Resource Guides, Zero Waste Living

A master guide for a zero waste period: the what, the why, and the how (with a FAQ section)

Menstruation and zero waste often don’t go hand in hand – at least not with conventional disposable products. But unless you’re into free bleeding (and some are!), you use something every cycle. 

When I first started my period (20-some years ago), the options I was aware of were disposable tampons and pads. Both, which I now know, contain plastic. I didn’t know of any eco friendly period products at that time. 

But now? Now, there are tons of different options! And bonus: these products are starting to become more mainstream as menstruaters look for reusable options. 

In this monster post, I’ve covered different zero waste period options, listed the pros and cons, and some of the bigger companies for you to do some research. I’ve also included helpful resources as applicable. 

I’ve also shared some of my favorite eco friendly period products that I use each cycle (and as someone who gets her period every 22 days on average, I use them a lot), and why I like them. 

Finally, I’ve included answers to some of the commonly asked questions when it comes to zero waste periods: ones that I’ve seen often and/or had myself. 

This post is perfect for you if you’re looking at more eco friendly period products – whether you’re at the beginning of your zero waste journey or just looking for new products. 

Contents hide

I was gifted some Modibodi products which I’ve included in this post. However, all opinions about the products and brand are my own.

What is a zero waste period?

When my periods came back after having my son, they were regular for the first time in my life (not including the times I was on birth control). Yes! However, the average cycle is 22-23 days.  Boo. That was a lot of money, period products, and shopping trips every couple of weeks. 

Once I started reducing waste, one of the first things I wanted to tackle was disposable period products, because I saw the amount of waste I was throwing away. Simply put – I wanted a period where I could use 100% reusable products. 

Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. And just like any lifestyle change, there are many grey areas. 

In simple terms, a zero waste period is a cycle where you are using no disposable products. But if you’re not there yet, or can’t get 100% there, every little bit helps make a difference. 

Why strive for a zero waste period?

Probably more important than what, is the why in this case. As I mentioned above, there are a number of reasons someone may want to look at reusable period products for their monthly cycle. I’ll talk about three main ones, plus one that may not immediately come to mind. 

Environmental Reasons

Environmental reasons was a big piece of my ‘why’ for adopting a zero waste period. Here are some quick stats:

  • One disposable pad contains the equivalent of four plastic bags (source)

  • A regular tampon takes 500-800 years to decompose

  • In the UK, 3.4 million tampons and 2.4 million pads are used each day (source)

  • You should not flush disposable tampons down the toilet, yet approximately 50% of people who menstruate do

Think about this: almost every disposable pad and tampon ever used (knowing the disposable versions we know today were invented within the last 100-150 years) is still sitting in a landfill somewhere. 

Related post: Plastic is not the enemy. Our mindset Is. 

Health Reasons

Another reason you may be looking to transition towards a zero waste period is for health reasons. It is important to note that I am not a healthcare professional or scientist, so while I’ll share some potential findings, I encourage you to do your own research into this topic. To see a list of studies that have been done on pads and tampons and their findings, check out this link. 

You may have heard that there have been some research into questionable components to pads/tampons. Here is a quote from one source:

“As with cosmetics, feminine-care product manufacturers aren’t required to tell you what’s in their products. Unfortunately, tampons may contain traces of dioxin from bleach, pesticide residues from conventional, non-organic cotton, and mystery “fragrance” ingredients.” 

While I’m not really into fear mongering, and acknowledge that everything is made of chemicals, There is something to be said about the lack of testing that has gone into our period products, and the fact that some of the period products go INTO our body. 

Again – I’m not going to go into full detail here as I acknowledge that this could be a whole blog post on it’s own, and that I am not a health professional. However, to learn more about tampon safety – specifically on the findings of dioxins in tampons and pads, check out this link here. 

Social and Economic Reasons

The average cost of a box of tampons is around $6-$7 (based on my experience). And that is if you even have access to buying tampons or pads. Reusables, on the other hand, while have a steeper up front cost, can help save a ton of money in the long run. 

For example: 

“A woman who uses tampons monthly will buy more than 11,000 in her lifetime.” (source). That’s a lot of money. 

