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14 best sustainable period products: Sanitary pads, menstrual cups and reusable tampons

Whether you have a light or heavy flow, brands like Dame and Fern have the eco products you need

Amy Sedghi
Thursday 25 March 2021 17:02
<p>Traditional menstrual products can take up to 500 years to break down in landfill</p>

Traditional menstrual products can take up to 500 years to break down in landfill

Every year in the UK, the disposal of single-use menstrual products – pads, tampons and applicators – generates more than 200,000 tonnes of waste. When it comes to single-use period products in particular though, that’s not the only shocking stat, as 90 per cent of a menstrual pad is made of plastic and menstrual products can take up to 500 years to break down in landfill. 

Luckily, there is some good news. With more choice than ever before, there are a number of brands offering eco-friendly alternatives, from organic cotton tampons with plant-based applicators to stylish period underwear that you’ll actually want to wear even when you’re not on your flow. Then there’s the menstrual cup – a key investment for those wanting to reduce their period waste to the minimum.

Although, each person who menstruates has their own preferences, be it tampons, pads, a cup or period-proof underwear, with so many options out there, it’s never been so easy to make the swap from the plastic loaded versions.

If going completely zero-waste is too much to begin with, start by making small changes. Opt for 100 per cent organic tampons or period pads made of bamboo. Try experimenting with period-proof underwear or reusable sanitary towels – simply rinse them out in cold water when you’re done and throw them in the washing machine (but hold the fabric conditioner).

If you’re thinking of trying out a menstrual cup, we’d recommend taking your time to do a bit of research. There a range of options out there for whatever you’re looking for – be it an extra small size or a version you can wear during sex – you’re sure to find a cup that’s right for you.

Read more:

Switching to eco-friendly period products can seem pricey at first, but with reusable items, for example, you’re making an investment that will actually reduce the cost of your periods over time.

It’s estimated that each person who has a period will spend approximately £492 per year on sanitary products. In comparison, a menstrual cup costs around £20 and, with proper care, can last up to a decade. There are also some great resources online, such as a guide and pattern from the Women’s Environment Network, which details how to make your own reusable sanitary pads.

To help you find the right eco-period products, we’ve tested some of the leading brands.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Wuka perform seamless midi brief

Period-proof underwear has come a long way. It once suffered from the unglamorous comparison to a baby’s nappy, now there are options that are sleek and even downright sexy. Wuka’s latest launch – the seamless midi brief – has been a hit, and for good reason. Made from recycled nylon, generated from old plastic bottles, the pants are incredibly smooth and silky. They hug the body but don’t dig in and we were impressed with how discreet they looked – even when worn under a satin slip skirt, there was no significant visible panty line (VPL). At the same time, they felt secure and absorbent. There are three flow intensities to choose from: light (one tampon’s worth), medium (two to three tampons worth) or heavy (up to four tampons worth). Wuka is also donating one per cent of sales to its charity partner, Surfers Against Sewage.

Thinx cycle shorts

Having made its mark on the reusable period underwear market, American brand Thinx recently unveiled its latest offering: period-proof activewear. Our in-depth review of the range put it through its paces during a run, HIIT workout and gentle yoga session. 

The cycle shorts have the lightest absorbency (they can hold up to two tampons worth of blood) of all the items in the activewear range, but they are still a great addition to your period-wear kit. Made of a super soft material, they have side pockets, an inside pocket suitable for a heat pad and a supportive double layered high waistband – they’re comfortable and perfect for gentle exercise, like yoga or a walk. Given their absorbency, we did find that for optimum comfort and dryness, they were best worn for specific activities rather than for a very long period of time.

Saalt cup

If the idea of figuring out which size menstrual cup has got you all in a muddle, then try Saalt’s quiz, which promises to decipher which size and firmness are best suited to you. In fact, the brand is all about simplifying period care. 

The cups come in either a small or regular size, but there is also a specialist teen cup (£25, Saaltco.uk) and a soft cup, made of an ultra-soft silicone. One of the great things about Saalt is the fact it understands that each person’s needs are unique, and we love that its aim is to find the goldilocks cup for each individual.

Made of 100 per cent medical grade silicone, the cup provides 12 hours of protection and can be worn comfortably overnight – the small size can hold a capacity equal to three tampons, while the regular can hold up to four. We found the cup to be really easy to use and loved the pastel colourways available, such as seafoam green, Himalayan pink and ocean blue. Just because it’s period care doesn’t mean we don’t want to have fun choosing and Saalt certainly gets that. The cup is packaged in a cardboard tube and comes with a cotton pouch for storage.

