Normally I am not all that excited to talk about periods, but TODAY I AM. That’s because, feeling adventurous in this last month of our Year of No Garbage, I went out on a limb and tried period underwear.
(Note to persons for whom periods are not relevant, or who are squeamish, feel free to skip down to where I talk about TOOTHPASTE.)
You may recall that for most of this Year of No Garbage feminine products have been part of our “Health and Safety” exception. In fact, they are pretty much the only things we’ve actually thrown away this year, along with Band-Aids.
Recently, however, I started thinking about modern-day pads and panty liners, and the fact that they are composed primarily of plastic (up to 90%). Even tampons use plastic not only in the applicators, but in the absorbent part as well. Products used today will be littering the landfill, landscape, and ocean for the next 500+ years. Considering that a woman uses between 5 and 15 thousand menstrual products in her lifetime, this is bad news, and every bit as bad as all the other plastics we’ve been trying to avoid. Case in point: menstrual products are number five on the list of top ten plastic items found on European shores and beaches.
It hasn’t always been this way. It’s only within the last century that women switched from reusable cloth to sticky plastic pads and plastic tampons. But those reusable cloths weren’t always exactly mobile or convenient. In the Zero Waste universe there are a few products that champion reuse, but with vastly improved design, machine washable menstrual pads and menstrual cups among them. After looking around I decided period underwear looked intriguing, and was the least intimidating of all the available options (Underwear! I know how to wear that!).
I ordered three pairs of “Hiphugger” Thinx period panties, using their website’s “Know Your Flow” calculator to identify which absorbency model to buy, given my regular period characteristics. According to their calculations, I use 19 period products every month, and by using period panties could throw out 228 fewer disposables per year. And that’s just me: when you consider that we have three women in our household regularly using feminine products that adds up to A LOT of plastic.
Of course, guess what period panties are also partially made of? That’s right: plastic. All Thinx models contain some proportion of either Elastane, polyester jersey or nylon. The website says Thinx panties should “stay at maximum performance” for 40 washes, or two years. I have to admit I was disappointed: only two years? Then again, compared to several hundred plastic pads or tampons it is better. What would be better still is if Thinx had a take-back program to recycle old panties.
The packaging the underwear arrives in is “plastic free,” however each pair comes in a bag that looks like plastic but is marked “biodegradable.” We’ve been through this before: what does “biodegradable” really mean? Does it mean home-compostable? Probably not. So what do we do with it? Remember, it can’t biodegrade in a sealed landfill, so…?
Nevertheless, I felt pretty good about trying period panties out, and I came away with several conclusions:
—I found the design comfortable: thicker than a regular panty, but decidedly not diaper-like, it feels a lot like wearing a bathing suit bottom.
—At first I didn’t like that the inside material is black, because unlike when you wear a white pad, I couldn’t tell how much I was bleeding. How would I know when it was “full”? (Later I realized that having the inside white would mean constant staining and not look very attractive long-term.) You just have to trust these are doing their job, because you really can’t tell. To make it less nerve-wracking, I highly recommend trying these out when you are, you know, isolating at home (for some weird reason).
—Yes, the material is good at wicking and odor control. And— not to be completely obvious or gross here but—HERE’S how you know when it is full: you start to feel wet, and you will begin to smell it. This did not happen to me walking around, but when I went to pee and then pulled them back up it was then cold and uncomfortable.
—Washing them is very easy and, as promised, the blood does not stain other laundry. Importantly, to maintain absorbency YOU MUST LINE DRY them. I liked one commenter’s suggestion to put them in a lingerie bag throughout the week and then wash them all at once at the end.
—My three pairs were not enough for the whole week, of course. But Thinx are expensive: $34 each for the ones I purchased, with a small discount for buying three or more. I washed them after three days and kept using them, but six pairs would be better suited to get through the week.
—Although I had hoped Thinx could eliminate ALL my other feminine products, I realized that on heavier days I would either need to also wear a tampon (organic cotton ones would avoid chemicals and plastic) OR change underwear before the day was out. Other women whose reviews I read came to much the same conclusion: Thinx does not absolutely remove the need for any other feminine products.
—Despite the aforementioned wetness, I wore them all day long and I experienced no leaking. However, I do not have a very heavy period in general.
All in all, I liked the period panties from Thinx, but I wonder if I can’t find a solution that’s less expensive AND uses less plastic. So, next I want to try reusable menstrual pads. Stay tuned.
WE CAN NOW TALK ABOUT TOOTHPASTE SO SQUEAMISH PEOPLE COME BACK
Another extreme-to-me Zero Waste product that I’ve finally gotten around to trying is toothpaste tablets.
Yes, Tom’s Toothpaste recently debuted the #2 recyclable plastic tube that can go in your recycling bin and which is a wonderful innovation (I wrote about here it in October.) However, because of the tendency to shed micro-plastics, as well as the fact that plastic is not indefinitely recyclable, it is always going to be best to get away from the plastic entirely.
Enter the toothpaste tablet. I’m going to be honest and tell you that I actually thought you were supposed to chew these up and swallow them instead of brushing your teeth. Fortunately for me, the bottle of Georganics I bought from EarthHero comes not only in entirely plastic-free packaging, but also with the helpful instructions to chew the tablet up till it is foamy, brush your teeth, and then spit it out.
In fact you’ll be glad to spit it out, because unlike Tom’s Toothpaste these tablets taste terrible. In fact, the first time I tried them they tasted a lot like I was trying to take a bite out of a salt lick. My husband Steve tried them and was left trying to remove his tongue from his mouth.
Then a funny thing happened. The more I used the tooth tablets, the less the taste bothered me. Coupled with my bamboo toothbrush that can biodegrade in my compost, I now feel really good about this new plastic-free tooth brushing routine. (Steve has yet to be convinced.)
There’s a lot of noise out there being made in the name of Zero Waste, and lots of people looking to make money from this “trend.” But how many more metal straws or fabric tote bags, do we really need? The fact is that, more often than not, Zero Waste doesn’t mean buying new products, it means not buying something when you normally would.
But there are a few products out there that can provide meaningful change, if we look carefully and are thoughtful. Trying new products, new ways of going about our regular routine, is scary. There’s a powerful pull in the familiar, and who has time to try out something uncomfortable or expensive that just might not work? Research and reading up can help, especially reviews by non-sponsored bloggers.
So, if you’ve always wondered what the deal is with bar shampoo, or Furoshiki cloth wrapping, or reusable toilet paper here’s my thought: why not pick one thing, and make a New Year’s Resolution to find out?
I mean, except the reusable toilet paper. Obviously.