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Zero Waste Period: How to Finally Make the Switch in 2022

Want to switch to reusable period products but got something holding you back? Perhaps you’re dreading washing your menstrual cup in a public bathroom, or you think it’ll be too difficult to insert and remove it. Or maybe you’re loyal to your favorite brand of tampons and are struggling to find a better match. 

Whatever your concerns, you're not alone. There are all sorts of fears holding people back from achieving zero waste periods. But don’t worry: from menstrual cups to reusable pads, each sustainable option comes with a how-to guide if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

This article will help you have an eco-friendly period using the products you feel most comfortable with. Here, you’ll find a reusable period product comparison, plus tips and advice for how to use them.

 

Zero-waste-periods-are-real


Why should you switch to a zero waste period?

Disposable tampons, pads and pantyliners may seem harmless but they have a negative effect on the environment. It is also worth bearing in mind that most reusable products are free of plastic, bleaches, dioxins, and other chemicals present in traditional disposable period products. 

Care for the environment

The average person who menstruates buys more than 11,000 disposable menstrual pads or tampons and discards up to 300 pounds of period products. Most of this trash makes its way to the landfills and takes centuries to biodegrade. With their high amounts of chemicals, toxins, and plastics, they also end up polluting our water sources, and harming marine life. 

If you're wondering just how much waste we produce during our cycles, try out our impact calculator.

Ruby-Cup-period-waste-environment-impact-calculator

Source: Ruby Cup’s environment impact calculator

 
Here’s an example: if a 25-year-old switches to Ruby Cup, a zero-waste alternative, they’ll save €945 and stop 6,750 disposable products from going to landfill. Which just shows the power you have to impact the environment and your bank account with what you buy.

Care for your health

The vaginal area is very thin and delicate, which makes it vulnerable to chemicals, plastic, and bacteria absorbing through your bloodstream. While Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) was more common in the 1980s and 90s, it’s still a real concern today, mainly associated with disposable tampons 

Making the switch to reusable menstrual products is like buying an add-on insurance policy to protect your health. Menstrual cups, for example, considerably lower your risk of TSS, are more sustainable, cheaper, and more comfortable.

If you’re struggling to say goodbye to your disposable products, thankfully, there are several options to choose from. Let’s dive in to find your best match.

Zero-waste period products: Which is the best option for you?

We’ll break down the pros and cons of the top reusable menstrual products, how to use each one, and tips to find your best match. 

Menstrual cups

Capable of holding more blood than tampons, menstrual cups are the perfect choice to begin your switch. While they do present a learning curve and may take a few tries in the beginning, they'll quickly become your cycle go-to.

Woman holding two menstrual cups from Ruby cup

 

Pros of menstrual cups 

  • Durable and sustainable. A good menstrual cup that’s made from medical grade silicone like Ruby Cup, is reusable for up to 10 years. This durability makes menstrual cups the most sustainable period product on this list. 
  • Budget-friendly. With a small investment, you don't need to worry about purchasing another product for around a decade. Think about all the money you save. 
  • Maintain your pH. Menstrual cups protect your natural vaginal flora because they're free from toxins, perfumes, and bleaches. 
  • Swim approved. Menstrual cups collect your blood by creating a seal with your vaginal wall. This protection allows you to swim leak-free
  • Convenience. When placed correctly, you won’t feel or notice your menstrual cup. This means you can comfortably work out, dance, sleep, laugh - the list is endless. 
  • Easy to clean. Whether you're in a public bathroom or at home, learning how to clean a menstrual cup is simple. Keep a reusable water bottle with you to quickly rinse your cup without having to leave the stall (but remember to sanitize your hands before you reinsert it). At home, boil your cup between cycles to sterilize it.

Cons of menstrual cups 

  • There’s a learning curve. It may be difficult to use at first but, with practice, inserting and removing a menstrual cup quickly becomes second nature. 
  • Finding the right size may take some experimenting. Not all menstrual cups are one-size-fits-all, but when you find a menstrual cup that fits you well, you won't feel a thing. Thankfully, Ruby Cup has a sizing guide to help you figure out your perfect size. 
  • Potential discomfort. As you're learning to insert the cup, you may experience some discomfort or pain. However, this is extremely rare and usually goes away with practice—Ruby Cup users report that they can't even feel the cup when it's inserted. If you experience persistent pain while wearing or inserting a menstrual cup, talk to your doctor.  

