A Zero Waste Period

Oh yeah. We’re gonna talk about it. Like most women who get their periods, I used to use tampons… but ~20 tampons (or pads) a cycle? That’s a lot of waste. And a lot of money. So I started exploring the world of reusable feminine hygiene products. And color me impressed. While initially kind of scary, once I got the hang of all the products (and learned about the different options) — I can confidently say that my periods don’t feel quite so arduous. So let’s go from easiest to hardest with three different reusable period products. 1. Cloth pads 2. Period panties 3. Menstrual cup

1. Cloth Pads

These can be found on the lunapads website (linked), at Target, and on Amazon. And you can find tons of other brands on Amazon or Etsy.

Exactly as it sounds. Cloth versions of old faithful — pads. When you’re ready to change out the pad, rinse in cold water, and wash/dry as usual. I think cloth pads are good as a backup to menstrual cups (more on that below) or on light days. I recommend getting a patterned or dark solid colored pad so that any stains don’t show (if that grosses you out!).

Pros: reusable, easy to use, machine washable
Cons: may not work great on super heavy days, will still “feel” period

2. Period Panties

These are the Thinx panties (linked). There are lots of other brands available these days as well.

Period panties are what got me in to the whole zero waste period world. They’re so easy to use and provide great protection. Like cloth pads, you rinse these out in cold water and wash as normal — however, these need to air dry and shouldn’t be thrown in to your dryer’s high heat. I personally use these on my end of period/light days when a cup feels like overkill.

Pros: reusable, easy to use, machine washable, can work for different levels of flow
Cons: will still “feel” period, can be pretty expensive at around $30 a pair (and if you’re only using period panties, you’ll probably need at least 5 pairs even with a mid-week wash)

3. Menstrual Cup

Source: http://shop.menstrualcup.co/

Ah, the menstrual cup. The tiny little cup that strikes fear in to the hearts of many women. But don’t be afraid! It might take some trial and error, a good amount of leaks your first few cycles, and moments of “HOW DO I GET THIS OUT?!” BUT. It works out. And hey — this might not be for everyone, and that’s okay too. But if you haven’t tried it, at least give it a shot. The cup is what truly reduced my period week waste to ZERO. And I was awed by how well it worked. Okay, so insertion isn’t a cake walk. But. Once it’s in properly — I can go 8 hours on my heaviest days and 12 hours on every other day without having to empty out the cup. Also, the best part — if it’s in correctly, I really can’t feel it, which makes the week just a bit better. Alright — so you want to try it out? Here are some tips.

  • There are a LOT of different cups out there, with different sizing, materials, handles, etc. It might take some time to figure out what works best for you. But this quiz is a good start. Based on the quiz, I ended up getting the MeLuna and it’s been great so far.
  • Watch a ton of Youtube videos to learn about the different folds to get your cup in. I watched this video a million times. The punchdown technique is what worked best for me initially but then I ended up switching to the C-fold (which, for me, allowed the cup to pop open easier). But you’ll need to find what works best for your body.
  • Once you get your cup, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for sanitizing it before use. I boil my cup for a few minutes before the start of every cycle. During my cycle, I mostly just rinse out the cup and re-insert.
  • Practice, practice, practice! If your cup isn’t inserted properly, you’ll pretty quickly feel a leak (hence why having a backup pad or period panty the first few times is crucial). If this happens, remove the cup and re-insert. If the cup is in properly, you shouldn’t be able to pull it out super easily. The cup needs to “pop open” in the vaginal canal from whatever fold you’ve created to insert it.
  • I have found that inserting and removing my cup in the shower both cuts down on mess AND actually helps me insert and remove the cup better.

Pros: reusable, works for different levels of flow, don’t “feel” period, easy to sanitize, gain tons of knowledge about your body (trust me, you’ll get REALLY familiar with all your lady parts)
Cons: will leak if not inserted properly, learning curve for insertion and removal, can be messy to remove/re-insert especially if out in public or traveling

Ladies — what questions do you have?

