How Young People Are Making Period Products More Sustainable

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“I used to have conversations about how to hide your tampon or pad up in your sleeve or in your shorts or in your pants,” said Dr. Cara Natterson, who is a pediatrician; the author of American Girl’s best-selling “The Care and Keeping of You” series; and founder of Oomla, a gender- and size-inclusive line of bras and puberty products. “I do not have that conversation anymore because the kids go, ‘Why should I hide my tampon and my pad?’ They are 100 percent right.”

Dr. Natterson’s 18-year-old daughter has educated her about new products in the marketplace, some of which she discovers from Instagram influencers or #PeriodTok videos. “Teens are looking for conversations around people’s experiences, not five-star Amazon reviews,” she said. Dr. Natterson recently considered using cloth pads again after a failed experiment with them years ago, at her teenager’s behest. “They didn’t work super well when they were first being invented and iterated,” she said. “My daughter said, ‘You got to try them again.’”

Environmental sustainability and menstruation may be having a moment, but it’s not the first time, said Lara Freidenfelds, a historian of health, reproduction and parenting, and author of “The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America.” Homemade menstrual rags were the norm through the turn of the 20th century, up until Kotex became the first successfully mass-marketed pad in 1921. Modernity equaled disposability, and the brand was aspirational, she said.

The first robust discussions of sustainability in menstrual care started in the 1970s as people experimented with cloth pads and sponges. “There have always been young people who were idealistic and thought about these things but did not find the products available to be practical,” she said. Sustainability has historically been sacrificed for the sake of convenience, she added.

Today, parents of Gen Zers benefit from improvements in menstrual technology: The cloth pads of yore are not the cloth pads of today; and period underwear, for example, is made of highly absorbent fabric without being bulky. New menstruators often turn to a parent for products and advice — now parents can hand over more than a disposable pad or tampon, potentially rerouting some of the more than 15 billion disposable products that end up in landfills every year in America.

“The world we’re going to have when these progressive Gen Zers become parents in 20 years — that’s going to be fascinating,” said Nadya Okamoto, a former executive director of Period Inc. and co-founder of the sustainable menstrual products brand August.

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