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Zero Waste Period: Save Money & Reduce Waste

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Zero Waste Period: Save Money & Reduce Waste

Zero waste period: say goodbye to single-use tampons and pads!

Tampons and pads make people who menstruate more efficient and productive in the workplace. Without them, we are distracted and disorganized. At least this is what period product companies would have us believe!

Since the 1920s and the 1930s, disposable pads and tampons have been pushing one mischievous message: if you menstruate, you should hide it as much as you can so you can stay on top of your work.

And how do you do that? Buying single-use period products.

I’m glad that there’s so much more period-positive messages in menstrual products today. Moreover, I’m really glad we’re finally rethinking period products and offering more and more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic ones.

Unfortunately, most single-use products today are still plastic-based. For starters, let’s look at the tampon’s anatomy:

  • Plastic packaging
  • Plastic applicator
  • Plastic string
  • Plastic layer in the tampon itself
  • Plastic waste bag

Of course, not every tampon is made with all of these plastic parts. Some companies use cardboard applicators with biodegradable packaging (or no packaging at all), cotton strings, and pure cotton cores.

Surprisingly, many European countries and other nations around the world where tampons are popular actually prefer applicator-less tampons. A gynecologist invented these so-called digital tampons in the 1940s in Europe, but Tampax, the leading brand in the U.S., had convinced its customers that tampons with applicators were the way to go.

What about pads? Seemingly more plastic-clad than the tampon, some types of pads or pad-like products have been around since the 1900s. Kotex developed the pad as we know it today and began selling it by the boxload in drugstores during the 1920s.

With more and more plastic technology developing in the 1960s and 1970s, manufacturers realized they could make pads even more convenient. Unfortunately, this also meant more plastic waste.

Enter: the sticky backing on pads and flexible wings. These ordinary features may seem unimpressive today, but back then they were totally life-changing, innovative steps in the period product world.

Moreover, researchers discovered superabsorbent plastic materials they then incorporated into pad cores. Again, this meant more plastic waste with each single-use pad.

So now we have the modern pad:

  • Plastic packaging
  • Plastic anti-stick strip backing
  • Plastic body, wings, lining, etc.
  • Plastic core
  • Plastic absorbent layer

Granted, many pad companies use cotton or even organic cotton as an absorbent layer, but alas, these companies are too few and far between.

Speaking of cotton, another largely ignored issue in period products is bleaching. Companies bleach cotton to essentially purify the fibers using chlorine or a chlorine-based dye. In this process, a chemical called dioxin is created. This byproduct causes some pretty alarming diseases and disorders including cancer, endometriosis, and hormonal imbalances.

So even if these low levels are FDA approved, there’s not really a “safe amount” our bodies can tolerate since any amount is potentially harmful.

The answer to plastic pollution and dioxin exposure? A zero waste period. Okay, when we read sustainability-focused articles, too many statistics at once can throw us off, so if you’re anything like us, we hope this simple breakdown can help put things into perspective:

A single person who menstruates will buy and use 5 to 15 thousand plastic pads and tampons throughout their life. So on average, that’s 11,000 products per person. These products take up to centuries--yes, centuries!--to biodegrade.

Periods are natural. People who menstruate can’t just stop it for the sake of saving plastic. But here’s the good news: there are so many eco-friendly liners, pads, underwear, and cups widely available now.

Let’s take a deep dive and review each one to see which might work for you.

Alternatives products for a zero waste period:

1. Smartliners reusable period pads and pantyliners

  • Organic cotton
  • Plastic-free
  • Machine-washable

What is it:

  • Reusable pads and daily liners

What is it made of:

  • Pure, certified organic cotton

Why it’s better than a single-use product:

  • Body-friendly, environmental, more comfortable, and cost-effective

Smartliners gives us products that are “better for your body, better for the planet, better for your comfort, [and] better for your budget .” I don’t know about you, but these four pillars guide a lot of my own purchasing decisions when it comes to zero waste products.

If you want to learn more about the handful of toxins and questionable chemicals found in plastic pads and liners, Smartliners goes over them in detail here. If you want the shorter version, no worries. I’ve penned a short summary here.

In a nutshell, plastic pads contain phthalates and volatile organic compounds that are known to cause cancer, disrupt our hormone systems, and irritate our skin. Not only are the cells in our nether regions more sensitive than the rest of our body, they also absorb foreign chemicals more readily.

