A few weeks ago, I was browsing the shelves at Earth Fare when I came across organic tampons. “ORGANIC TAMPONS?!” I thought with a huff. “What are they going to think of next?”
However, based upon my recent cervical dysplasia issues, I thought I should pick up a box. I’m pretty much willing to try anything to make my womanly parts all better.
When I got home, I did some research about organic versus conventional tampons, and I was floored at what I discovered. In my eyes, there are two issues at play here: the environmental impact of the feminine product industry and the potential health impacts from conventional products.
First, let’s get environmental.
According to this site, the 73 million menstruating women in North America will throw away 275 to 330 pounds of disposable menstrual products in their lifetime. These tampons, pads, and applicators will take hundreds of years to biodegrade, especially if wrapped in plastic, as the instructions tell us to do.
Beyond the landfill effect of this incredible amount of waste, there is also a high environmental cost during manufacturing.
Trees are a renewable resource, but not as renewable as cotton. And these trees are grown conventionally – i.e. doused with fertilizers and chemicals. To make a tree into a fluffy tampon, manufacturers treat the materials with a wide range of chemicals. To improve appearance and performance, the tampon or pad is also treated with bleaching products, super-absorbent acrylic polymers (SAPs), surfactant-laced gels, and fragrances. There are air, water, and soil quality impacts as a result of this process.
So, clearly, conventional pads and tampons are not good for the environment for several reasons: 1) waste and 2) chemicals used during growing and processing. But is there a health impact?
One chemical of particular concern is dioxin. Dioxin is a bleaching agent commonly used in tampons. Manufacturers and the Environmental Protection Agency say that the amount of dioxin left behind in the final tampon product is very, very small, although it is detectable in major brands (it’s worth noting that dioxin is now in pretty much everything you eat and the air you breathe, too). Why is dioxin a big deal? Another EPA report found that repeated exposure to high levels of dioxin can cause cancer in animals, impact the immune system, increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and reduce fertility. Some studies have even found a link between high levels of dioxin and endometriosis.
The reality is that NO ONE knows the long-term impact of conventional feminine products on women’s health. They can take a guess, but really, no one knows for sure. And since I only have one vagina, I’m going to err on the side of caution.
As a side note, I did an experiment in which I put a conventional tampon and an organic tampon in a glass of water for 8 hours to see how much of the fibers were released.
Conventional (Tampax Pearl) was on the left. The fibers were impossible to photograph; however, they were there, in roughly equal amounts for both the conventional and organic brand.
My doctors cannot figure out what is causing my cervical dysplasia, but the thought of a chemical-laden tampon sitting up against the soft, absorbent tissue of my vagina totally freaks me out. For this reason, organic tampons seem like the obvious alternative to conventional tampons; however, the organic tampons still end up in a landfill.
I thought to myself, “There has to be a better way!” And guess what? There is!
Introducing… the Diva Cup. The Diva Cup is a soft, medical-grade silicon menstrual cup. It is latex-free and BPA-free.
The Diva Cup is inserted into your vagina and rests relatively low, so it’s easy to pull out. It creates a vacuum seal, so blood pools into the cup, not out of the sides.
To insert it, you roll it into a little “U” and put it in, just as you would a tampon without an applicator. You can wear the Diva Cup for up to 12 hours. After removing it, you should wash it with a mild soap (I bought the brand’s DivaWash and liked it). At the end of your period, you should boil the Diva Cup to completely sanitize it.
The Diva Cup lasts up to a year (or longer), so it not only saves you money, but it also reduces the environmental impact of your period!
I found the Diva Cup to be very comfortable; once it’s in correctly, you can’t feel it. I’m still learning how to insert it properly (also, I cut off some of the stem, which made it more comfortable). I had to remind myself one morning how it felt to figure out tampons when I was 13 – it was very frustrating but ultimately awesome, so I’m allowing myself a learning curve on the Diva Cup! I wore the Diva Cup through exercise and it stayed perfectly in place. No leaks whatsoever.
Another great aspect of the Diva Cup (and this is kind of weird) is that it actually lets you look at your period blood. Before, I always just removed my tampon and quickly flushed it. But with the Diva Cup, the blood isn’t absorbed into anything, so you can tell exactly how much you’re menstruating and other details, like color and whether you’re menstruating clots. The Diva Cup made me feel more ‘connected’ to my period, if that makes any sense. I recommend removing the Diva Cup in the shower until you get a hang of taking it out.
And, if you prefer pads, there is always the option of reusable pads.
Sounds kind of strange, right? But reusable pads are kind of like cloth diapers. LunaPads is one well-known reusable pad brand. Although I’ve never tried reusable pads, Stephanie wrote a very interesting review of LunaPads on BlogHer – check it out!
So, all in all, I’m glad that I’m making the switch to the Diva Cup. I feel like it’s better for the environment, my body, and my wallet. Also, it’s oddly empowering!
Thoughts? Do you use reusable pads or the Diva Cup?