Another statistic says that the U.S. period and intimate care products market is worth 3 billion a year. (source)

And again, that’s even if you can access the products. 

Buying reusables also help those who don’t have access to disposable products (many of the reusable product companies are small businesses that give back to the community). 

Other Reasons

One other reason you may be inclined to start looking into eco-friendly period products is to cut down on bathroom clutter (as well as waste). I had an entire shelf in our small bathroom closet dedicated to period products. Pads, panty liners, different size tampons, etc – you probably can relate. Now? I have one small bad that houses all of my period undies, reusable pads, and my menstrual cup. 

It also reduces the mental load just a little bit because I don’t have to keep track of my period product stock, nor do I have to worry about ordering or running to the store. 

Related post: Super Easy Zero Waste Swaps That are Saving us Over $1200 A Year

Eco friendly period products

The great news is that if you’re looking to transition towards a zero waste period, there are lots of options. In this section, I’ll be covering some of those options, and giving you the pros/cons of each. Additionally, I’ll be listing specific brands for you to check out (note: this list is not exhaustive, simply what I could find). 


Cups and discs have received a lot of popularity in the last couple of years. Let’s take a look.  Note: these pros/cons apply to both cups and discs unless otherwise noted.


  • Can last up to 10 years per cup (discs may have a shorter lifespan due to the thin material, but not necessarily)
  • Very low waste
  • Lots of options 
  • Only needs to be changed every 8-12 hours 
  • Helps you get comfortable with and understand your body “down there”
  • Many cup companies are small businesses that give back 
  • Made with medical grade materials so safe
  • The legitimate ones made in the US are FDA approved (there are legitimate ones outside the US that are also safe)
  • Risk of TSS is less (but still present)
  • Doesn’t absorb like tampons which helps maintain the PH of your vagina, and prevents vaginal dryness
  • Some discs allow you to have intercourse (follow manufacturer’s recommendations)
  • Can swim with one
  • Saves a ton of money in the long run
  • Once you find the right cup/disc, you shouldn’t be able to feel it 
  • Can leak
  • Can help support a small business
  • Reduces waste
  • Discs can be a great option for those who want to use a cup but aren’t able to find one that works


  • Has an upfront cost that can be steep
  • Can have a learning curve, but once you got it, you got it
  • You may need to try a couple different cups before finding the right one
  • May need a backup (panty liner or period undies) for heavy days/nights
  • Emptying in a public restroom can be intimidating for some
  • Need to be mindful when searching for a cup that you’re getting one from a legitimate company (there are some knock off companies that aren’t FDA approved)
  • May take a few cycles to get used to touching blood (but hey, it’s your body!)
  • Some cups can stain
  • May not work for everyone (and that’s OK)
  • Still poses a risk of toxic shock syndrome
  • Can be kind of messy to empty


  • Put a Cup In It: Because menstrual cups are SO personal in terms of what works, I’m not going to list out specific brands. Instead, I’m going to direct you towards Put a Cup In It which is a great resource for finding out which cup/disc to start with (through their quiz), a comparison chart of all legitimate cups/discs on the market, videos, reviews, and coupons for certain companies. 

  • Put a Cup In It Facebook group: Looking to gain some insight on cup/disc wearing? Want to ask questions? This is a GREAT resource. 

  • Put a Cup In It swap group: Cost a barrier? Have a disc/cup that doesn’t work for you? This swap group is a great resource. I was one of those people who had to try a couple different cups before finding the right one for me. Luckily, I was able to resell the ones that didn’t work to recoup some of the money spent. 

Related post: Making the Case for Eco-Friendly Reusables (during a time they’re the enemy)

Period undies (including workout gear, swimsuits, etc) 

I know. If you’re new to period undies, one of your first questions may be: “do period undies actually work?” Or, “do they feel like pads?”

The answers are “yes!” and “NO!!!” respectively. At least in my opinion. I was not a pad person. Like, at all. I would wear a panty liner if I had to, but that was it.

