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Intro to Menstrual Product Alternatives

Summary: Disposable menstrual products cost women and the environment a fortune. Educational programs in schools often are based on material supplied by manufacturers of disposable menstrual products. This page contains information on menstrual product alternatives for educators, school nurses, and school kids.

Disposable pads and tampons are expensive. They are also hard on the earth, and sometimes they are even less convenient. My mother once went on a week-long rafting trip where they had to pack out all her trash. Well, after a week in the blazing sun, the plastic bag which held her used pads and tampons was...well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

Sea sponges Reusable menstrual sponge.


In contrast, when camping with a sea sponge (a natural tampon alternative), you only need to carry one or two, and you just rinse it twice in clean water, squeeze it out and slip it back in. Between periods they should be boiled and stored dry until the next use. Thirty years worth of sea sponges cost about the same as one year worth of disposables.
(Be sure to get your parents to read up on the further info linked below to understand and safely explore this option, which, like regular tampons you shouldn't pursue until after you've had your period for a while).

Reusable cotton pads Reusable cotton menstrual pads.


You can buy or make a set of cotton pads. They are about the size and shape of disposable menstrual pads, with a button snap or velcro to tie around your underwear. They can be washed and reused for years. They are generally available in health food stores. Though much cheaper than disposable pads over time, they are expensive initially as they are made in small volume and the manufacturer isn't going to need to sell you more for a long time after you buy a set. To save even more money you could buy one then sew the rest of a set as a parent-daughter sewing project.

Disposable organic cotton pads & tampons

These are similar to conventional disposable pads and tampons, but made from materials which are safer.

More info on sources and use of alternative menstrual products can be found at

Menstruation money math

OK, is a exercise to practice real-world math and critical thinking skills...

Much of the educational materials supplied to schools to inform girls about menstruation is from makers of menstruation products. The "Always Changing" set of materials which I saw at my daughter's elementary school probably cost the company something on the order of $100 to produce and distribute, per school. Why would they do this? If you guessed that they are hoping that you'll buy more of their products, you are probably on the right track.

A hundred dollars is a lot of money. How many of you would they have to win as customers to make this back? See if you can figure out what you would be worth to them as a lifetime customer. Assume:

36 years of menstruating (start 11-16 years old, stop 45-55)
13 periods a year (28 day average cycle)
five days per period (4-7 days)
four pads a day (the pad company video suggested many more, but this is what my wife said she uses)
$0.22 per pad ($3.49 for 16 pads at Longs Drugs)

Here's what the math looks like so far: 36 x 13 x 5 x 4 x $0.22 = $2059

is what you'd spend. Assuming the manufacturer's profit is $1.29 a box (from a stock analyst speaking about tampax, quoted on the internet) , they'd get over seven hundred and fifty dollars in profit from just one convert.

Sara Silvia Cynthia Stout...threw her used pads out (trash math!)

The menstrual products made by these companies cannot be recycled, composted, burned, or flushed. They are, in a word, TRASH! How much trash? Here we go again...

36 x 13 x 5 x 4 = 9360 pads
The ones in the drawer measure 8"long by 3"wide by 3/16"thick, so that's: 9360 x 8" x 3" x 0.1875" = 42,120 cubic inches...24 cubic feet, or six thirty gallon trash cans full.

Now six trash cans full of pads in a lifetime might not be such an outrageous amount if you were the only woman on the continent, however, there are about seventy three million menstruating women in the US, who each year generate: (6/36) x 73,000,000= 12,166,666 trash cans of...menstrual pads and tampons!

"...Tambrands' 1992 annual report drools over China, where ``a menstruating population of 335 million women, plus an economy experiencing explosive growth, define an exceptionally promising market for Tambrands.'' On the domestic front, the company replenishes its market by hawking to pubescent teens. ``One fundamental truth drives our business from Chicago to Shanghai: The consumer we attract today will likely stay with us for all the years of her menstrual cycle,'' Martin Emmett, chair and CEO told shareholders in 1993. ``If we can persuade young women to use our product during their early teens, we can gain loyal consumers for thirty-five years or more.'' To that end, Tambrands conducts an exhaustive educational program. Sending representatives into schools and classrooms across the country, the company bragged in 1991 that it reached 20 per cent of the 1.8 million 13-year-old girls in the U.S...."—Village Voice