Plastic-free periods whilst travelling

Plastic-free periods

Now here is the post you’ve all been waiting for!  Menstrual cups and cloth pads! Menstruation items (both pads and tampons) were reported to account for 8.5% of plastic pollution highlighted by the Marine Conservation Society Report 2017. Gah! We all have a level of understanding on the issues of plastic pollution.  The arrival, or duration of Aunt flow is not something we can control.  However, we can make lifestyle changes, such as achieving plastic-free periods to control our plastic footprint.

Cloth sanitary towels/pads

I have been using cloth pads for seven months now. Little in the grand scheme of things I know, and a miniscule effort compared with some plastic-free geniuses out there. But each month when I proudly squeeze out my reusable pads, I give myself a virtual pat on the back that I am preventing another plastic item going into landfill. Yep, I know, I seriously need to get out more!

Where to buy?

Cloth sanitary pads are easy to find these days. At the time I purchased mine, there were only a few retailers delivering in New Zealand to choose from. I eventually opted for a small family run business that offered a free wet/dry bag, and also supplied ‘Ecoeggs’, realising that these would be absolute musts whilst travelling and attempting to reduce plastic. Also, on the day of our departure, an eco-conscious (legend!) friend of mine, provided me with a beautifully wrapped – plastic free of course – parcel comprising an assortment of homemade cloth pads – from day liners to pads for heavy flow at night.  Nowadays, I think a quick google search will find you local suppliers.  New cities we visit, I simply google ‘zero waste’ and name of city.  Every one of these shops I have visited, sells cloth pads!  Easy, even if you are currently on the road and starting your plastic-free journey.  If you are a keen sewer, a quick google search will find a tutorial.

One liner and two pads for medium flow made by my talented friend!

What about comfort?

Having used the commercial bought pads from the internet and the pads my legendary friend made, I now realise that the shape of the liner makes a difference to the comfort. I wondered if this was something to do with the style of underwear that one wears, so I did some further research. According to the author of this site, the two most common complaints are pads ‘slipping’ or underwear ‘bunching’.  Check the link for tips to reduce this issue.  This is not usually an issue for night-pads when one tends to remain more stationary.

Pads for night time

Hand washing

Now, onto cleaning.  Check this site for the different methods for cleaning reusable pads.  Most people have a preferred option. We have been on the road for seven months now, so I opt for the rinsing out first method as it is not always possible to wash our clothes regularly.  This is as simple as it sounds.  Literally squeeze out the pad until the water runs clear.  Okay, so it might gross you out at first, to get down and dirty with the blood that has just flowed out of your body, but you will get used to this, I promise!

When I need to consider my water consumption, I simply give the pads a squeeze and leave them to soak in the sink.  Some accommodation will have a bucket to hand, others I have used the bathroom sink.  Pop the reusable pads in the next wash.  If, like me you are travelling, sometimes machine washing is just not possible.  In this instance, I use a small amount of soap and a further rinse and squeeze.  Fortunately in SE Asia, the pads dry in a few hours!

Machine washing

If I was at home, I would likely add to a towel/bedding wash, but on the road we don’t have that luxury, so they get chucked in with everything else.  I must admit that at first I felt a bit awkward about this on occasions where our washing has to be laundered, but nowadays I’m less concerned.  And I suppose, if this gets the laundry staff thinking why? Surely that’s an environmental gain in itself!

Unfortunately I forgot to take photos of the cloth pads as new, but check out the picture above to see how they look after seven months of use, and travelling on the road!  Obviously they were washed beforehand 🙂

Wet/dry bag

These are an absolute godsend!  And if you remember to take them out a few days before your period, they can prevent you getting caught short.  I must admit I have once had to dash to the shop to buy some single-use pads.  Don’t beat yourself up if this happens, every time you make even a small change to reduce plastic consumption, you are doing better for the environment.  Tomorrow is another day!

