The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
December 14, 2007

Plastic-free Feminine Hygiene. It had to happen enventually.

Since I had my hysterectomy in June, (Wow! She just jumps right in with the personal stuff, huh?) I have been relieved not to have to deal too much with the issue of plastic-free feminine hygiene products. At the time I started blogging, Crunchy Chicken was running her Diva Cup Challenge and I was happy not to have to consider whether or not to participate.

The Diva Cup, for those who still have not heard about it, is a silicone contraption, kinda like a diaphragm I guess, that you wear inside once a month, rinse out, and reuse. The environmentally-friendly thing about it is that you don’t have any tampon or pad waste each month. But what is silicone?

The Dow Corning web site says that it is “a unique synthetic elastomer made from a cross-linked polymer which is reinforced with silica.” Web MD says it’s “A polymer of organic silicon oxides, which may be a liquid, gel, or solid, depending on the extent of polymerization.” In other words, a type of plastic. A safe plastic? I don’t know. The makers of the Diva Cup say yes. Feedback from those who can shed light on silicone in general or the Diva Cup specifically is quite welcome.

Personally, I’d rather stick with something more organic. For a while, and before my surgery, I used NatraCare disposable products. The tampons are 100% certified organic, unbleached cotton, which are made with or without biodegradable card applicators. The pads and liners are plastic-free, unbleached, plant cellulose and compostable in any backyard composter. I know. I’ve composted them.

Even after the hysterectomy though, I do like to use a liner. (Feel free to move on if this is too much information.) I thought I was doing fine using the NatraCare liners and tossing them in the compost bin until I thought about all the raw materials and energy that go into producing these pads, liners, and tampons. They may be natural. But they are not “no-impact,” are they? So I looked into other alternatives.

LunaPads and GladRags are companies that make reusable, washable cloth menstrual pads and liners. They are sold online and in some stores like Whole Foods and Elephant Pharmacy. I think that tossing a few of these pads into the laundry once a month is probably more eco-friendly than buying new disposables. And much more wallet-friendly too, after the initial purchase.

The problem is that with these pads, you’re pretty much limited to the sizes and shapes available, which, trying not to get too personal, did not satisfy me. I wanted a cloth liner in a different shape.

That’s when I checked one of my favorite web sites, Etsy and found a couple of craftswomen who would work with me to customize some handmade liners in the shapes and fabrics that I wanted. The two sellers I’ve worked with are Stella Pads by Ashley Norris (10/2013 Update: Shop seems to be closed.) and County Cloth Creations. But there are quite a few Etsy sellers making cloth sanitary products and I’m sure others would be happy to customize pads to your specifications.

The other nice thing about working with the Etsy sellers is that you can communicate how you’d like the package shipped (i.e. no plastic, minimal shipping materials) directly to the crafts person without having to go through a customer service rep and warehouse and bureaucracy, and you can even check the site to find the sellers closest to your geographical location.

So that’s been my plastic-free feminine hygiene solution. Zero waste liners custom made. What’s yours?

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51 Comments on "Plastic-free Feminine Hygiene. It had to happen enventually."

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1 year 3 months ago

@Sarah HI, your great! I would love to make some myself, but was just wondering; did you stuff the pads with anything? what did you do to the pads so that they don’t  leak?

Isabel Schwarzkopf
3 months 8 days ago

We all deserve to feel supported and validated for who we are, what our bodies do, and who we love. Personally I LOVE I swear, I feel so much more carefree because I don’t have to stop and change every 4 hours!

[…] always a good idea to get a few different reviews from the likes of Plastic Free and Vegan , Beth Terry, and this SUPER detailed cool one by Lauren […]

2 years 9 months ago

Silicone, is made from silica (sand) and acetic acid (found in vinegar) its not plastic anymore than glass (also derived from silica) would be, which is also why its heat resistant, but the other chemicals that make it flexible would be where the question would come in.
In general, given a choice between silicone and plastic, go with silicone. Of all the things on the beach to worry about, the sand shouldn’t be high on the list.

