They're white, they're fluffy, and they're in candy-colored wrappers. How threatening could pads and tampons be? Well, very. In an era in which plastic straws are illegal in some parts of the country and coffee shops offer discounts to customers who bring their own reusable cup, disposable pads and tampons are still a universal blind spot. They don't register as an environmental problem, even though they very much are: A woman who uses pads and tampons monthly will toss out an estimated 250 to 300 pounds of menstrual products in her lifetime.
What exactly are we tossing? The primary material in many tampon applicators is a malleable plastic called polyolefin, while the absorbent core is typically made from a blend of cotton and/or rayon, and strings can be a mix of cotton, polyester, rayon, and more plastic. Pads can also contain polyolefins (to create a waterproof barrier), as well as printed paper, absorbent foam, and wood cellulose. Unfortunately, because these plastics can't be cleaned and recycled, they go straight to landfills.
Though it's unclear exactly how long it takes polyolefins to breakdown, experts estimate that the process takes hundreds of years. Sit with that for a minute. And if you flush applicators (a no-no), they end up polluting our waterways. Last year, during the International Coastal Cleanup, a total of 72,708 tampons and tampon applicators were picked up from beaches, says Allison Schutes, a director at Ocean Conservancy. And that’s the stuff that was big enough to spot: Tampon applicators often break down into smaller pieces of plastic and stay in the ocean for centuries, where they are very likely to get eaten by fish.
So here's what you do: Get over the gross-out factor and try more sustainable (and cost-saving) alternatives. Yes, washing out blood in the sink takes a little getting used to, but it's not all that different from cleaning up the odd spot on your jeans or underwear. Here are a three options to get you started:
Reusable pads like the Lunapad Performa pads are perfect if you're not ready for menstrual cups or period panties yet. With a button clasp, you can secure the pad to your underwear and go about your day. With three different sizes, the Lunapad prevents leaking on your lightest to your heaviest days.
Coming in six different styles and a variety of colors, the Thinx Period-Proof Underwear got you and your period covered. The underwear can be used on its own or in combination with a pad or tampon for extra support, if necessary. It's comfortable and feels just like regular underwear so you don't have to worry about leakage or a pesky pad or tampon shifting around during the day.
Menstrual cups have become a popular alternative to disposable pads and tampons. Lunette is a great brand to try if you want to a flexible and comfortable cup that can last for up to 12 hours. The cup comes in two different sizes to work with your flow and six different colors allowing you to choose your own adventure.
Read more stories about:
- Meet the People Trying to End Period Stigma
- This Brand Created a Gender Neutral Menstrual Cup
- Why I Switched From Tampons to Menstrual Cups
Now look at 100 years of menstruation:
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Originally Appeared on Allure