The certified B Corp also gives two per cent back to fund initiatives in menstrual health, education and sustainability. 

Flo organic eco-applicator tampons, regular and super pack of 14

Flo – dreamt up by besties Tara and Susan as they chatted in a university toilet – certainly knows how to get our attention thanks to its vibrant and fun branding. The cute cardboard ice cream style tubs are packed with GOTS-certified organic cotton tampons wrapped in plant-friendly materials. The eco-friendly compact applicators are plant-based (derived from sugarcane) and it also offers an applicator-free tampon version. For those preferring pads, Flo’s liners and pads are made from 100 per cent natural bamboo, housed in biodegradable wrappers and are ultra-absorbent without being bulky. As well as working to eliminate plastics in its supply chain, Flo is also vegan and cruelty-free. And we were pleased to see that it also works with a range of charities fighting period poverty – such as Bloody Good Period and the Orchid Project, which work to end FGM – by donating five per cent of profits to women and girls in need. If you’re looking for a simple plastic-free swap for your period products, then this is the one to choose. We also think they’d be a great choice for teens owing to the colourful branding and subscription box options (from £4.69, Hereweflo.co).

Dame reusable applicator set

Single-use plastic tampon applicators are a nightmare for our planet. During the Marine Conservation Society’s 2018 Great British beach clean of more than 494 beaches in the UK, volunteers found approximately 580 tampon applicators. It’s an issue that Dame is trying to fix with its reusable tampon applicator – a world first. The award-winning design launched in 2018 is a breeze to use, self-sanitising and is compatible with any applicator-free tampons. Simply rinse off the reusable applicator and zip it away in its accompanying pouch once you’re finished. Although the price is higher than you may expect, it’s certainly an investment as the medical grade reusable applicator is designed to last for life. Excitingly, the brand has also recently launched a hugely popular reusable pad (£30.60, Wearedame.co) option with a clever drybag for storing them when you’re on the go.

Bettercup

Considering the huge variety, we really could be here all day listing the menstrual cups on the market. As well as being simple and comfortable to use, one of the things we loved about Bettercup was its simplicity and ethos. It’s packaged neatly in a small recyclable cardboard tube and for every sale, a Bettercup is donated to someone who needs it most. Founder Ruth has partnered up with her sister who teaches at a school in Zimbabwe to gift the menstrual cups to female teachers and teenage students there.

Made of 100 per cent medical grade silicone, the cup comes in two sizes and comes with a GOTS-certified cotton bag. It’s also worth noting that it features quite a short stem, so might be a better option for those with a low cervix.

Pantys bikini

Having just launched in the UK, Pantys was founded in Brazil three years ago by Emily Ewell and Maria Eduarda Camargo with the mission to combine innovation and sustainability to improve the quality of life for women. Certified as a B Corp, each product comes with a breakdown of its carbon footprint on the packaging. It’s detailed by category so you can see the percentage created by categories such as material, production and transport –  it makes for a fascinating read. Pantys also claims it makes the world’s first clinically tested period underwear.

Proving that period absorbent underwear doesn’t have to be reminiscent of Bridget Jones’s big pants and really can be sexy, Pantys’s range includes a tanga and bikini style, as well as hot pants with mesh side panels. Our favourite was the best-selling bikini style (medium flow), which we happily added to our drawer for everyday wear. We considered it a good option for lighter flow days as it provides protection but is ultra-slim and lightweight.

We also love that the style comes in pink and red options, meaning that the time of the month doesn’t have to equal a run of black pants. The brand has a stylish postpartum collection and breastfeeding bras too which are worth checking out if you’re in the market.

Lunette reusable pads mix

Scandinavian brand Lunette might be best known for its menstrual cup (which it sells in a variety of colours, from blue to orange and purple), but the brand also produces a range of reusable pads. Made of 100 per cent organic cotton, the pads are simple: soft off-white material with red poppers to secure the pad. A bamboo viscose layer and a waterproof coated PUL-fabric blocks moisture, meaning there are no leakages. We found them to be super soft and comfortable. As well as being a straightforward swap for single-use menstrual pads, the pads are equally useful for minor bladder leaks and postpartum needs.

Available in three sizes: mini, medium and maxi, the mix option allows you to try one of each and comes packaged in a recyclable cardboard envelope, which we liked.

