Sustainable Periods

So, what`s the issue with single-use period products?

  • Many period products can contain up to 90% plastic, with a pack of pads containing 5 plastic bags worth on average. Most tampons contain plastic too (not just the applicator but the absorbent part too).
  • It is estimated that 4.6 million of these are flushed down toilets every single day. Apart from being harmful to marine life, disposable products flushed down the toilet contribute to another problem - fatbergs. Fatbergs are huge masses of period products, wet wipes, nappies, fats and oils which build up over time and cause blockages in our sewers.
  • Period products can contain toxic industrial chemicals like BPA (Besphenol A), dioxins, pesticides, bleach and fragrances - manufacturers don`t legally have to state what is in their products.
  • During lockdown 30% of girls in the UK aged 14-21 years struggled to afford or access period products. With reusables, they are always available.
  • People who have periods use more than 11,000 disposable period products in their lifetime.
  • Tampons, sanitary towels and panty liners, plus their packaging and individual wrapping, generate more than 200,000 tonnes of single-use waste per year. And they all contain plastic. Sanitary towels are made from 90% plastic, tampons contain 6%. The average user throws away between 125kg to 150kg of tampons, pads and applicators in their lifetime. And for those who are still flushing rather than binning these plastic sanitary products, it`s estimated that 700,000 panty liners, 2.5mtampons and 1.4m sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet every day in the UK, with sanitary items being the 5th most common items found on Europe`s beaches.
  • There are a range of reusable period products available as alternatives to single-use disposables. Reusable period products have a lower environmental impact than single-use period products. The menstrual cup is substantially better for the environment than other reusable product options. (Menstrual products and sustainable alternatives report 2021 - Life Cycle Initiative)

Reusable period pads are what they say on the tin. They are period pads which are made from washable textile materials. They are worn in the same way as standard disposable pads but after use are taken off, washed and reused.

As with disposable single-use pads, you secure reusable pads to the crotch of your underwear, and they absorb menstrual fluid externally.

The top sheet of the pad is made of materials such as organic topped cotton or bamboo velour, hemp fleece, cotton flannel, cotton jersey and cotton fleece poly jersy etc. The absorbent core is made of materials such as Cotton Terry Toweling, Cotton Fleece, Hemp Fleece, Bamboo Fleece and Bamboo Terry, Cotton jersey, Zorb, Microfiber terry etc

Like your run-of-the-mill disposable pad, reusable pads tend to come in different sizes to accommodate different levels of flow, but many brands claim that their products are more absorbent than your average disposable. You should aim to change disposable pads when they start to feel full or wet and uncomfortable, typically every four to eight hours.

Reusable pads also tend to be more breathable and natural than disposable pads. Disposable pads have been known to contain nasty chemicals which are harsh and irritable.

Washing reusable pads is as easy as washing your underwear. Just throw them in the wash. A cold wash is better for stain removal (and the planet) and some prefer to rinse or soak their pads in cold water before washing if they are not going to be washed straight away. Then put them on the radiator or air dry them and wait to reuse

How many reusable pads do I need?

This will be different for everyone and every period. Typically, it`s suggested that you change your period pad every 4-6 hours (maybe more often depending on your flow). So that would mean 3-4 period pads every day of your period, and then 1-2 for overnight (overnight pads are widely available). Periods can range from 4-7 days (generally). So this means you would need approximately 15-30 pads for one cycle. That sounds like a lot! But, you can also get enough for a day/day and a half and have time to wash and fully dry your pads throughout.

If you`re using reusable period pads as a backup for a menstrual cup or tampons, you would need even fewer.

Period pads average around £8 - £11 depending on size and retailer

Mini - approx. £8

Medium flow - approx. £9

Mega flow - approx. £10

Megamega flow - approx. £11

Period pants are reusable underwear you can wear while you`re having your period without using any other sanitary product. They look just like any other pair of knickers from the outside, but they come with an absorbent gusset that soaks up any blood and keeps it away from your skin. Period pants are slightly thicker than ordinary knickers but feel the same. If you follow the instructions, they will stop your period soaking through to your clothes and keep you feeling fresh.

You can choose pants with different absorbencies, depending on whether your flow is light or heavy. Most of the products on the market will hold at least the same amount of blood as 2 tampons so they don`t need to be changed as often as traditional sanitary products. Some can hold up to 20ml of blood - that`s the equivalent of 4 tampons` worth - while those designed for a lighter flow may absorb as little as 5ml.

When it comes to changing your period pants, it is a good idea to put on a fresh pair in the morning and then another at night before you go to sleep. On days when your flow is particularly heavy, you may want to change your underwear more often but each pair should keep you comfortable for several hours.

Period pants are made from absorbent materials and usually include several layers. Exactly what your underwear is made from will depend on the product you choose but popular materials are cotton, bamboo and merino wool as they are natural, breathable and antibacterial.

Washing reusable period pants is not as complicated as you might think. You do need to rinse your pants in cold water after use until the water runs clear. Once they have been rinsed through, you can pop them in your washing machine but choose a cool and gentle cycle - around 30C - and don`t add any fabric conditioner or stain removers as this can make them less absorbent over time.

If you have an average 4-5 day cycle, 7 pairs should suffice! It`s always worth having more so you can change into new pairs, and wash them after use.

Pants again vary in price from around £8 to £30 depending on size and retailer

Medium flow - approx. £10 per pair

Heavy flow - approx. £25 per pair (equivalent of 4 tampons)

Super heavy flow - approx. £25 equivalent of 12 tampons or 8 hours)

A menstrual cup is a reusable medical-grade silicone cup that fits comfortably inside your vagina and collects your period fluid without altering your natural vaginal flora. You can wear a menstrual cup safely for up to 8 hours before emptying it, then rinse it with clean water before reinserting.

For example, Mooncup but there are several different brands available.

You should only ever need one Cup but they do also come in packs of two. If you are not confident at the start then perhaps some Period Pants until you get used to fitting the cup correctly. Cups also come in a variety of sizes so there should always be something to fit everyone. Also a very good product to use if going travelling anywhere, as the cups are easily washable and quick to use.

One Cup is on average £25


Most retailers recommend a `wetbag` to carry soiled and fresh products. Basically this is just a small bag with a `clean` pocket and a `soiled` pocket to discreetly carry your pads etc.

Retail at approx. £8

Retailers also recommend soaking reusable pads and pants before washing. A bucket will do the job but most retailers stock a special soaking bucket with a strainer so that you don`t have to directly handle soaked items. Recommended to add a teaspoon of baking soda to the soaking water. Products should always be washed without fabric conditioner as this affects the absorbancy.

Starter Kits

Some retailers offer starter kits so people can try products before making further purchases.

If you have a question about resources or recycling please call one of the following numbers
Cumberland Council: 0300 373 3730
Westmorland & Furness Council: 0300 373 3300
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