The Dirt on Compostable vs Biodegradable Menstrual Care
Did you know that every year, 20 billion period care products end up in landfills in North America alone? To be honest, it’s a bloody mess. Reusables—like period underwear, cups, and discs—are amazing alternatives hitting the mainstream. But they’re not always ‘sustainable’ in the sense that they’re not accessible to everyone for a variety of reasons, including cost, comfort, and access to washing facilities. For this reason, disposable period care products will always have a place. So how do we deal with the waste from menstrual products? The answer is compostable and biodegradable period care. It’s exciting to see new brands hit store shelves alongside joni, proving the need for change. But just what do compostable and biodegradable mean when it comes to period care? We’re glad you asked! Let’s dig in.
Table of contents:
The Environmental Impact of Menstrual Care
What does Compostable Period Care Mean
What does Biodegradable Period Care Mean
How to Compost and Biodegrade Your joni Period Care
Beware of Menstrual Care Green Washing
The TL;DR of Compostable and Biodegradable Menstrual Care
Your Body Your Choice: Bodily Agency and Sustainable Period Care
The Environmental Impact of Menstrual Care
Get a load of these stats:
Mainstream pads are made from 90% plastic derived from crude oil
One box of mainstream pads made with petroleum-based plastic or one tampon with a plastic applicator is equivalent to four plastic shopping bags.
Mainstream pads and tampon applicators can take more than 300 years to break down
A person who menstruates uses up to 17,000 pads in a lifetime
As you can see, period care makes a big impact on the environment. In addition to reusable period care, biodegradable and compostable period care is a more sustainable option available to more people. Remember! You get to choose what’s right for your body without guilt or shame! If biodegradable and compostable disposable period care is an option you would like to explore, it’s important to understand what all these terms mean and learn about the best forms of disposal.
What Does Compostable Period Care Mean
When defining compostability, it’s helpful to imagine an apple core in a cozy, moist, and oxygen-rich compost environment. Here, it will readily decompose and break down into natural elements, won’t leave behind toxic residue and produces humus—the nutrient-dense goodness soil thrives on.
Can period products be compostable? Yes, they can! Products that are plant-based (like made from cotton or bamboo) and use plant-based plastics or cellulose can be composted. There are many layers to pads, so inspect ingredients carefully before tossing your pads or menstrual care into your compost.
Before tossing anything into your municipal compost collection, diligently check what is acceptable. Many municipalities do not accept bio-plastic (including compostable bin bags) if they do not have the proper industrial facilities that can manage this type of waste. Most municipalities have a strict policy against human waste (i.e. blood) as well.
TL;DR - Compostable menstrual care is composed of ingredients that decompose organically, don’t leave toxic residue behind, and break down into nutrients that can fertilize soil.
What Does Biodegradable Period Care Mean
Anything that is compostable is also considered biodegradable but anything biodegradable is not necessarily compostable! The difference is that biodegradable products are generally derived from plant, animal, or mineral materials that break down over time by naturally occurring microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and algae, for example).
Biodegradable materials also tend to leave a residue behind that won’t break down. This whole process can take years instead of months, as is the case with compost. And because live microorganisms are involved, biodegradable materials will only decompose within hospitable conditions, mainly oxygen. Landfills that practice compression literally squeeze the life out of garbage and even biodegradable materials won’t break down at worst, or at least very slowly at best.
Can period products be biodegradable? Definitely! Products that are compostable are naturally biodegradable. Products that are mostly biodegradable may contain other ingredients that render them non-compostable because they’ll leave a trace at the end of their decomposition.
TL;DR - Menstrual care that is biodegradable breaks down faster than its petroleum-based plastic counterparts under the right conditions.
How to Dispose of Your joni Products
On average, joni period care products are 92% biodegradable within 12 months. Some layers are 100% compostable while other layers contain components that do not break down but do not leave behind any toxic residues. They are safe to be thrown directly into the garbage and some studies suggest that they’ll break down faster in the landfill than their petroleum counterparts.
joni plant-based plastic pad wrappers and protective bottom layers are derived from cornstarch and that’s it. So go ahead and chuck them into your compost! That is after you’ve checked that bioplastics are welcome in your municipality. And if they are, be sure to cut them up to help speed up the process. Those with a joni subscription will receive their products in a compostable mailer.
If you have a countertop composter, you may be able to throw joni pads and tampons right in there. Check with the manufacturing instructions, though, because it’s essential it reaches the right temperature, especially if the products are soiled. Cut up products first to help break them down. A small amount of GOTS-approved parrafin emulsion coats the withdrawal string on joni tampons, which isn't biodegradble, so cut that part off before composting.
Biodegradable plastic can be composted using a backyard composting system (like a compost pile or bin) and this is true of joni pads as well. It’s best to cut up pads into smaller pieces. According to various information sources, you may also prefer to put them in a compost heap that is not to fertilize food gardens. This method may take up to a few years to break down, which is pretty quick, considering petroleum-based plastics take 300+ years to decompose in a landfill.
SAP, which stands for Super Absorbent Polymers, are used in most products that require absorption—from diapers to menstrual pads. At joni, the SAP in our pads are plant-based and not derived from fossil oils. They don’t break down, especially not in a hurry. That’s the 8% mentioned above that won’t biodegrade. The SAP we use is not bad for the planet and is actually good for the soil!
TL:DR: joni products can be composted in your home garden or countertop composter but should be cut up first. joni pads will leave 8% residue behind in the form of plant-based SAP and food-grade adhesive, which are non-toxic ingredients. Municipal composting programs usually don't accept soiled products; joni wrappers and shipping envelopes should be fine but check with your district. All joni products are safe to throw in the garbage.
Beware of Menstrual Care Green Washing
There are some period products out there that may throw around terms like “all natural” or “organic”. Essentially, without certifications, these labels mean absolutely nothing. For example, you may have recently seen a trending TikTok where an organic tampon brand contained titanium dioxide. But organic standards only apply to pesticide use and organic farming practices—anything beyond that is not considered. For the brand in question, they were using organic cotton but they added other ingredients. So it’s important to look for other certifications, too, not only organic if that is important to you.
Dermatest: Tests and certifies products are safe for your skin.
OEKO-TEX 100: This certification tests for 100 of the most toxic chemicals to ensure no contamination.
ECOCERT: This is the umbrella certification for organic materials. In order to qualify as USDA Organic, a product must first have been ECOCERT certified.
FSC: Forest Stewardship Council certification means that any wood products have been sustainably sourced.
BPI: A product that has been certified as BPI means that it can technically be composted but check which components are compliant and if your municipality accepts it.
OK Compost: The product is compostable and biodegradable.
Your Body Your Choice: Bodily Agency
The lines between compostability and biodegradability are blurred and confusing when it comes to menstrual care. One thing is for sure: conventional plastic pads and tampons are not compostable or biodegradable!
But remember, in the goal for equitable and sustainable periods, you still get to choose the period care that’s right for you! Bodily agency means there is no one-size-fits-all solution to period care. It’s also not an either/or decision. The more information you have, the better choices you can make based on your own set of circumstances.
Read more about joni's period care ingredients