2 years 9 months ago

A lot of silicone is mixed with natural rubber as well. Health wise, silicone is probably much safer than plastic (better to rub sand and vinegar on your skin than petroleum right?) but it doesn’t break down either, though it is easily recycled.

3 years 28 days ago

i cant use internal products, at least tampons and cups do not agree with me.  but i did try the cloth pads and lets just say they are fantastic. I got some in organic bamboo velour which is really soft stuff. off of etsy which i highly recommend because of the great customer service.
i would be interested to try the sponges but im hesitant, are they hard to take out? are they difficult to sanitize/clean?

3 years 25 days ago

I haven’t had personal experience with the sponges so can’t tell you.  I love cloth pads, and I love that nowadays there are so many styles to choose from.

3 years 7 months ago

I purchased some Glad Rags pads and panty liners a few years ago for myself and my daughter (now 15.) I love the panty liners! The pads are more difficult to prevent leaks. My daughter doesn’t like either because they make her feel like she is leaking on her clothes even when she isn’t. I like the idea of custom made, but must use what I have already purchased. I do like Nutracare pads for wearing to go out places.

3 years 9 months ago

I love how many comments there are on here :) Just throwing in my vote (four years later) I am a college student and I proudly use cloth pads that I made myself out of old fabric we had around the house. It really is amazing the difference it has made – makes that time of the month much more bearable, it is a billion times comfier, and is not creating any plastic crap or costing me money! And it is surprisingly not weird to have to rinse out the pads and everything – feels way more… Read more »

3 years 28 days ago

you are awesome. im a college student too (or was, im between under grad and grad lol) and everyone of my female buddies was disgusted with this idea of cloth… sadly. because cloth is so much better!

4 years 9 months ago

I would like to add my voice to those in favour of cups. I have had a Lunette (a Finnish made menstrual cup similar to the Diva) for about half a year, and wish I’d discovered it a decade ago!

I believe it has several advantages over any other methods:
1) It avoids all the waste associated with disposables
2) Once you have one, you avoid the ongoing costs of disposables
3) It is much quicker and easier, and uses less water than washing out reusable pads (which I have also used)
4) It doesn’t leak!!
… Read more »

5 years 4 months ago

This is my second cycle as a cup-and-cloth-pads user, and I think it’s fantastic.
if you really want “the convenience and cleanliness of disposable pads and tampons” but without the full trash basket or the monthly cost, I highly recommend this route. The cup has a learning curve (mine’s a Mooncup), but once you’ve got it, it’s quick, easy, and leak-free – and completely painless. I made my pads, so they’re the size and shape I want (and pretty, too!), comfy, and probably more sanitary than a plastic pad. They were also virtually free to make.

So if… Read more »

5 years 7 months ago

I wanted to say my bit on your site for all us ladies out there that want the convenience and cleanliness of disposable pads and tampons. That is why I use Natracare products. I use them as they are extremely soft and comfortable and do the job I need them to do. They are made using sustainable materials and are biodegradable and compostable which is important to me. I have done a lot of research about this company and there products and they not only walk the walk, but talk the talk too. They… Read more »

5 years 7 months ago

I love Lunapads! I started by switching to the diva cup, but I ordered it from Lunapads and got two reusable panyliners with it. I had had no idea how much more comfortable those pieces of cotton would be. I love them.

It took me awhile to get used to the diva cup, and I even gave up using it for awhile, so I got more lunapads in the meantime and I will never, ever go back. It just makes too much sense. Why use a disposable product when the alternative is more comfortable, more cost effective,… Read more »

5 years 7 months ago

I LOVE my Femmecup! Whether silicon is like plastic or better for the environment, most cups are said to last 7-10 years. Considering that is an average of 84-120 cycles, that is still a lot of plastic saved for those who prefer to not go the cloth pad route. I highly recommend for those considering a cup. There are so many different kinds and many questions to ask.

Julie Casper
6 years 3 months ago

Another good feminine hygiene product is Party in my Pants pads ( I use them and love them! They never leak, I just quickly hand wash them out in the sink and hang to dry. Then throw them through the wash when cycle is done. 6 pads in a few different sizes meets all my needs. Please add them to your list.