I don’t remember what made me eventually try period undies, but I was hooked. They feel nothing like pads – even the ones for heavy days. I wear mine for backup and also on the days I’m just not feeling my cup. What’s even better, is that companies like Modibodi are even coming out with other products like swimsuits, workout gear, etc. 

I usually refer to the technology as some sort of magic, but in reality, it’s basically a few layers of super absorbent fabrics that work to wick away the moisture and hold it in place.


  • Come in different sizes and absorbances (super light – heavy/overnight) for all your needs
  • Super comfy and not bulky
  • No smell, and you don’t feel like you’re sitting in your blood
  • Some companies are coming out with other products besides undies
  • Good for not only periods, but also heavy sweating, incontinence, post partum and more
  • Some companies are moving towards gender neutral language to act as a resource for those who menstruate but don’t identify as female 
  • A great option for those just starting their periods
  • Some companies are increasing the sizes of their line to be inclusive of curvy individuals 
  • The undies come in a ton of different styles and colors
  • Wearable for almost anyone 
  • Some companies offer vegan and organic options
  • Can last many years
  • Help save money in the long run
  • Can help support a small business
  • Little to no learning curve
  • Reduces waste


  • They can have a steep upfront cost 
  • Does require a special wash treatment (rinse with cold water by hand, wash, then air dry – follow manufacturers recommendations)
  • Can leak 


Period Underwear Brands

Each brand listed offers period undies. Any other additional items the company offers is noted. Size ranges offered are valid at time of posting.

  • Adira (sizes range from XXS to XXXL)
  • Anigan (sizes range from XS to XXXL)
  •  Aisle (formerly Lunapanties) They have a quiz, are gender and size inclusive (sizes range from XS to 5XL)
  • AWWA Offers swimwear (size ranges from 2XS to 6XL)
  • Bambody (sizes range from XS to XXL)
  • Dear Kate has active wear and dance wear in addition to undies (size ranges from XS to 3XL)
  • Fannypants has men styles and active wear (size ranges from XS to XL)
  • FLUX (size ranges from XXS to 4XL)
  • Harebrained Designs super fun prints – think Daria, cartoon-y Frozen, etc. (size ranges from S to 4XL)
  • Intimate Portal (size ranges from XS to 3XL)
  • Knix has sleepwear and swimwear (size ranges from S to 3XL)
  • Lilova (size ranges from XS to 3XL)
  • PadKix (size ranges from S to L)
  • Modibodi has tons of options besides undies like workout shorts and swimsuits (size ranges from XS to 3XL)
  • Ruby Love has swim wear, active wear, and sleep wear (size ranges from S to 3XL)
  • Sustain Natural  (size ranges from XS to XL)
  • Thinx (size ranges from XXS to 3XL)
  • WUKA offers a book for those who menstruate and have autism (size ranges from XXS to 3XL)

Related post: 11 of the best FREE apps to help you live a more mindful, minimalist, & eco-friendly life

Reusable pads and panty liners 

Remember how I said I wasn’t a pad person above? Well that was 100% true. Until I tried reusable pads. And while I don’t wear them exclusively, they are fantastic for panty liners and light days. 


  • Not bulky
  • TONS of options
  • Can DIY your own
  • Will help you save money in the long run
  • No smell
  • Tons of different types and styles to ensure you’ll find one that fits you
  • Doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in your blood
  • A great option for those just starting out on their period
  • Can help support a small business
  • Can use for incontinence and postpartum
  • Little to no learning curve
  • Reduces waste


  • Can require an upfront cost, although out of all the reusable options, these cost the least
  • Does require a special wash treatment (rinse with cold water by hand, wash, then air dry – follow manufacturers/maker recommendations)
  • Can leak
  • Some pads can ‘slip’ 
  • Some designs will show stains, but washing with cold water can help, or you can choose darker designs


Reusable Pad Brands (there are TONS and TONS of reusable pad brands, but here are some bigger companies. Etsy is also an amazing resource): 

Related post: How to live zero waste and be a minimalist when your partner isn’t

Biodegradable and organic cotton pads and tampons 

If you’re interested in adopting a zero waste period life, but aren’t quite ready to take the plunge into reusables, there are options that are a little more eco friendly than conventional products. Manufacturers are clued in to the fact that people who menstruate are interested in better options, and that demand is increasing the options available.


