Plastic Free Period: How to help your tweens & teens go green

Elizabeth Chapman, Registered Nurse, Midwife and Lunette Menstrual Mentor, gives her top tips on how to encourage your daughters to go green when it comes to their period

As a mother of three teenage daughters, I was determined not to repeat the same mistakes my mother had made when it came to talking about periods. “That talk” was done in secret and was so cringe-worthy and traumatic that it is still fresh in my memory. 

I was shown a weird elastic belt thing, an enormous pillow-like pad and just told that when I start bleeding I’ll need them. And that was that.

Although portrayed as fun-loving larrikins, many Australians are traditionally very conservative. Talking about periods, menstrual hygiene products and ways in which we can manage our cycles is still seen as “secret women’s business”. To many, it’s a shameful, private burden – an attitude that has unintentionally been passed down to us over generations.   

Luckily for us, times are changing at an increasingly rapid rate. We are finally accepting that menstruation is normal – and that we all need to learn how to manage it.

The average age of first menstruation in Australia is 12 years old, but girls may start as young as eight years old, so it is important to start open and factual conversations early and build on your daughters understanding. There are many books and guides to help you start these early conversations. One of my personal favourites is Kaz Cooke’s ‘Girl Stuff for Girls 8-12’.


Read more: Preparing Your Daughter For Her First Period


And what about period products? The Global Climate Change movement is strongly supported by our teens and the problem is clear. So let’s do the maths: 6 million Australian women menstruate every month, and produce on average a shopping bag full of plastic rubbish per cycle that can take up to 500 years to breakdown in landfill… Obviously our current methods of menstrual hygiene are not sustainable. 

Studies have shown that the majority of people will continue to use the same sanitary product that they were introduced to during early puberty. But thanks to amendments in the Australian Education Syllabus, and the launch of the Sustainable Period Project which provides free sustainable sanitary education kits to schools, the era of plastic periods is rapidly coming to an end. 

Greening your period and making it plastic-free can be a difficult concept for many especially since advertising centres on encouraging the belief that menstruating is something to be hidden and disposed of as quickly as possible. Luckily, millennials are owning their period. They’re like “I bleed, get over it!”

Best of all, with modern sustainable sanitary products, there is an option to suit everybody and every lifestyle. Here are some of my personal favourites:

Biodegradable pads and tampons

What are they: they look and feel just like conventional pads and tampons – without the plastics. They are made from organic cotton and plant polymers for the waterproof backing. Available at most supermarkets. Eg. TOM, Natracare, Cottons, OrganYc

Why use them: If you’re tween or teen are not ready to try reusables but still want to give the environment a thumbs up.

Fast facts: Conventional pads and tampons use cotton that is treated with as many as 35 different pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. These residues add considerably to the body’s system.

Reusable cloth pads

What are they: pads made from various fabrics (bamboo, cotton, hemp) that come in a variety of shapes, colours, sizes and absorbencies. Available from health shops and online.

Why use them: lasting up to 5years, they are simple to use and chemical-free. 

Fast facts: You’ll need 6-12 to cover a full cycle, Pick fun fabrics and prints as you will be using them for the next 5 years!

Reusable period underpants

What are they: Underwear with a leak-proof, moisture-wicking core sewn into them. They come in a variety of styles and absorbencies and can hold up to 2 tampons worth of fluid. Available mainly online and a small selection of health shops. 

Why use them: This is a great option for early menstruators who are still getting to know their own body and period cycle. A great option if your preference is pads but you hate that feeling of having bulky material stuck on top of your underpants.   

Fast facts: You’ll need around 6 underpants per cycle. Perfect for tweens wanting to start on modern reusables, or as a backup when learning to use a menstrual cup. Aussie brand Modibodi also do period swimwear.

Menstrual cups

What are they: A small bell-shaped reusable cup that is used internally in a similar way to a tampon. It can hold up to 4 tampons-worth of fluid (30ml) and can be left for up to 12 hrs and overnight before emptying.  Available at health shops and online. Eg. Lunette, Juju, Mooncup

Why use them: With 70% of Australian menstruators already being tampons users, this group is perfectly suited to switching to a cup. You only need one so the savings are phenomenal.

Fast facts: With many cups now entering the market, make sure you choose a reputable brand that is TGA listed and ensures their cup will last 7-10years. Otherwise, you risk broken stems, cracking rims and unregulated chemical additives being used the silicone. For teens a smaller cup is recommended (eg. Lunette Model 1, which was designed with teen in mind).

Here’s how these Aussie mums talked to their tweens and teens about green period options:

“I bought some reusable cloth pads at a local school market. The designs were really pretty, and my tweens asked what they were. It was a great conversation opener and I was surprised how well the conversation went, they were very open to the idea of reusables.”

“I already use a menstrual cup so it wasn’t a difficult conversation for us. When they asked I kept it really casual like this, “That’s just my menstrual cup, I use it for my period, what colour menstrual cup do you think you will use?” 

“The Modibodi period underwear are awesome, I have bought a pair for my tween and although they haven’t started their period yet, we have talked about what to do if it happens at school, so they are in the school bag for just in case”.

“I was caught out by my period one month and ended up with spotted white underwear, I was at home and thought it was a good opportunity to show my tween, I said something like, “Look I just got my period when I wasn’t expecting it, this is probably what it will look like when you first get your period. Here are some of the sanitary items I use”

Conventional disposable sanitary pad Plastics, bleached rayon, cotton Dispose after use (6-8hrs) Up to 500yrs UP T0 22 $2000
Conventional disposable tampon Bleached rayon, cotton Dispose after use (3hrs) 6 months UP TO 22 $2000
Cotton disposable Pad 100% cotton Dispose after use (6-8hrs) 1-5years UP T0 22 $2000
Cotton disposable Tampon 100% cotton Dispose after use (3hrs) 3-6months UP TO 22 $2000
Reusable Cloth Pad Cotton, bamboo,
5 years 6-12months 8-12 $200-300
Reusable Period Underpants Cotton, bamboo, merino wool, PUL 2-3years 6-12months 5-8 $300-500
Menstrual Cup 100% medical silicone 10 years Incinerate to dispose 1 $55

Learning about green period care options at school

If your tween has had the period talk at school and reusable period products weren’t covered, it would be a great idea to put the school in touch with the Sustainable Period Project, who are supplying a FREE resource kit to every Primary and High school in Australia and New Zealand. Each kit includes samples of biodegradable pads, cloth pads, period underwear and menstrual cups, as well as lesson resources for the teachers to use. Teachers using the resource kits say that students have been very receptive and open to the idea of reusable period products, especially with the presence of outside influences such as Plastic-Free July, War on Waste, and Zero-Waste movements. The project completed all High Schools in December 2019 and are now starting the Primary School distribution, so please remind your tween’s school to order their free demonstration kit now!



Read more: GREEN TWEEN: Top 10 tips to involve your kids in reducing waste



Elizabeth Chapman

Elizabeth is a registered nurse and Director of Lunette Menstrual Cups Australia. A mother to three sporty teenage daughters, she has a passion not only for women's health but also to help and inspire other women to be the best that they can be - all month, every month! The Lunette menstrual cup and Sustainable Period Project fit perfectly into this vision.

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