Green periods

Eco-friendly tampon and pad alternatives are on the rise

16th April 2018

For those with periods, the choice used to be pretty limited: pads or tampons.

Millennials arriving into puberty had it a lot better than their mothers – whose stories of sanitary towels disintegrating in their knickers had us thanking our lucky stars we were born post-Always – but these newer options didn’t come without their downsides. What if I leave my tampon in too long and leak? What if I run out of pads? What if it’s a bank holiday and I can’t get to a shop?

It can be a pretty messy affair when you’re caught off-guard by Aunt Flo; arriving unannounced and without even the decency of bringing a bottle of wine.

These days, however, the options are plentiful – you’ve got cups, absorbent pants, reusable pads… the list goes on. There are entrepreneurs and inventors creating modern, discreet and environmentally-friendly alternatives to the options we’ve known all our lives, and people are getting pretty excited about them.

One of the most popular newbies on the block is the menstrual cup, which came in second place in an informal online poll The Overtake posted on social media. The comments section instantly took off, with the focus remaining on the cup; commenters sharing tips on which brand suited them, where to get them, and even giving step-by-step instructions on how to insert one. The passion is palpable. Speaking to a handful of the voters to find out why they made the switch, it isn’t exactly difficult getting them to open up about their love for the cup.


“I love talking about it. I’m a total Mooncup convert. Can’t recommend it enough,” says Anna Hawkes. “I had been interested in it for environmental and health reasons but was a bit scared of it for a while. Then when a friend said she was using one and talked me through it a bit more, I got myself one. It took a bit of getting used to but now I would never look to use anything else again.”

Tampons would really irritate me

Jess Reed has been using a menstrual cup for a few years after struggling with tampons. The 24-year-old says: “I chose a menstrual cup because, towards the end of my period in particular, tampons would really irritate me.”

The cup is becoming a rival to the tampon

She adds: “I’m also passionate about conserving the environment and cups are much more environmentally friendly!” Since getting used to it, she’s not been tempted to go back to other options. “I much prefer using the cup to anything else.”

It seems that most of the menstrual cup converts had made the change because of ecological reasons. Its rise in popularity doesn’t seem so shocking when you’re told that more than 12 billion pads and tampons are used and disposed of every year; with one person using between 12,000-15,000 disposable period products in their lifetime.


Sylvia Entwistle has been using a cup for around five years. “I used to use tampons and read some bad things about [Toxic Shock Syndrome] and the environmental impact. I saw a video on Mooncups and thought I’d try it out. I feel it helps you see how much you’re bleeding, and the quality of the blood gives you a picture of your health.”

The 27-year-old adds: “It just feels way better. I have much cleaner sheets and undies since using the cup. Tampons leak too!”

I’d been feeling quite bad for a while about the amount of waste that I was creating

Bristol-based Jessie Lovett switched from tampons for a few reasons. “I decided to use a menstrual cup as I’d been feeling quite bad for a while about the amount of waste that I was creating through tampons, so I wanted something more environmentally friendly. Also, tampons are expensive!”

An additional incentive to guide you towards eco-friendly period products like the cup is the one-off payment – although there’s a small initial investment of about £20 depending on brand, they can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run.

The moral here: less money on tampons, more money on ice-cream.


Alongside not having to frequently buy new products, you can also leave a cup in for longer than tampons – something 36-year-old Hayley Davis is thankful for. “With a cup, you only have to change it once or twice a day so I often ‘forget’ I’m on my period,” she says.

The ‘difficult days’ they talk about in [sanitary product] adverts are difficult because they make it difficult

And for 39-year-old Sara Vetro, nothing holds a candle to the cup. “I don’t understand why everyone isn’t using it – it’s so easy. It’s like switching to Apple. It’s like going from Microsoft – where everything breaks and freezes all the time – to Apple, which is so easy.

green periods
Its estimated that people use up to 15,000 disposable period products in their lifetime

“With the cup, I forget I’m on my period. The ‘difficult days’ they talk about in [sanitary product] adverts are difficult because they make it difficult. Here’s this little thing that made my life infinitely easier.”

Another moral: less time changing your pad, more time eating ice-cream.

At the end of each cycle, you’re advised to sterilise your cup by gently boiling it in water before putting it back in its little pouch (the cloth bag it comes in, not your vagina).

One side-effect (or added bonus) of owning a menstrual cup is feeling like some kind of voodoo witch goddess at the end of your cycle; boiling away your worries on the hob as your flatmates try to cook dinner around you and fight the urge to move out.


Because periods aren’t something all of us talk about on a daily basis, the conversations we do have can become quite intriguing; revelationary even. It’s like half the population shares this big fanny-related secret and as soon as someone starts talking about it, we get excited and begin hyperventilating because someone’s unleashed the Period Talk… No? Just me?

For most of the women we speak to, menstrual cups are something worth starting a conversation about.

“Yeah, I talk to my friends and family about it,” says Reed. “My friends were mainly intrigued, and some wanted to try one themselves after we chatted about it. My mum doesn’t really understand why I use it, I think because it’s completely different to what she knows.”

And Lovett has a similar situation with her friends: “My housemate was a bit put off by the idea, but most people were curious and tempted to switch themselves.”

There has been some criticism along with all the praise, though. For some, the transition can be uncomfortable, and many also wear a panty-liner for peace of mind.

People are a bit freaked out about it

But for others, once was enough. This includes Ashley*, who believes using a cup caused a uterine prolapse. “I was finding [the cup] difficult to get out,” she says. “I tried turning it, squeezing it, pulling gently but it wasn’t letting go.”

Aside from the serious concerns, there are always going to be natural reservations about something that differs from the norm.

“I know people are a bit freaked out about it,” Davis explained, “but I’m honestly not bothered about their opinions unless they’ve given it a go, and even then…” She ends the sentence with a shrugging female emoji with hands in the air as if to suggest ‘So what?’.

Of course, a menstrual cup isn’t for everyone, but with such a variety of options out there, the products available don’t seem to be so black and white anymore. The excitement and conversations around more ecological sanitary products are growing and although the disposables may not have left the building just yet, they seem to be on their bloody way.

16th April 2018