Ruby Cup is the best menstrual cup for beginners because it's soft, flexible, breathable, and comfortable. If you're a first-timer, try the Ruby Cup quiz to help you find your perfect size.

How to use them: It’s quite simple to learn how to use a menstrual cup. Spread your legs, fold the cup in half until the rim makes a "C" shape, and guide the cup towards your cervix. Push your cup with one finger until the cup and stem are both inside. Then pinch the base of the cup to prevent any leakage.

Period panties

Period underwear is like regular underwear but has an absorbent lining that holds a significant amount of period blood. Consider these pros and cons before you start your sustainable period journey.

Pros of period panties 

  • Easy to use. Wear them like your traditional underwear, and you are good to go. 
  • Absorbent. Many have an absorbance of 4 to 6 hours. 
  • Versatile. Big names like Thinx, which have defined the period underwear industry, have lots of options, including briefs and thongs, to help you find the right fit.

Cons of period panties  

  • Less sustainable. Many brands use synthetic fabrics like elastane and polyester.  
  • A hassle to change in public. On low flow days, you can wear your period underwear all day and changing is easy. But on heavier days, if your period underwear isn’t the right absorbency, you’ll find getting changed and carrying your soiled panties around can be a total hassle in a public place. 
  • Cost. Period protection panties range from $25 to $45 each, and can be more expensive if you opt for organic cotton options. You’ll need to create a cycle set of at least four pairs, but probably more, depending on how often you wash your underwear.

How to use them: To avoid leakage, be mindful of your flow and the suggested capacity. Change your panties as frequently as needed. Most brands recommend rinsing in cold water before putting them in the washing machine, but check the specific guidelines for your period panties as they can vary.

Reusable pads

Reusable cloth pads are shaped and designed in a similar way to traditional disposable pads. They come in various shapes, styles, absorbency levels, with or without waterproofing or wings, even for postpartum use. 

 

Reusable-menstrual-pad

  

Pros of reusable pads

  • Beginner-friendly. If you’re comfortable with traditional pads, reusable pads are a stress-free option.
  • Durability. One reusable pad can last up to 5 years, but when you compare menstrual cups to reusable pads, menstrual cups have a double shelf-life lasting up to 10. 
  • Stays in place. Despite the lack of an adhesive strip, reusable pads stay secure thanks to poppers or snap on wings that fold around your underwear. 

Cons of reusable pads

  • Accessibility. Like period panties, you’ll need to shell out a large upfront cost to ensure you have enough pads for your cycle. 
  • Bulk. Depending on the brand, some pads can feel bulky and uncomfortable. Because of this, you may have a hard time moving around freely. 
  • Problems with sensitive skin. Not every material may be safe for those with sensitive skin. You will need to be more selective and experiment to find the material best for you. 

How to use them: Most reusable pads aren’t machine washable. For greater durability, gently hand wash your pads before you reuse them.

Menstrual discs

When comparing menstrual discs to cups, menstrual discs are the less sustainable sibling—many are actually single-use. Menstrual discs also have a different design and are flatter, wider, and sit higher up in the vaginal canal. Let's break down the pros and cons to help you make the right decision.

Menstrual disc and menstrual cup placements inside the vagina


Pros of using menstrual discs 

  • Easy to use. With only two sides to fold, it's easy to insert. 
  • You can wear it during sex. It's safe to keep your disc in for mess-free and enjoyable intercourse. 
  • Comfortable for lower cervixes. How you insert the disc may make it more comfortable for lower cervixes.   

Cons of using menstrual discs 

  • Not as sustainable. While menstrual cups are reusable for up to a 10-year duration, most menstrual discs brands currently on the market are disposable. 
  • Recommended for lighter flows. Many models are lightweight and thin, which won’t suit everyone for long periods of time.
  • Trickier to remove. Studies show more disc users struggle to remove their disc and seek their gynecologists for removal support. 

How to use them: Like a menstrual cup, squat and fold your menstrual disc until the two sides meet. Slide your disc next to the cervix and let go.

Menstrual cups vs. period panties, reusable pads, and menstrual discs 

Which option is best for your needs? Here’s a handy summary of each one to find your match.