  • Organic cotton is better for the environment
  • Organic cotton is potentially better for your health
  • Good for backups
  • Good for transitioning to reusable products
  • A good option if you’re in need of a menstrual product, but don’t have reusables with you
  • Can buy at most stores
  • No learning curve


  • Disposable
  • Still requires lots of resources (cotton is water intensive)
  • Can’t put in toilet
  • Takes up space
  • Requires mental resources for keeping in stock, shopping
  • End up spending more money over time vs. reusables 
  • May need to change more often due to lack of additives that are absorbent in conventional tampons


Related post: 5 Zero Waste Essentials You Must Have (that aren’t actually things)

Reusable tampon applicators

Another good option for more eco-friendly period products could be a reusable tampon applicator. According to one source: “Traditional plastic applicators take 500 years to decompose – and the women of the world use 10 billion of them every month”. If disposable tampons work for you, but you still want to make your period more zero waste, this could be a great option. 


  • Eliminate the need single-use plastic applicators
  • Can be a good alternative if other reusables aren’t an option
  • Support small businesses
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to clean


  • Doesn’t necessarily save money 
  • Could be difficult to find non-applicator tampons
  • Does require an upfront cost
  • Still requires disposable tampons

Reusable tampon applicator brands:


Sea sponge ‘tampons’

An alternative to conventional disposable and silicone reusable period products is a sea sponge. But this is a product that has a lot of mixed opinions, and from what I found, is generally discouraged. 

While they are reusable and supposedly eco-friendly, these items are not approved by the FDA or Europe equivalent, and have received warnings from many health professionals. 

Here is one about the items being dangerous.

Here is one more in favor. 

Free bleed

Free bleeding is exactly as it sounds – you bleed as normal during your period, however you don’t wear any type of menstrual product. 

This is not a new concept, in fact, it’s been around for centuries. But the concept became more taboo once periods started becoming “bad”. 

I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here, as if it is something you’re interested in, you can do some research. 

However, this article lists out some of the pros and cons of free bleeding like eco-friendly, budget-friendly, or risk of spreading blood-borne diseases, the smell, etc. 

My favorite eco friendly period products

For everyday use


After taking the Put a Cup In It quiz, I did end up going through a few cups. However, once I found the one, I was 150% hooked. I use the OS Merula, which is a cup that works for those with a low cervix, and doesn’t require the cup to be open fully. I. LOVE. IT. I have it in apple green!

Period undies

I’ve tried a couple different brands of period undies: Thinx and Modibodi. While It seems like both are similar in terms of quality, I like Modibodi better for the following reasons:

  • They offer more than just undies (swimwear and workout gear)
  • They are size inclusive
  • They have lots of cute styles and colors
  • They represent a number of different races and body types on their website and social media
  • They have a great giving back program
  • They have a 30-day risk free trial option for first time buyers

One thing I don’t love about the company is that while they do have a men’s line, they could stand to be more language inclusive on their website.

Psst: You can save 10% off an $80 purchase with code: AFFREDUCE10 through August 31 with this link.

Reusable pads/panty liners

I have a handful of reusable panty-liners and pads that I’ve bought from various places. Two were from Etsy, and one was from a co-op. My best advice is honestly to look at Etsy. Find a spot that resonates with you, and ask the maker any questions you may have. You can also look at the reviews too. 

For working out

Shorts: I recently tried out Modibodi’s active running shorts and I LOVE them. They offer a light absorbency, which is the equivalent to 1-2 tampons worth of blood, but they are great for lighter days or as a backup to working out with my cup. They are super lightweight and comfortable, and honestly feel just like my other non-period product running shorts. If you do a lot of walking or running, and want support during your period, if you have incontinence or a lot of discharge, or sweat a lot, I would highly recommend these. 

Additionally, they have other active wear as well. 

Out and About

Wet bag

One great thing about switching to reusable period products is that I don’t have to carry much while I’m out and about. When I was using disposable products, I would have a bag of tampons and panty liners in my purse, at my work desk, in the car, etc. But now, I just wear my cup or if I’m expecting my period I’ll throw on a pair of period underwear. 