Wet/dry bag

Wet items are stored inside, dry pads in the side pocket

Menstrual cup

Menstrual cups are obviously hot topic at the moment, anyone who is anyone will have switched to using a menstrual cup, or at least tried! Again, choosing the right cup can be daunting. Nowadays, there are dozens of cups to choose from.  Earthwise Girls UK offer good tips on how to choose the correct menstrual cup and have a comparison chart on their site too. Also, ‘Put a cup in it’ offers a wealth of information, frequently asked questions and troubleshooting.  I opted for the iCare, a small cup as the reviews (whilst overall not as brilliant as some of the bigger brands), did state that it was good for a high cervix which I’m aware I have.  It was also one I could easily purchase at the time and I did double check the FDA approval which it did appear to have. There is some scepticism around purchasing cups that are ‘generic’ or ‘cheap, and I would strongly recommend reading this article before purchasing one. With hindsight, I now would have waited until I could purchase a brand name cup.  As it happens, I now need a larger one for heavier flow, so will update this post once I have my new cup!

I read an interesting thing about menstrual cups a while back, that it can help to regulate and reduce flow.  I can’t recall where I read this, so please comment below if you do.  But it’s completely true for me!  Mine used to drag on for up to seven days – or even longer.  This past month, I was bleeding for no longer than two full days.  It was obviously a heavier flow, but so nice for it to be over and done with in a couple of days!

Inserting and removing the menstrual cup

This is an artform!  Do not give-up!  Unless of course that it just medically, or anatomically just isn’t right for you.  I honestly can’t stress enough that it takes perseverance.  My husband really took the brunt of my mood swings in months one and two of trialling my menstrual cup.  It was just so damn frustrating, and uncomfortable at times.  But I have since found a technique that works for me, using the ‘U’ fold to successfully insert the cup.  Check out the different folds here.

One thing I would definitely emphasise is, if it doesn’t feel comfortable, have another go, or give the cup a wiggle, it shouldn’t bother you at all once inserted!  Now, onto removal.  Another trial and error situation I’m afraid.  The first time I did this, I held and pulled the stem when I removed the cup.  Obviously, with the stem being silicone, the cup immediately tipped – and not down the toilet.  Yep!  Fresh blood all over the bathroom floor.  Luckily it was an easily washable floor and not in a public place!  I have since learned that the stem is to determine the location of the cup only, and the best option for removal is to ‘bear down’ and squeeze the base of the cup with fingers and thumb to release the seal.

Menstrual cup cleaning

Most of the guides I have read conclude that cleaning your cup is straightforward.  Simply wash the menstrual cup in hot water using a gentle soap and ensure that the cup is sterilised before each use.  We are currently travelling around South East Asia however, where tap water can be scarce and not clean, I am therefore a bit more careful.  I ensure that we return to our accommodation, wash the cup in a tiny amount of soap (this is not widely recommended as is not commonly gentle enough), however, following this, I always let the cup sit in a mug of boiled water for a few minutes.  I just see this as my ‘me’ time where I sit on the loo and check social media, guffaw!  If you choose this approach, make sure the cup has completely cooled before inserting – ouch!

Top 5 tips:

For those of you who just need a few pointers.  Here are the top 5 tips to consider when attempting zero-waste periods:

  1. Check the width of your underwear versus reusable pad width before purchasing – are the pads going to fit well to reduce slipping and bunching?
  2. Check the internet for local suppliers and deals – remember to state for little or no plastic if posting
  3. Research choosing the best cup suited to your needs (consider cervix height, firmness of cup, level of flow).
  4. Purchase (or make) a wet/dry bag!
  5. Visit ‘put a cup in it’ website for all FAQ and troubleshooting around menstrual cups

I am overall so delighted to have made the change to reusable/cloth pads and using a menstrual cup.  Not only is my period now shorter, I am also saving a heap of money.  And best of all – of course, I am reducing my plastic footprint!

Please feel free to ask any questions and/or leave comments.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Have you achieved plastic-free periods.  Or are you thinking about making the change?  Can you recommend a larger cup for me and my high cervix?