Ask Eartha: Going green at that time of the month |

Ask Eartha: Going green at that time of the month

Dear Eartha,

I’ve been hearing scary things about tampons including chlorine-bleach, recalls and shortages, and toxic shock (not to mention the waste). Any suggestions for healthy alternatives?

“What’s a Girl To Do,” Breckenridge

Sorry boys. This week’s Eartha is a little gender biased and a topic I’ve been dying to cover. Without sounding too much like a PMS commercial, do we really have to add tampons to the list of monthly menaces like cramps, bloating and irritability (PC terms that barely describe the actual pain)?

I think it is important to talk about the pros and cons of tampons. These days, we actually have various products and brands to choose from when Aunt Flow’s in town. I’m going to apologize now for the period puns but come on, we need a little humor on this not-so-fun subject.

When it comes to the environment, tampons and pads can be quite the disposable downer. Most of the waste is destined for landfills, but as with plastic bags, plastic applicators are also trashing our beaches.

The National Women’s Health Network stated “twelve billion pads and seven million tampons pollute landfills annually in the US.” When you do the math, a woman is likely to use 15,000 sanitary pads or tampons in her lifetime. That adds up to between 250 to 300 pounds of tampons, pads, applicators, and packaging!

Recently, OB tampons have been in the news for mysteriously disappearing from store shelves. Across the country, women have been hoarding boxes of OB tampons in fear they might be going away permanently. OB tampons are popular because of their applicator-free packaging – it’s easy to fit in a pocket or purse. Also for those precycling divas, OB tampons trump other tampons with wasteful applicators.

The problem with many tampons on the market is not only the waste but the “what.” What exactly are these tampons made out of? Although the FDA does not require the ingredients in tampons to be listed on the packaging, many conventional brands of tampons use processed cellulose (rayon) and whitened cotton. Chlorine bleach is often used in this whitening process. The danger is in what the chlorine bleach produces – dioxin, a recognized carcinogen. Ladies, you have to wonder what years of exposure to this toxic chemical can do to our bodies.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a serious bacterial infection, was a huge concern back in the 1970s and ’80s with the introduction of super-absorbent tampons. Although the Centers for Disease Control reports that TSS cases have dropped dramatically over the years, reported symptoms like headache, fever, nausea, and abdominal pain continue to prevail. Is there a link between disappearing OBs and TSS? Who’s to say? Regardless, there’s definitely healthier and more eco-friendly alternatives to the conventional tampon.

One alternative is to choose “natural” tampons that are labeled “non-chlorinated” and/or “all-organic cotton.” I suggest checking out companies like 7th Generation, Organic Essentials, Maxim, and Natracare. Although non-chlorinated and organic tampons are healthier, they do not slim down the garbage glut (aka landfill).

I highly suggest reusable cups. I ventured into the world of reusable cups nearly eight years ago. I have to admit, when I heard of the strange little contraptions, I was a bit skeptical. Since I purchased the , I’ve talked to dozens of women who are tampon free and loving life. There are various reusable cups on the market including the natural latex Keeper, the silicone Moon Cup, and the silicone DivaCup. The DivaCup even touts that making the switch is an “environmentally responsible choice as important as switching from plastic to canvas bags!”

The plus side to the reusable cups is the financial savings. You only have to buy one reusable menstrual cup versus boxes of tampons. In a 10-year period, The Keeper, Inc. determined a woman could spend $400 on tampons and pads versus the $35 for a reusable cup. Now that’s a bargain!

Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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