Daye CBD and naked tampons

From soft drinks to beauty products, there’s a wide range of CBD infused products out there, and femcare is no different. Welcome to Daye’s CBD tampons, which are made with 100mg of high potency (30 per cent) pharmaceutical-grade hemp-derived CBD. They’re also made of 100 per cent organic and unbleached cotton and are sanitised using gamma rays to reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

If you’re wondering whether they’ll get you high, the answer is no. The tampons, designed to aid with menstrual cramps are created with completely THC-free CBD. Daye also has its own medical advisory board and is passionate about raising standards when it comes to regulation, especially considering the fact plasters are more regulated than tampons.

We tried a mixture of its CBD and naked (non-CBD) tampons, which arrived in a neat, branded cardboard box and were packaged in a stylish tin. To purchase, you have to select a subscription box of either 12 or 18 tampons, which you can then modify to suit your needs.

As well as being pleasant to use, we liked that Daye’s applicators are made from renewable sugarcane and the tampon wrappers are water-soluble, without breaking down into microplastics.

Callaly small period subscription box

An organic and sustainable period subscription box, Callaly has something a little unique up its sleeve: the tampliner. A combination of an organic tampon and a soft mini liner, it looks a little unusual and a bit intimidating at first, but after following the detailed instructions it’s pretty simple to use. Wrapped in a biodegradable wrapper, the pantyliner is designed to sit inside the labia, or vaginal lips so that only the tampon string hangs outside of the body.

The small period subscription box arrived in a letterbox friendly cardboard box, which included six liners, four pads, six tampons and four tampliners. We loved the mixed selection, but there is also a customisable option. And we liked the fact that items came grouped together in a compostable wrapper. Callaly has also created a teen period kit (£10.80, Calla.ly), which has a useful mix of products and comes in the brand’s thoughtful discreet packaging.

Fern reusable pad (regular)

Having started an eco-friendly reusable baby products brand named TickleTots from her kitchen table in Shropshire, founder and mum of two Sophia has expanded into feminine hygiene products with Fern’s reusable pads.

The pads, which come in either a floral or fern print, have a waterproof fabric back and an absorbent core made of a blend of 100 per cent GOTS-certified organic cotton and bamboo fleece. We found the reusable pads to be super soft and found the design, while its waterproof wings felt secure. You can also purchase a zipped wet bag (£6.50, Tickle-tots.com) for storing the pads in, which is really handy, and pads can be bought either singularly or in a period gift box.

If you’re looking for something substantial if you have a heavy flow, these are a nice option. The heavy pads (£7.95, Tickle-tots.com) are especially good if you’re worried about leakage overnight and we liked the fact that the pads feature two poppers which means they can be adjusted depending on the size of the pants being worn.

Hey Girls organic tampons with cardboard applicator

Founded by a mother and her two daughters, Hey Girls is dedicated to helping tackle period poverty in the UK. For every box of product sold, the brand donates one to girls and women from low-income families in the UK.

The environmentally-conscious brand has a wide range of products including period-proof pants, reusable sanitary pads (from £30.95, Heygirls.co.uk) and subscription boxes. The daytime period pads are made of a super-soft combo of bamboo and corn fibre and were a firm favourite for us. The latest launch though is the 100 per cent certified organic cotton tampons with a biodegradable cardboard applicator.

Modibodi detachable bikini

Australian brand Modibodi has a huge array of designs and options when it comes to period underwear. The brand’s offering includes a teen range, a maxi 24-hour option (great for shift workers) and sleep shorts. We particularly liked the idea of these detachable bikini pants, which feature a hook and eye closure on each side – great for those who struggle to change regular underwear.

We found the pants to be soft and figure-hugging, without being too tight and really liked the style of them. They also have a breathable and super absorbent lining and are easy to wash. Whatever your preferred underwear style, it’s worth checking out Modibodi’s extensive range.

Natracare regular applicator tampons

Well-established brand Natracare has a solid range of trusted and simple period care products. If you’re looking for a simple swap from single-use period products, then Natracare is worth checking out for its organic cotton tampons, plastic-free pads and natural panty liners.

We also thought the price point was pretty good as some organic cotton tampons are more expensive and might not be as accessible for some. Plus, the products are widely available, which is good news.

The verdict: Reusable sanitary pads

We loved wearing the Wuka seamless midi briefs – sleek, comfortable and secure, while still looking great. To really reduce your impact on the planet, a menstrual cup, such as the version we tested from Saalt is a great investment, while Dame’s reusable applicator is a smart way to reduce unnecessary waste easily.

Looking to reduce the waste in your bathroom further? Read our review of the best plastic-free beauty products

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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