegradable, which while not ideal, is light years better than plastic.

Glad Rags

Maxim Organic Cotton Tampons



Organyc Tampons

Seventh Generation Organic Cotton Tampons 

This Is L



Zero Waste Reusable Pads and Tampons

plastic-free period cloth pads

These are plastic-free reusable menstrual pads and tampons made with organic cotton cloth. You use them, wash them, and reuse them. Simple!

Cloth pads and tampons are reusable – this is their number one advantage (apart from the environmental and health benefits). The ones made with organic cotton are safer and healthier for you and the environment, and they’re easier on the wallet. Some of the top brands selling organic cotton period products are:



Glad Rags Cloth Pads

You can also support local businesses by buying organic cloth period products off Etsy (reusable tampons), or maybe even try making your own menstrual cloth pads!



Zero Waste Period Underwear

Period underwear Be Girl

These are also reusable, but it’s the entire underwear. You’re not inserting a cloth pad or tampon and then wearing your regular underwear. These are more comfortable, and having a minimum of two sets of period panties can last you though each monthly period for years. Choosing between a period underwear and cloth pads is obviously up to personal preference. Here’s how you wash your period underwear.




Dear Kate 

Be Girl



The Menstrual Cup

Lunette zero waste period-2

The menstrual cup is the ideal solution to the period waste problem. It’s made of medical-grade silicone, is cost-effective, reusable (and lasts up to ten years!) without any health hazards (no vaginal infections, no TSS). The menstrual cup is even sex-friendly, by which I mean you can have non-messy sexual intercourse while wearing the cup. (It holds the menstrual blood at the cervix, and therefore prevents the blood from flowing through the vaginal canal.)

Unlike a tampon, you don’t need to change the cup that often – and it’s available in various sizes that you can use more comfortably based on your requirements. It usually does not leak if inserted correctly, and does not emit any nasty odors. 

It takes some work in cleaning and sanitizing the cup, obviously. It’s the work you need to do to avoid just disposing of it into a landfill. This is not a single-use product, and you therefore have to  put in some effort to maintain the product and keep it safe for you. Here’s how you can care for your menstrual cup.



Glad Rags Menstrual Cups






There’s a disposable option here as well, so if you feel more comfortable trying the disposable Softcup, go for it. Remember, though, to wrap and toss the disc into the trash can. Do not flush it down the toilet!

If you’re interested in trying the cup but still hesitant, read The Ultimate Guide to Menstrual Cups by Jackie Bolen for comprehensive information about menstrual cups.

Here are more options for the perfect menstrual cup for your body.


Help Underprivileged Girls Experience Safe and Healthy Periods

help end period poverty

Most of the brands listed above have some program to help girls around the world who do not have access to safe menstrual products. Donate a bit if you are able to, and help young people experience a safer period every month.

Some places you can donate to or help out with – that focus on menstrual health and access to safe supplies:

Alliance for Period Supplies

Days for Girls

The Homeless Period Project

Always – #EndPeriodPoverty


Helping Women Period


Read More About the Zero Waste Bathroom

How tampons and pads became so unsustainable

National Period Day and the Tampon Tax

How to have a period without ruining the planet

Sustainable Toilet Paper for a Zero Waste Bathroom

Easy Ways to Live a Zero Waste Lifestyle

Bathroom Plants to Reduce Humidity


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guide to a plastic-free period zero waste period

NOTE: All brand photographs belong to the respective brands/businesses.


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