alive logo

Go With the Flow

Period making Mother Earth cranky?


Go With the Flow

Environmentally conscious alternative menstrual products can help prevent toxic shock syndrome that can occur through the use of tampons.

“Aunt Flo,” “crimson tide,” “that time of month”: Whatever euphemism we use for menstruation, it remains–even in our enlightened times–a subject that women are all too eager to conceal with a flurry of sanitary products we can chuck aside before moving on to more important matters such as chocolate and foot rubs.

What’s out of sight may be out of mind, but as long as the laws of physics still apply, there’s no sidestepping the environmental impact of tossing hundreds of applicators, pads, and packaging every year. If you multiply that number by, say, all the ovulating women in North America, you’re dealing with an annual production of 12 billion single-use pads and 7 billion tampons, according to the National Women’s Health Network.

Toxic Tampons

Amid all that green guilt–not to mention cramps, bloating, and a nagging feeling you want to bash something in–a growing body of evidence suggests that disposable feminine hygiene products can also put women at risk for cancer, as well as a rare but potentially fatal infection known as toxic shock syndrome.

More than 50 women died (and over a thousand suffered) from an outbreak of toxic shock syndrome in the 1970s and 1980s. Because most of these cases of toxic shock occurred in women who experienced symptoms within a week after their periods, researchers managed to narrow risk factors to the use of highly absorbent synthetic fibres in tampons, which amplified the toxins of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (Staph). The higher the absorbency, studies by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested, the higher the risk of toxic shock syndrome.

But all-natural fibres, such as 100 percent cotton, aren’t that much better, considering that most cotton crops are drenched in pesticides, not to mention genetically engineered, which the London-based Institute for Science in Society warns could give rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So what’s a girl to do?

Three Environmentally Conscious Options

It’s time to give a few of these healthier feminine hygiene products a try.

1. Menstrual Cups

The DivaCup (, Mooncup (, and the Keeper ( are menstrual cups that are made from natural gum rubber or medical-grade silicone and worn internally. Although you have to pony up $35 or so, these handy, portable devices are said to last for 10 years, which adds up to $800 in savings, according to GladRags. The best part: You’ll never have to worry about stocking up supplies or finding a discreet way to dispose of used pads or tampons. Plus, you’ll hardly know it’s even there.

Using these green alternatives to single-use tampons and pads means that what’s out of sight can be out of mind and off your environmental conscience.

2. Reusable Cotton Cloth Pads

If the environmental impact (and cost) of disposables is a concern, consider rewashable fabric pads, available in both cotton and organic-cotton versions, from companies such as GladRags (, Lunapads (, and Sckoon (, as well as from local crafters at online destinations such as Available in myriad cheery colours and patterns, these reusable pantiliners and pads will last for years, which also means you’ll wind up saving hundreds of dollars in the long run.

3. Organic, All-Natural, Disposable Cotton Pads and Tampons

Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. For disposables, Natracare ( is one company that offers a range of non-chlorine bleached and chemical-free feminine hygiene products, including tampons made from 100 percent cotton. You can also find organic-cotton tampons made by Seventh Generation (, along with chlorine- and fragrance-free pantiliners, ultrathin pads with wings, and maxi-pads, in the aisles of your local natural food store.



The Achiever’s Dilemma

The Achiever’s Dilemma

Carole AmesCarole Ames