So when we choose plastic products over safer, reusable ones, it’s a long-term risk we’re taking. It sounds scary, I know--and it should be! But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s move on to the “better for the planet” bit. This part’s pretty straightforward. Smartliners have zero plastic parts, harmful adhesives, or other ambiguous materials. Each Smartliner pad saves the equivalent of four plastic bags from going to the landfill. Instead of a liner or pad that takes upwards of 500 years to break down, Smartliners’ cotton products take only up to five months to biodegrade.

When it comes to your comfort, Smartliners has you covered and then some. Their patented Smartsorb layer is an added cotton layer that avoids leaks and provides a comfortable feel. Additionally, their EasyWing velcro system eliminates the need for metal snaps or other fasteners.

These user-friendly products don’t come at a high cost either. Each product (the pads come in single sets, the liners come in a four-piece set) is only $18.50 before taxes. Compared to over $3,000 on menstrual products over your lifetime, you can invest on these products instead which last years before needing a replacement.

How to dispose of it properly:

  • Recycle with other paper products

Smartliners’ packaging is one of many ways their products help you get to a zero waste period.

Where can I get them:

  • We have their pads and liners in stock here on EcoRoots
  • Pads available in three different flows: Regular (9 inches by 3 inches), Heavy (9 inches by 3 inches), or Super Heavy (12 inches by 3 inches)
  • Liners available in two styles: Thong (5 inches by 2 inches) or Regular (6 ½ inches by 2 ½ inches)

Try the Super Heavy flow for overnight use or if you’re diagnosed with endometriosis or heavy bleeding. For postpartum mamas, we can’t recommend the Heavy and Super Heavy pads enough. The soft cotton pads are way more comfortable than the conventional plastic mesh pads that can irritate delicate areas during the first few weeks postpartum.

Each black pad stays on your underwear through a hook and loop fastener. The pads also come with a travel pouch you can use for washing them in a machine.

On the other hand, snag a pack of their pantyliners here for days when you’re just spotting, have a light flow, or nearing the tail end of your cycle. Each set includes four liners and a convenient travel pouch.

We recommend either type as a second layer of leak defense when you’re wearing a menstrual cup. This way, stained underwear is one less worry on your list.

Wash the pads and/or liners in a machine with cold water and tumble dry low or air dry. Alternatively, hand wash the products and air dry if your laundry basket isn’t quite full yet. If you’re on the go and need a pad or liner change, store the used product in the provided pouch and wash once you get home.

If you’re worried about stains, soak the pad or liner in cold water before washing.

2. LenaCup Menstrual Cup

  • 12-hour protection
  • Hypoallergenic, medical-grade silicone
  • BPA-free

Even though the menstrual cup we know today seems like a progressive invention only gaining popularity recently, it’s actually been around for a long, long time. Get this: did you know the first cup was sold in 1937?

One of the many setbacks for the cup is how effective the pad and tampon industry has been with branding, marketing, and distribution. But you know what? It’s time to take back the period industry and demand safer, cleaner, and more comfortable products.

Listen, if you’ve been thinking of switching to a reusable cup, you might already know about the handful of really good brands out there. For starters, the DivaCup, OrganiCup, and INTIMINA are all popular among different users.

Frankly, we decided to offer the LenaCup at EcoRoots because of their contributions to a zero waste period: the cups are packaged in recyclable paper boxes and printed with vegetable inks, the cups are made of safe, medical-grade silicone and contain no latex, fragrances, or BPA.

Menstruating people with sensitive skin might also like to try the LenaCup, which is hypoallergenic thanks to medical-grade silicone crafted with zero fragrances, BPA, or latex. Anybody from teenagers to moms can use it, and yes, even virgins. It’s completely safe and to be honest, it’s not that different from a tampon, but more on how to use it later.

One key difference between LunaCup and competing brands is their sizing approach. Other companies base cup sizes on age and whether or not a user has given birth, but LunaCup believes that this guideline is too generic. Size varies between every user regardless of age or birth experience.

For the LenaCup, choose a size depending on your flow, cervix height, and general body type.





41 mm

45 mm


46 mm

50.7 mm

Stem Length

25 mm

19.7 mm

Cup Volume

25 mL

30 mL

You may be wondering which size might work best for you, and LunaCup generally gives this additional advice:



First time users

All-day or overnight use

Users with a regular flow

Users with a heavy flow

You may be wondering how the cup works and how exactly does it go in, given the bell shape and all. Don’t worry, it’s quick, simple, and easy after a few practice runs.

