A friend of mine told me that while she was a student at Bennington College in Vermont, sea sponges were popular alternatives to tampons and pads. I should have gone to Bennington. It was organic shrooms, not sea sponges, going around at UCSB!
Now that I’m no longer in the dark about the sponges I’m researching information on brands being sold. I’ve found a thriving eco market of alternatives to disposable menstrual products. Remember when Kotex made us think ultra-thin maxis were revolutionary? What were we thinking? Some women are even making their own organic pads and selling kits for you on the web.
If you can handle the added labor of reusables, here are a few options out there:
GladRags out of Portland, Oregon, gladly peddles reusable organic cotton sanitary pads, biodegradable jade and pearl sea sponge tampons, and a soft and hypoallergenic DivaCup (above). It was founded in 1992 by a new mom named Brenda who was inspired by the purity of her daughter’s cotton diapers, as well as desirous of stay-at-home business that could aid environmental change. And yes, there was the feminist motivation. She wanted to “promote positive attitudes towards menstruation.” Many studies show PMS symptoms are aggravated by a negative attitude about one’s body and menstrual cycle. This company is so forward thinking, it even offers school group discounts!
Another company, Sckoon Organics based in Soho, New York, is known for high-quality, organic baby clothing. But it also makes washable pads out of 100% organic cotton – which is soft and irritant-free. Among the sought-out products are the Night Pads, designed for heavy flows and postpartum use. Why washable? Sckoon points out that the washing is no burden when you think about the dioxin and other chemicals found in many major brands of pads and tampons – chemicals which have been linked to cervical and breast cancer, endometriosis and immune system suppression. “If dioxin isn’t enough to give you pause, pesticides used in cotton cultivation are showing up in disposable pads and tampons too and have been linked to birth defects, infertility, breast cancer, sterility, and respiratory problems,” the site warns. In addition, it says the plastic and glue backing on disposable pads “reduces air circulation and creates a stagnant environment in which some bacteria thrive, causing vaginal irritations and yeast infections.”
There are other alternative brands out there if you want to go the greener, cleaner route. Meantime, here’s a brief description of how these reusables work:
The new reusable pads – a return to the rags of yore – feature a removable organic cotton liner that sits on top of a holder with an attachment to keep the pad in place. According to Epigee, the pads can last 3 to 10 years depending on usage and cost from $12 to $20. Scoon pads are machine washable and safe to put in the dryer or you can air dry them. It’s recommended to wash them before use to remove the cotton’s natural oils. After use, you can rinse and soak with laundry soap or any mild cleaner in cold water, then wash and dry like anything else. Buckets are also sold for storage until washing. (One user suggests dropping Tea Tree Oil into a bucket of cold water for sterilizing.)
Shaped like a bell with a stem for for pulling it out, the DivaCup forms a seal with your vaginal wall which allows the cup to catch your flow. The new ones are made from medical-grade silicone. The sides fold and the cup is flexible, allowing you to bend it when you insert it. They hold about one ounce of blood and should be emptied carefully every 6 to 12 hours. The cups cost between $30 and $40 and can last for up to 10 years with proper care. Kim wasn’t such a fan of the DivaCup, however – read her review.
Natural sea sponges like the kind my friend saw at Bennington College function like tampons, as they are worn internally but don’t need to be changed every few hours and thrown away. Instead, you can rinse out the one you are wearing or grab a dry one from your supply. Your finger is the applicator. The sponges are natural, biodegradable and sustainably harvested. Since they aren’t treated with chemicals or bleach, you must boil the sponge before using it for the first time. A package of 2 sea sponges can cost around $12 and be reused for up to 8 months. You can read more about caring for them at the GladRags site.
Websites like Tiny Birds Organics and Born to Love provide patterns along with the how-to’s of making your own cloth pads using materials such as cotton terry/towel inserts, hemp fleece or organic cotton fleece, flannel cut in curved shapes and more. It’s a good way to go if you sew and want to save money on the retail products now being sold.
All of these products are good news for our plumbing as well as for our bodies. And they’re great for our daughters! To simplify things for them even more, a Northern Californian woman named Amber Weeks will soon introduce an organic green menstruation kit for teenage girls. As the mom of a teen, I can’t bear the thought of her using a conventional tampon. The no-brainer kits might just be what the doctor didn’t order…a healthy alternative for the next generation.