The only thing I do bring along with if I’m going to be gone for a while is a wet bag. I bought one from a woman-owned business ‘Beego Handmade’

Wet bags are great for reusable pads, period undies, and even your cup if you need to take it out and store it at any point. They’re perfect for times when you’re going to be away from home for a while and know you’ll need to change your pad or undies. Additionally, it’s great for camping or other vacations where you may not have access to a sink or washing machine. 

FAQs for a zero waste period and eco friendly period products

Can you compost period blood?

There really isn’t a reason to compost period blood since you can dump it in the toilet (if using a cup) or rinsing it out (if using a reusable pad or period undies). However, there are some people who use watered down period blood as fertilizer for plants. 

Blood meal, a common plant fertilizer, contains necessary nutrients for plants to grow. Human blood also contains these nutrients.

However, blood can also contain illnesses and diseases, so it’s best to use caution. 

Other uses are a face mask, paint, or nail polish. Seriously. You can find more uses in this article. 

How do I clean period undies and/or pads?

It is best to follow the maker/manufacturer instructions, but generally speaking, the cleaning process is pretty simple. Some people who menstruate put their undies/pads in a delicate wash bag, however, I personally don’t.

  1. Rinse the pad or undies with cold water – until the water runs clear.
    Some people do this in the shower, but you can do it in the sink or bath tap. 

  2. Throw in with your regular wash using cold water (using a delicate bag or not) and laundry soap. Do not use bleach or fabric softener.

  3. Hang to dry.

That’s it!

What can I do to care for my period undies/reusable pads to prolong their life?

Along with following the washing instructions above and via the manufacturer/creator, don’t use bleach or fabric softener, as these can break down the technology needed for the undies/pads to work.

Additionally, no need to iron (although is anyone actually ironing their underwear?). The intense heat of the iron can, again, break down the technology used in each item.

As mentioned above, if you want to use a delicate wash bag for your undies/pads, it certainly won’t hurt anything, and could help to prolong the life of the items.

As for storing, I just keep them in a breathable bag in between cycles, making sure they’re 100% dry before putting away.

Can you use a menstrual cup/disc with an IUD?

Some manufacturers say yes, however, it is best to talk with a midwife or OBGYN before using any type of suction product with an IUD.  And while discs don’t rely on suction, it is still best to check before using.

Ok, I’m making the switch. What should I do with my disposable products?

If you’re OK with still using them, use them up! Or, keep them as backup, just in case. 

If you’re not OK using them, you can give them to a friend or family member. Or, donate it to a local women’s shelter. 

How do you insert a menstrual cup/disc?

It really depends on the cup/disc, but there are tons of great videos on Youtube that show you how. Here is one from Put a Cup In It.

If you’re interested in discs, here is a video on how to insert a disc.

Additionally, with cups, there are a number of different folds you can try if one doesn’t work for you! For example, I use the punch down fold, but my friend uses the ‘C’ fold. It just all depends!

Here’s a link to the different folds.

As for discs, it is a little easier in terms of folds. Basically, you just squeeze it in half and insert.

How do I know if my menstrual cup or disc is inserted correctly?

This will differ depending on the person and cup/disc, but for me, I know because I’m not able to feel the cup. Additionally, I run my finger around the lip of the cup once it is in my vagina, making sure I can’t feel my cervix. If I can, the cup is not positioned correctly. 

As for discs, it should be the same – that you aren’t able to feel it. I did try a menstrual disc, but was not ever able to get it to stay on my pubic bone, so I ended up selling it in a B/S/T group.

How do I clean my menstrual cup or disc?

It is best to follow manufacturer instructions, but there are a few options:

  1. Use a cup wash made specifically for cups. Many cup/disc companies sell their own
  2. Rinse with cold water (don’t use soap, as this can upset the bacterial balance in your vagina)
  3. Between each cycle, boil the cup for at least five minutes. TIP: Put the cup in a whisk so it won’t melt if you forget about it. 
  4. Some people do a half water/half 3% hydrogen peroxide soak overnight or for 24 hours. This supposedly helps with staining as well. However, some sources state that this practice can alter the safety of the cup, so be sure to read up on if the company says it is OK or not. 