6 years 4 months ago

While i was in India, i became very conscious about my trash, mostly because the trash there isn't shipped off to some unseen far off location, and never heard about again… No, in India they just burn it all right there in the front yard. So… mentral waste. That's a hazardous material right there, and we're buring it? (I'm refering, of course, to the burning of the plastic in pads, not the blood)

I've never been one for tampons, so i just stuck with my pads, until i realized that i had access to a sewing machine and… Read more »

6 years 8 months ago

Hi Beth,

I love you website! To address the question of silicone, in actual fact, it is NOT a plastic. It is a polymer, yes, but this only means it is a molecule that is made up of repeating subunits (this means that natural substances such as shellac and amber are also considered polymers). It contains the elements silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Sometimes silicone is mixed with plastic to make silicone plastics, but it does not have to. In fact, the silicone used to make the Diva cups contains no plastics…it says so right on the box (no latex,… Read more »

7 years 5 months ago

I was so excited to get my period when I bought 3 Glad Rags pantyliners to use with the rest of my tampons (switching to Diva cup when my current supply runs out). Today is my first day with the Glad Rags liner and I’m having trouble. It keeps moving back and fourth (mostly back). Anyone have any tips……besides buy custom liners (wish I’d seen that before, how smart!)

7 years 5 months ago

I use a Diva cup, since I’m OK with a little plastic that isn’t disposable. It’s a wonderful device, I no longer mind having my period. Turns out it wasn’t the bleeding that bothered me, it was the blood-soaked cotton.

The rubber Keeper is an alternative, but there is one caveat: you can end up with a latex allergy. Excessive exposure to rubber can trigger allergies in some people, such as a week of mucous membrane-to-rubber contact. I realize silicone isn’t entirely in line with your ideals, but in this case I really feel it’s the best choice.

7 years 8 months ago

Sorry to add another comment so quickly, but could not resist responding to the post before mine.
(I don’t like being anonymous by the way – I just am not into “blogging and all that other complicated stuff).
My best advice to us poor ladies that do bleed a little or a lot, is that when you get your period and you are due to vacation, buy at least 6 each of 3 different types of sanitary protection. Pack these into your suitcase and into your car with enough supplies for 5-7 days for your entire family and then drive to… Read more »

7 years 8 months ago

From Greek Sponge Lover. i lived in Greece 3 years and learned how to tell bad sponges from good ones to excellent ones. i thought I was the only one that used them until i found this page. I am bleeding very heavily right now and the thought of using a tampon of any size makes me laugh. my sponges though. much more natural, comfortable and reliable. The smaller the holes in the sponge the better the quality. When your done with them pull em out, squeeze em, wash em, microwave them for… Read more »

7 years 10 months ago

I have used a keeper for years, but always had some leakage. Now in menopause, I half min at least part of 1 day every cycle, and the leaking is worse. Was thinking of trying sponges or Diva. What is the difference between The Keeper and the Diva? They look the same except the materials are different.

Also, I have not yet figured out how to deal with any of this bleeding when I lead wilderess canoe trips on moving water rivers. You are wet all the time, depend on river water, and do not want to… Read more »

Mama B
7 years 10 months ago

I mistakenly put this comment under the Post “The List” but meant to put it here. So here it is again.

I hated everything about having a period. Last year I found out about a medical procedure called Novasure (endometrial ablation). Quick outpatient procedure. Covered by my insurance b/c of anemia caused by heavy bleeding. Still need other birthcontrol just in case but NO MORE PERIODS. Everything else is the same, the only difference is the lack of bleeding. I’m not suggesting that someone should go to this extreme to stop buying feminine products but for me it was a solution… Read more »

7 years 10 months ago

g-na, I found this on the “Sea Pearl” website:

Sea Pearls™ are natural sea sponges. Sponges are plant-like creatures growing in colonies on the ocean floor. There are over five thousand known varieties, the softest of which are the Atlantic and Mediterranean Silks. As sponges are harvested, millions of egg and sperm cells are released into the surrounding water, making the sponge an ideal renewable resource that provides an ecologically sound product for menstrual use

Sea Pearls™ sea sponges come from Tarpon Springs, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Sponge diving was started there in 1905 by the Cocoris brothers. They were… Read more »

7 years 10 months ago

I want to try cloth pads! Except I’m a college student living in a dorm who only does laundry once every two weeks… and I don’t feel comfortable washing my pads in the bathroom sink. :(

The organic feminine products sound good except I’m a poor student and the extra cost is too much, especially as I go through tampons very quickly (cough, probably too much information).