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Minimal Waste Travel

As someone who travels a fair amount, I really do try to be mindful of the trash I produce while exploring the world. But. Reducing waste while traveling is HARD. Between all the trash created during long haul flights, hotel toiletries, quick meals out in a new city… it’s easy to create a significant mound of trash during a week-long trip. So… what do we do? Nope — we don’t need to be perfect. My primary reason for traveling is to explore. And if exploring leads to a bit of waste… it’s okay. However, I am mindful to not create too much unnecessary waste. Here are my tips for reducing even a tiny bit of “travel trash”.

Bring a travel water bottle. I use a Que bottle that compresses down to a fairly small size and doesn’t have a risk of shattering. Flight attendants have had no problem filling my bottle for me on flights and I continue to refill the bottle at airports, hotels, restaurants, etc. to completely avoid having to buy water bottles or getting the plastic cups of water on the plane.

Avoid plane snacks (i.e. the peanuts, pretzels etc.) on short flights and bring your own. For long-haul flights, I haven’t gone as far as contacting the airline to not have a meal for me on the flight but this may be an option if you are really looking to cut down. (My understanding is that if you just refuse a meal on the flight, the meal just goes to waste. Anyone know anything more about this? Any other ideas?)

Save your recycling. I find it odd that most hotel rooms don’t have a recycling bin. Anyways, I tend to save whatever can be recycled throughout my trip and then find a recycle bin on the street to empty everything in to.

Eat at restaurants (instead of getting take out) as much as possible. Even if I’m super tired, I try to eat at the restaurant as much as possible while traveling instead of getting something “to go” to avoid creating the inevitable waste that comes along with pre-packaged or take out food.

Ignore the hotel toiletries. Unless the hotel has toiletries in large refillable bottles, I avoid using the travel sized toiletries. I bring my own soap (bar), shampoo (bar), lotion (de-potted), etc. (It’s probably better for your skin anyways to use consistent products!).

Save your transit cards. I’ve had the same Oyster card to use in London for the past 10 years and I have no plans to toss it any time soon! Saving this card has helped me avoid getting a new card at least 8 times now.

Pack a reusable grocery bag. This takes up almost zero space (I fold mine in my purse) and helps avoid gathering shopping bags while out shopping in a new city. And on that note…

Avoid purchasing knick-knacks. Listen. I love picking up unusual things on my travels. However, let’s be mindful to not get things that’ll ultimately end up at Goodwill. Some favorite (and useful) purchases on my travels include skincare and personal care finds from local pharmacies (preferably in recyclable glass bottles or, at the very least, #1 or #2 plastic), biscuits and loose leaf teas in cardboard or aluminum tins, and thoughtful coffee table books from a local bookstore.

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Zero Waste Doggos

Meet our dogs, Scout and Sydney. Sydney is our 14 year old golden and Scout is our 1 year old golden.

Aren’t they cute?

Now. Dogs sure do produce a lot of waste. They eat a lot. Poop a lot. Destroy things a lot. BUT it is possible to reduce the amount of dog related things that go to the landfill. Here’s what we do for the most commonly used/needed items.

Food: Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find bulk dog food — especially for the brand you might want. We do a combination of canned food (which we recycle) and Holistic Select dog food. Holistic Select is part of the Wellness Pet Food brand that has a TerraCycle program to recycle the bags. For treats, we have found bulk treats at local dog bakeries. In addition, our dogs love frozen yogurt treats (just stick yogurt in silicone molds and freeze) and frozen bananas (compost the peels).

Poop: When at home, we flush the poop straight down the toilet, as recommended by the EPA (I swear it is not as disgusting as it sounds). On the off chance our dogs poop while out, we bag the poop and throw it away (dog owners — never leave poop outside on the sidewalk or even in the grass as it can pollute waterways!). While I do buy those biodegradable/made from recycled material bags, I don’t think they are truly effective since once those bags are in the landfill, they don’t get the light or oxygen necessary to break down.

Toys: Our dogs play almost exclusively with West Paw toys (the Zogoflex toys). They are incredibly durable for our mouthy retrievers and look brand new years later. In addition, West Paw recycles any old or broken Zogoflex toys into new toys!