There are three different “folds” you can use when inserting the LenaCup:

There is an in-depth guide here with diagrams and even a helpful video to help beginner users.

  • The C-fold
  • The seven fold
  • The punch-down fold

The steps for insertion are as follows:

  • Before your first time using the cup (and between each period), bring a pan of water to a boil and place the cup in the water for 5-7 minutes. Make sure the cup doesn’t reach the bottom of your pan. Let the cup cool before use.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with a mild soap.
  • Fold the cup in your preferred method. We recommend trying each fold to see which one you’re most comfortable with.
  • Stand up, sit down, or raise one leg while standing and keep a firm grip on the cup before insertion.
  • Relax and part your labia with your free hand.
  • Insert the cup into your vaginal canal while pointing at your tailbone. Try to keep the fold in place until the cup is fully inside.
  • Release the cup and it will open and form a suctioned seal to your vaginal walls.

How to remove the cup:

  • Wash your hands with mild soap and water.
  • Stand, sit down, or squat--whichever position you feel most relaxed in. The relaxation part is crucial for removal so the seal is easier to open.
  • Find the cup base or pull gently on the cup stem until you do.
  • Pinch the base to release the seal formed during insertion.
  • Keeping your fingers on the cup base, shimmy the cup side to side until it’s out. Don’t shimmy too hard--the cup might be full!
  • Empty your cup and wash.
  • After emptying and cleaning the cup, reuse or store it in the provided storage bag.

Each cup is just $29.99 for years of use. Replace if you notice any damage to your cup, but it’s unlikely!

3. SheThinx Super Hiphugger period underwear

  • 95% cotton absorbent layer with nylon and elastane bodies
  • Super absorbent type holds up to 4 regular flow tampons’ worth of period

If you want to forego traditional products altogether, period underwear is the way to go. We like Thinx because their fabrics pass the OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100 which tests for unsafe substances common in popular underwear brands.

Thinx are made of a few parts: the top, hip-hugging part and the gusset, which is basically the “pad” area. This gusset is stacked with a moisture-wicking layer, an absorbent layer, and a waterproof bottom layer. The first two layers are crafted with 95%/96% cotton while the moisture-proof layer is made of polyester.

They offer a wide range of underwear styles starting from their classic styles to newer models with thinner fabrics.

Classic styles

Underwear type


Colors available

Super Hiphugger

Super absorbency: four regular tampons’ worth

Grapefruit, Black, Pine

Super Hi-Waist

Super absorbency: four regular tampons’ worth

Chroma print, Black


Heavy absorbency: three regular tampons’ worth

Navy, Black


Moderate absorbency: two regular tampons’ worth

Black, Pine, Dusk, Beige, Chroma print, Crimson, Ocean


Moderate absorbency: two regular tampons’ worth

Pine, Dusk, Black, Beige, Crimson, Ocean


Moderate absorbency: two regular tampons’ worth

Dusk, Crimson, Black, Grapefruit, Cleo (leopard print)


Light absorbency: one regular tampon’s worth

Chroma print, Dusk, Black, Beige, Cleo, Crimson


Lightest absorbency: half a regular tampon’s worth

Beige, Chroma print, Crimson, Black

The air collection features micromesh fabric that feels lighter and even more breathable.

Newer styles

Underwear type


Colors available

Air Hiphugger

Moderate absorbency: two regular tampons’ worth

Black, Ocean

Air Bikini

Moderate absorbency: two regular tampons’ worth

Black, Ocean

Each underwear style is available in sizes from XXS to 3XL from about $25 to $43. When you think of the bigger picture, this single purchase saves you money in the long run, and guess what? You can save even more with their Saver Set which is a pre-chosen pack of two or three undies for the price of one.

Here’s an idea for a custom set: a Super Hiphugger for your heavier flow days, a Sport type for regular flow days, and a Cheeky one for light days. It makes practical sense and gives you plenty of time between days to wash each pair.