Menstrual Cups

Period Panties

Reusable Pads

Menstrual Discs

Healthy

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Easy to clean

Yes

No

No

Yes (non-disposables)

Eco-friendly

Yes

Yes

Yes

To some extent (non-disposables)

Life cycle

Up to 10 years

6 months to 2 years depending on care 

1-5 years

Most are disposable after 12 hours and reusable ones last up to 2 years

Initial cost

Medium

High

Medium

Medium

Learning curve

Yes

No

No

Yes

Comfortable

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Night-use

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Leak-free 

Yes

No

No

Yes

Mess-free removal

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Sports-friendly

Yes

Low-impact and non-aquatic sports only 

Low-impact and non-aquatic sports only 

Yes

Period-sex

No

N/A

N/A

Yes

 

Tips on making the switch to a zero waste period

Are you overwhelmed by making the transition to a zero waste period? You’re not alone. Here are a few tips to ease the comfort, eliminate the stress, and help you feel more in control of your menstrual cycle:

  • Take it slow. You have time to experiment and find the cup best for you. Be patient and remind yourself that you’re making an impactful decision for the environment and your health. When in doubt, always choose a cup suitable for beginners. It will make the switch more comfortable and help you build more confidence. 
  • Forget the guilt. After learning about period waste and its environmental impact, it’s tempting to fall into a rabbit hole of guilt. Instead of focusing on the past, remind yourself you're doing the best you can, and today is the best time to grow.
  • Remember your why. When you're stressed, remember why you decided to transition to menstrual sustainability. Refocusing on those important reasons will motivate you to overcome setbacks and continue on your journey to less waste.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Until you find your match, you will experience a learning curve. Your body, comfort zone, and preference are reminders to be patient, love yourself, and find the product that best fits you. It’s out there! 

Don’t just fight period waste – fight period poverty too

While period waste is a huge problem, so is period poverty. It's a human rights issue affecting roughly 500 million worldwide. The American Medical Women's Association defines period poverty as “the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management". 

To help make sure that all people who menstruate have access to menstrual hygiene, education, and products, choose a company whose mission is to increase awareness and help the world see that healthy, happy periods are a right, not a privilege. 

Ruby Cup’s Buy One Give One Program provides more than just cup donations. People who menstruate across the globe face stigma, shame, and barriers that disrupt their lives. To reduce this global problem, our program works with partners in 21 countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe to provide educational workshops and mentorships to provide education and how-to information.

Ruby-Cup-Buy-One-Give-One-program

Ruby Cup’s Buy One Give One program. Source: Ruby Cup

 

Since 2012, when our mission first began, Ruby Cup users have donated over 100,000 cups to people without safe access to menstrual products. By choosing a company that gives back, you’ll be a better consumer and positively impact the lives of others. Let your zero waste period be the change you want to see in this world.

Zero waste periods are real 

Ready to make the transition? Whether you are new to zero waste period products or you’re experienced, learning about other options will make your periods feel more manageable, healthy, and kinder to the world around you. Take your journey a step further by sharing your new appreciation with friends and loved ones. Discussing safe and sustainable practices will normalize menstruation and shatter long-held taboos. When we help one another, we can all make better choices together. 

 

Buy-menstrual-cup-with-donation

 

 

FAQs about switching to a zero waste period

Are organic, biodegradable tampons sustainable?

If you’re debating between tampons and menstrual cups, even biodegradable tampons are far less sustainable. Not only do they take a long time to decompose, but their manufacturing contributes to greenhouse gasses. To make matters worse, they carry a higher risk of TSS than menstrual cups. 

How much waste do periods produce?

A single person uses between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons, and disposable period products take 500-800 years to biodegrade! That's a lot of plastic waste. To reduce your ecological footprint, try switching to menstrual cups. You won’t regret your decision. 

How can I transition to plastic-free periods?

Make the switch by taking it slow. Start with a beginner-friendly menstrual cup and practice before you begin menstruating to explore comfort, design, and ease. With continued practice, you'll build self-confidence and feel more comfortable making the transition. 

Which is the best menstrual cup?

The best menstrual cup is different for everyone depending on your body’s anatomy, initial budget, your menstrual flow, and preference. To find yours, try a few brands or choose a beginner-friendly cup such as Ruby Cup, which comes with a 120-day money back guarantee so you can test it properly. Keep an open mind, and don’t give up. You will find the cup that makes the transition worth it!