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How to make your period plastic-free

A guest blog piece by organic period product experts, Natracare.

Did you know that plastic takes over 500 years to break down? Even then, it only breaks up into micro-plastics which remain in the environment and continue to pollute the earth. Many people are cutting back on unnecessary plastic to curb this growing problem. But the issue is huge – plastic exists in every area of modern life.

A pack of conventional (or non-organic) menstrual pads contains the same amount of plastic as four carrier bags. This means that a conventional pad will be on earth for at least 4 times as long as the person who used it! An average woman uses 11,000 period products in a lifetime – that’s a lot of single-use plastic waste.

A lot of people don’t realise that plastic in period products exists beyond the outside packaging.

An awareness of the plastic contained in period products is growing, as the global movement against plastic pollution takes hold – but it’s still not mainstream knowledge.

That’s why we spoke to plastic-free period experts, Natracare, for their best tips for avoiding plastic in period products.

Choose 100% organic cotton tampons

You might be curious to know how switching from mainstream tampons to 100% organic cotton tampons can help reduce plastic waste – you might ask, aren’t all tampons plastic-free?

Many mainstream brands wrap a thin layer of plastic around their tampons. This might seem like an unnecessary addition, and for organic cotton tampons it is!

However, conventional tampons are made from a mixture of non-organic cotton and rayon, which is a material made from wood pulp. Rayon’s fibres are short, straight and can easily detach from one another, leaving fibres behind in the vagina that can cause vaginal infections and have been linked to endometriosis.

Once the tampon is thrown away, this plastic layer remains in the environment for hundreds of years. Rayon is bleached with chlorine to make it look pure and white. This leaves harmful dioxin residues behind; a toxin which has been linked to cancer and other health issues.

What’s the alternative?

Natracare believes using a tampon shouldn’t harm your health or the environment. They make tampons from 100% organic cotton, which is free from bleaching and other nasties. They’ve been in the business of making periods healthy for a long time – they made the world’s first organic tampon way back in 1989.

We can get behind that – with Natracare, you know exactly what you’re putting into your body and what you’re throwing away.

Say ‘no’ to plastic applicators

Plastic applicators have become popular in recent years because they’re easy to use, but they are a major source of plastic waste. They are really only used for 10 seconds – but they last forever. The life span of this product, and others like it, it really highlights the issue with single-use plastics…

Market research in the UK shows that 60% of women prefer tampons with applicators.

Plastic applicators are often found floating in our oceans and washed-up on our beaches. A study done in 2010 found nine plastic tampon applicators found per kilometre on UK beaches. This figure is bound to have increased, as plastic doesn’t disappear, it only accumulates.

This waste is unnecessary and can be easily avoided – a cardboard applicator is a great biodegradable option and is just as easy to use as a plastic applicator. Alternatively, you could ditch the applicator altogether and choose non-applicator tampons instead.

Plant-based plastic applicators – solution or greenwash?

Plastic waste is a big problem and many tampon companies are conscious that there is a growing awareness of waste from plastic applicators.

Big companies are conscious that there is a shift occurring away from single-use plastic. And the big menstrual care companies are no exception to this.

To appeal to green-minded consumers, tampon companies have developed plant-based plastic applicators. But all is not as it seems…

The words ‘plant based’ conjure the idea of an eco-friendly, biodegradable alternative to oil-based plastic.

In some cases, ‘plant-based plastic’ is plastic that has been made from corn or sugar cane – the end result is plastic as we know it – the type that remains in the ocean forever.

Recent tests conducted on certain brands of ‘plant-based plastic’ applicators have shown that they are, in the end, the same plastic as toothbrushes, plastic bottles, plastic bags and straws – and not likely to break down in the next 500 years!

Although biodegradable and compostable plastic does exist, it needs the right environment in order to biodegrade efficiently.

It can be hard to know what is harmful to the environment and what isn’t, especially when some unscrupulous companies use greenwashing to appeal to consumers’ eco-guilt. If in doubt, avoid using any type of plastic tampon applicator and choose tampons with cardboard applicators, non-applicator tampons or reusable products.

Choose natural pads & panty liners

Have you ever noticed that mainstream brands describe their pads as ‘cotton-like’? Most conventional pads and panty liners aren’t made of cotton or other biodegradable materials. In fact, the average pad is made from up to 90% plastic.

The top layer of a conventional pad or panty liner is often made from plastic; woven so that it looks and feels like cotton.

Natural pads and panty liners are totally plastic-free and made from only natural, breathable and biodegradable materials such as organic cotton and absorbent wood pulp. Natracare’s pads and panty liners have been plastic-free since 1993.  They work just like conventional pads, and don’t compromise your intimate health or the environment.

Why not try a menstrual cup?

If you’re looking to move away from disposable products altogether, menstrual cups are a great alternative to tampons. A menstrual cup is a small, flexible cup made from silicone which is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. Menstrual cups are reusable and can last for up to ten years. They hold three times as much blood as a tampon, which means fewer trips to the bathroom.

Try reusable pads

Reusable pads absorb blood just like disposable sanitary pads, but the difference is they’re washable and can be used time and time again. Reusable pads are made from absorbent fabrics such as cotton or bamboo. They fasten to underwear with poppers to keep them secure. Just like disposables, reusable pads are available in variety of sizes and absorbencies, so you can still find the protection you need whilst reducing the amount of waste you create.

Moving away from single-use plastic is an important step towards reducing your impact on the planet. Making changes to the period products you use is an easy way to reduce your plastic consumption every month. Whether you prefer disposable products or you’re giving reusables a go, there’s an environmentally-friendly option for everyone.

To find out more about going plastic-free and discover the whole range of pads, panty liners and tampons, visit www.natracare.com

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