Here are some common myths about period underwear we’re happy to clear up:

  • Period underwear feels like sitting in wet underpants all day. With the Thinx underwear, their moisture-wicking layers readily absorb wetness, leaving you feeling dry and clean!
  • Period underwear is bulky and unattractive. Again, false! Once you look at all the styles and colors available on the Thinx website, this myth instantly turns laughable. Thinx underwear look like regular undies (probably more stylish than many) and are not bulky at all. The crotch area is so unbelievably thin that it kind of makes you wonder how they absorb so much period! It’s amazing, really.
  • Period underwear smells after a few hours, doesn’t it? Absolutely false. Researchers behind Thinx crafted undies that control odor-causing bacteria through this cool thing called non-migratory silver. It’s used in high-performance fabrics and medical tools to prevent bacterial growth on the product, not your skin. If you want to do more research on this silver treatment, the market name is Agion, and is a safe material regulated by the EU.

How to care for your new Thinx undies:

  • Wash your undies in cold water on the delicate cycle setting without bleach or softener. You can also hand wash your pair(s) in lukewarm water. According to Thinx, this actually preserves any underwear’s elasticity--neat!
  • Hang dry and do not iron! When hung in a non-humid area, the underwear should dry within 12 hours at most.

How to choose the right product for you when going for a zero waste period

The right period product may not be a single pair of underwear, a reusable pad, or a cup at all. We’re hearing about more and more women using a combination of these products. The right product(s) really depends on your period flow, lifestyle, and personal preference.

1. Period flow

If you’re tired of hearing the words period flow, bear with me! We’re getting to the nitty gritty and determining which product might really work for you. Your flow--typically, it’s heavy the first few days and then tapers off to spotting on the last day or two. If you have very light periods or just spotting due to birth control side effects or a personal condition, we recommend the reusable pad in a Regular size or a pack of our reusable pantyliners.

For regular flows, any of the products above work equally well. Lastly, if you have a heavy flow, try the Super Heavy reusable pads or the menstrual cup. If you want to squash any leak worries, try a combination of these products.

2. Lifestyle

When looking at these different period products, ask yourself these questions: Do I need something that works even when I’m exercising? Do I need something I’ll feel comfortable in at work? Am I looking for something I can use overnight?

Work. Most women are worried about leaks when they’re out and about. This is understandable! The so-called leak anxiety is especially formidable when we’re at work around strangers and familiar faces alike. We can’t exactly rush home when we experience a leak, so we need to be extra prepared. If this is your main worry, we recommend going with a super absorbent period underwear or a menstrual cup paired with a reusable liner or pad.

Exercise. When we’re out exercising, we may not have quick access to a bathroom, a new change of pants, or even an extra pad in hand. If exercise use is your number one concern, you’re lucky! Any of the period products we mentioned above work well for most situations whether you’re heading out for a long run or sweating it out in a hot yoga session.

Keep in mind, however, that reusable pads, liners, and underwear aren’t recommended for use when swimming. The LenaCup, on the other hand, is totally safe for underwater use. So if you spend lots of time in pools or open waters, we recommend the menstrual cup over reusable underwear or pads.

Personal medical conditions. Common concerns people who menstruate have are conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, postpartum recovery, and heavy bleeding. For folks with heavy bleeding from the conditions above, the Super Heavy reusable pads are a great option--they wash easily and last years. Where a menstrual cup may be uncomfortable in these situations, a reusable pad or underwear is gentle.

3. Personal preference

At the end of the day, the right zero waste period product depends on personal preference.

What time of day you’re using it. The length of our time outside the home lasts anywhere between eight to twelve hours. During this time, you may want something you don’t have to worry about changing at all. A Super Heavy reusable pad, a menstrual cup or super absorbent underwear works in this case. For overnight use, we recommend the same. You have a little more leeway for overnight use since you’re home and can tend to leaks if there are any.

What materials are used? Not all period products are the same. If the type of material used is your main interest, you can break it down to three categories then: cotton, silicone, or a cotton-polyester-elastane combo. All are more eco-friendly than any plastic product, but one might be especially more comfortable for your skin than another.

Washing fabric versus a cup. Okay, this one might sound silly, but it’s not. If you’re going to be using a period product for years, you want to not dread cleaning it after every use. Whether you might prefer washing reusable pads, liners, or underwear versus washing and sanitizing a cup can help narrow down your choice.

You might prefer the convenience of a machine-washable product or you might instead appreciate the fact that washing a cup might be less water- and energy-intensive. Again, the choice is totally up to you.

Take your time.

So are you ready for a zero waste period with no crinkly plastic wrapping, scratchy layers, or unnecessary plastic applicators? More power to you! Remember: you deserve a clean, safe, and eco-friendly period product you can feel good about.

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