Beds and Crates: First off — buy quality. We’ve had our 2 beds for over 10 years. When one’s filling has worn out, I’ve stuffed it with old towels or sheets and it’s ready to go again. We have one crate and one pen that we also plan on using indefinitely — so far no issues with either. Also — it’s incredibly easy to find crates and pens on Craigslist so look there first!

Collars and Leashes: Again, buy for quality. Hopefully your collars and leashes will last you the life of your dog (and maybe even future dogs!). Our leashes are all made from upcycled rock climbing ropes so I feel good about utilizing some thing that would otherwise end up in the landfill. They’ve also been incredibly durable.

Our pup, Scout, with her favorite West Paw toy.   

Common Recycling Questions

Last week, I volunteered with my city at a recycling education table at a local elementary school’s eco fair. I had a ton of fun playing the “sorting game” with lots of youngins (and some of their parents) where participants are asked to sort items in to either a trash or recycling pile. It was interesting to see which items threw people off the most… so here they are. Common — “can I recycle this?” questions answered.

  • Things that threw off parents:
    • Wire hangers. NO. Take these to the dry cleaners!
    • Aluminum foil. Nope. Trash.
    • Styrofoam cups (even with the #6 at the bottom). Very, very few cities actually take styrofoam so the answer is usually no.
  • Things that threw off (young) kids:
    • Tissues, paper towels, napkins. While, yes, this is a paper product… Nope. Compost or trash these.
    • Magazines. The colored paper seemed to throw off some kids so I had to explain that while colorful, magazines are still paper and can be recycled.
    • Cardboard! This one was interesting. The brown color seemed to make some kids associate cardboard with wood (and therefore not recyclable). I had to explain that it was just a really thick paper product.
  • Things that threw off everyone:
    • Plastic/disposable cutlery. A lot of these are actually made out of #6 plastic. HOWEVER, many cities won’t take these (or ultimately wont recycle these) because it’s not cost effective to do so. So this usually falls into the trash pile. Moral: use reusable or compostable cutlery!
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Composting with Bokashi

I love composting with bokashi. Okay, rewind. What is bokashi anyways? Bokashi is a way of fermenting food waste (including dairy and meat, which usually isn’t composted in the traditional way) so that when the fermented food waste is thrown in to a compost pile, it breaks down much quicker. Please note, composting with bokashi doesn’t lead to actual compost, but rather, a pre-compost of sorts. I recommend this method if you have a decent amount of dairy or meat scraps and a place to take your bucket of fermented food waste to (like a backyard compost pile). If this doesn’t apply to you — I recommend regular composting, either with a backyard compost system, curbside food waste pickup (if your city has it — jealous!), or food waste drop off (I have seen this at farmers markets; or in Dallas, check out Recycle Revolution).

If you’re interested in composting with bokashi — continue on!

– 2 5-gallon buckets with 1 corresponding lid (from any hardware store)
– a drill or nail/hammer to create holes at the bottom of 2 of the buckets
– a place to dump your fermented food waste, such as a backyard compost pile
– any small container to collect food waste during the course of a day or two

1. Drill approximately 8 holes in the bottom of one of your 5-gallon buckets.

2. Stack the bucket with holes within the bucket without holes. Place lid on top.

That’s it for set up. Seriously. At this point, start collecting food scraps in an easy to access spot in your kitchen. Every few days, dump the food scraps in the bucket, and cover with a scoop full of bokashi. Once the bucket is completely full with food scraps, make sure the lid is on tightly, and let sit for about 2-4 weeks (less if it’s warmer, more if it’s cooler). After this “sit and wait” period is over, dump your pre-compost in to a compost pile. You’ll also find that some “bokashi tea” has leaked out in to the bottom bucket through the holes in the top one — this “tea” is great for indoor and outdoor plants. Pour it out in your garden. That’s it. A tip is to make another bucket system to have on hand so you have a place to continue dumping food scraps while the first bucket system is in the “sit and wait” phase. I personally keep my bucket system in the garage but you can also keep it inside the house or on your balcony or patio.

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