Oh no! I found a crack/small hole/tear in my cup or disc that shouldn’t be there. Can I still use it?

Unfortunately, you shouldn’t use a cup/disc if it has a crack in it as this is a perfect spot for bacteria. If your cup/disc came with a crack, contact the company. Otherwise, throw it away and get a new one if you’re able. 

Does a menstrual cup/disc really reduce cramping? Does it really lessen the length of your period?

Based on what I’ve seen from the Put a Cup In It Facebook community group, some people have experienced both these things. I, however, was not one of those lucky ones.

There is anecdotal evidence backing these claims, so it is kind of one of those things where if it is a bonus for you, great, if not, you’re still getting the benefits of a reusable product.

What’s the difference between a menstrual cup and a menstrual disc?

There are a few differences between a cup and a disc – the most visably notable being shape and size. A disc is a wide circle, while cups are usually more oval and long.

Location is probably the biggest overall difference: a cup goes into your vaginal canal, while a disc sits at the widest part of your vagina near the opening.

Another difference is that discs gets tucked up on the pubic bone, while the cup relies on suction inside of you.

Additionally, because a disc does not go inside your vaginal canal, it is said that you can have sex with one in.

Not surprisingly, Put a Cup In It has a great resource on the difference between cups and discs if you’d like to go more in depth.

I bought period undies, reusable pads, or a cup/disc that don’t work for me. What can I do with it?

Some companies have a no-risk option for their products. Check and see if this is the case for you, or contact customer service and ask. 

Additionally, there are a number of buy/sell/trade groups available for selling items in good condition. 

Here are a few: 

What do I do with my period undies, reusable pads, or my cup/disc that is no longer usable? 

You can try and get creative with reusing the items for something else. Use Pinterest as a resource! 

Otherwise, these items can go into the trash. While it may be hard to throw the item away, remember how many disposable ones you prevented by using reusables!

How do I prevent stains in my period undies/reusable pads or panty liners?

Wash out the blood with cold water as soon as you are able. Cold water is key here. Additionally, throw the items in the wash as soon as you are able to try and prevent the blood from drying. 

Another preventative measure is to choose designs that won’t show any staining. 

Do period undies/reusable pads feel like regular pads? 

While this may be up to personal interpretation, I personally don’t think so. As someone who didn’t like wearing pads because I found them too bulky, hot and uncomfortable, I have no problem wearing period undies or reusable pads. 

The technology behind these products is incredible, and as a result, these items are super thin. The size of my heavy reusable pad is that of a conventional disposable panty liner. Seriously! 

I can’t or don’t like to use tampons. Would a cup/disc work for me?

While this is another one that is up for personal interpretation, I have heard of some people not being able (or wanting) to use tampons who end up loving cups or discs. The only thing is to try it out, and if it doesn’t work out, consider selling it to recoup some of the money. Or, if able, purchase from a brand that has a no-risk return policy. 

I love these options, but I can’t afford them right now. What are some things I can do in the meantime?

First, check out the buy/sell/trade groups if that is something you’re comfortable with. 

Here are a few: 

Second, check out Put a Cup In It’s coupon page. They’ve got some great offers that can help save some money. Additionally, many of the reusable period product companies offer coupons for signing up for their email list. 

Finally, ask your favorite blogger/influencer if they have any coupon codes. Many are affiliates or partners with brands and could potentially offer you a discount code. 

For example, I have a couple I can share with you right now:

Isn’t it gross to have a cup/disc full of blood in you? What happens if it leaks?

It’s your body, and it’s 100% natural. It may take a few cycles to get used to, but touching blood and inserting/removing my cup doesn’t bother me at all anymore. 

I usually use some type of backup when I wear my cup just in case. I honestly don’t have leaks that often, but it does happen occasionally, just like with tampons. 

Can all natural, disposable period products be composted?

While 100% organic cotton products can technically be composted, it takes a long time and is generally not recommended. 

Conventional disposable period items should not be composted, because they contain plastic. 

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