So that leaves the cups.. I think they are my best option right now. I should go check out the keeper cups and see if they’re cost effective. :)

Thanks for the article, informative and helpful

7 years 11 months ago

I use the Keeper, which as another commenter said, is made from rubber and not silicone. I’ve had it about 4 or 5 years and am very satisfied. Also tried cloth pads, but I prefer my Keeper.

7 years 11 months ago

Even after the hysterectomy though, I do like to use a liner.

That answers the follow-up question on how you do plastic-free contraception! (Seriously, all I can think of are fertility awareness methods and sterilization.)

7 years 11 months ago

I had my hysrterectomy in August. I love not having to think about what to use anymore! I want to figure the money I will save! I hope you are doing well after yours. I still have a bit of a belly and brain fog but feel so much better than before the surgery.

7 years 11 months ago

I had never thought about silicon being plastic, Beth. Thank you for looking in to that.

FWIW, I’ve got ’em all – used a Keeper for years, got a Diva as a gift, bought some of GladRags (and some other local-produced cloth pads) when I had an ectopic pregnancy that caused a lot of bleeding, and wasn’t supposed to use anything inserted.

The up-front cost is an issue, though. Which is too bad – over time the reusables save SO MUCH MONEY.

2 years 9 months ago

@Rosa its not plastic. Silicone is made from silica – which is a derivative of sand. Its mixed with acetic acid (derived from vinegar) neither will hurt you. Some are mixed with other things, but those are the basic components.

7 years 11 months ago

While it took me a little bit of time to convince myself to try the Diva Cup, I am now a full convert! It’s the most amazing product I have ever bought (and I don’t buy many), but it seriously has changed my life and the way I think about my period.

7 years 11 months ago

A note to anyone who may be using natural sea sponges for feminine protection: Please make sure you verify how those sponges were collected. One of the largest problems facing our world today is destruction of the ocean environment and endangerment/extinction of marine species. Many fishing practices use a technique of bottom dredging where weighted nets are pulled along the sea floor, indiscriminately collecting sponges, shellfish, bottom dwelling fish, etc. and leaving a path of destruction in its wake. In addition, if the sponge itself is an endangered species, its collection is harming the survival of that… Read more »

7 years 11 months ago

Great post! I started using the Keeper about a year ago, but have since switched to the Diva Cup — it’s more pliable, so it’s easier to insert and remove, plus it makes a better seal (at least for me ;) ) True, it’s made of plastic but, like Hillary, I feel safe enough knowing that it’s medical grade. Plus, it’s one small purchase that will last for years, compared to the continual waste and expense involved in buying organic tampons or pads (though I guess if they compost, that’s good too). Just my two… Read more »

7 years 11 months ago

Another vote for the Keeper. I’ve been using mine for several years. As I approach the unpredictable years of peri-menopause, it’s a comfort to always have it and know that it will take care of even heavy flow for hours and hours. Clean up is so easy.

7 years 11 months ago

Sorry — one more thing about the Diva Cup. According to them, one cup can last for up to 10 years. So, although it may be some form of plastic, I feel like the impact level of using one is pretty low.

7 years 11 months ago

I’ve been using the Diva Cup for a few months now and I love it. As the “literature” says, it is made of the same kind of medical-grade silicone that joint replacements, etc., are made out of — ie., the material has been determined safe enough to be put inside the body permanently, so for me that’s good enough to feel comfortable putting it in my body for a couple of days a month.

I also just switched to Naturacare pantyliners after I saw your mention of them in an earlier post — they are not quite as satisfying… Read more »

7 years 11 months ago

I’ve been using the keeper for a while now. I still use Seventh Gen pantyliners sometimes though. I like the idea of the reusable ones, but I’m the kind that’d fall behind on the washing to disastrous results —

7 years 11 months ago

I see someone beat me to The Keeper. Good! I have one. It is like thee Diva Cup but made from natural rubber. It works really well, and simplifies my time of month!


Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank
7 years 11 months ago

Hi Green Cat. Seventh generation drives me crazy with the amount of plastic they use! NatraCare uses no plastic at all. The liners come in a plain cardboard boxed, which I believe is made from recycled paper, although I don’t have one in front of me to check. And the liners themselves are not wrapped in anything. I haven’t tried the maxi pads or tampons, but I’m guessing they are not wrapped in any plastic either.

7 years 11 months ago

hey, Beth! :) i just wanted to let ya know that it’s a fantastic post! and as far as what i use – i like the sea sponges. i get mine online from “jade & pearl” and i use ’em for about 4-5 cycles and then just compost those little guys. the only downside is that the packaging that the sea sponges are in is plastic (“jade & pearl” uses a large paper envelope to send the wrapped sea sponges in). i would use the diva cup – but silicone scares me. so for now it’s a small amount of… Read more »

7 years 11 months ago

Diva Baby Diva – Got it in now! Love it. I use mine except when the flow is really bad at work then it’s tampons.
I will definitely look into the cloth panty liners.

Dirty Girl
7 years 11 months ago

AFIAK, Silicone is safe. It is not porous. It doesn’t break down easily. It doesn’t contain phthalates.

But it’s plastic.

If you’re creative and can sew, you can google “Make your own menstral pads” and find a dozen resources for patterns and how tos. Tree hugger did a whole article on it.

I made my own by cutting some washclothes in half and then I cut up an old pair of long johns and sewed them into various sizes and stuck the washclothes inside. They aren’t real pretty, but they catch the blood and no one is looking at them… Read more »

The Green Cat
7 years 11 months ago

Nice to know that Natracare does not use plastic in their pads. Are they wrapped in plastic? What about their tampons; are they plastic wrapped? I ask because I’ve been using Seventh Generation pads and tampons (also organic and unbleached) but they wrap EVERYTHING in plastic! I’m not ready to go the gladrags route yet, but I’d be happy to switch to Natracare if they are using less plastic than Seventh Gen!

7 years 11 months ago

I’ve made the switch! So very comfortable. I bought mine from an Etsy lady too. Here’s the link
The quality is outstanding! Thanks for posting about cloth menstrual pads.

7 years 11 months ago

I bought glad rags toward the end of 2005 and have been using them since. I like them and very happy with them. I’ve used cloth pads for most of my menstrual life except for about 5 years when I thought tampons were awesome mainly because I didn’t feel anything during that one week.

7 years 11 months ago

I’ve been using minx pads from Ella’s House in the UK for a couple of years. They’re filled with hemp layers and have a flannel outside layer.They’re not organic, but I feel a lot better without all the trash, and my body feels better too. They absorb very well, and I just wash them along with the rest of our laundry.

7 years 11 months ago

Argh–I can’t find the site back! I wanted to share a great place I found last spring where you can post feedback about different types of cloth pads. It was GREAT because I got to read feedback from all sorts of users and they commented on things like this brand was thicker and that one thinner and this sort of thing was awkward to use. It helped me pick out the ones I ended up buying (HagRags – they carry organic ones!). I’ve searched for about 15 minutes and cannot find it back :( and I’d wanted to share it… Read more »

Robert & Anjanette
7 years 11 months ago

Good for you and well thought out! I don’t think I thought the issue through as extensively as you did, but I came to the same conclusion – minus having them custom made.

We’re using cloth diapers when we have our baby for the same reasons and people are offering to buy us disposables like the only reason we’re doing it is that we can’t afford them. haha.

7 years 11 months ago

Wow. Custom pantyliners. Who ever would have thought?!?! Can we be really nosy and ask you to update us on how you like the products? I’ve been thinking of switching too, but that upfront cost is so high (and I’m pretty sure they aren’t returnable — at least I HOPE they aren’t!) that I want to hear about the pros and cons from a REAL UNBIASED PERSON.

7 years 11 months ago

Nonplastic menstrual cup made from natural gum rubber and made in the USA: