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By Leah Simpkins

What Are Reusable Tampon Applicators?

What Are Reusable Tampon Applicators?

Aligning with Canada’s goal to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, I have recently made major efforts to reduce my plastic footprint. A first step in this process was figuring out where I could easily eliminate single-use plastics. I started this process by moving from room to room in my house.

The kitchen was a fairly easy room to conquer (goodbye plastic grocery and produce bags). My bathroom, however, gave me pause. Though perhaps not a surprise to some, I was shocked to find out how much my period products were contributing to growing climate change concerns. In fact, the types period products most commonly used are, what the National Geographic describes as “a veritable cornucopia of plastic”.

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If you haven’t already noticed, many tampons include a plastic applicator that is thrown out after use, and even tampons without applicators can come wrapped in plastic. Menstrual pads can sometimes be even worse. According to the U.K organization Friend of the Earth, some menstrual pads are made up of 90% plastic.

Over the course of their lifetime, a person who menstruates can throw away an estimated 400 pounds of packaging from their period products - most of which will end up in our landfills and sewer systems, and at times, will wash up on the shores of our local beaches.

Do disposable period products have to be our norm? Absolutely not. In fact, in Europe most tampons are sold without applicators. While North America is slow to catch up, there has been a more recent survey of interest in single-use plastic alternatives. Many are now turning to reusable period products, such as period underwear, washable pads, and menstrual disks and cups. In fast, the increased popularity of reusable products is anticipated to continue growing well into the future.

While this is all great news, for some people, these reusable options are not very appealing. I will admit, I tried my best to love the menstrual cup. I mean, in theory it was great. I loved that you could leave it in for up to 12 hours, which meant more time in between changes. What didn’t I love? The process of putting it in and taking it out and the cleaning process (boiling the cup in water). I also just couldn’t shake the fact that I really preferred using tampons to manage my period, though I wished there were more environmentally friendly options… Enter Only’s Reusable Tampon Applicator (RTA).

What is the Reusable Tampon Applicator (RTA)?

Only’s RTA took years to develop and is a brand-new technology to the Canadian market. It is made with medical grade plastic but looks and feels similar to the disposable plastic tampon applicators you are used to. With proper maintenance, the Reusable Tampon Applicator has been approved by Health Canada for use up to TEN YEARS. In other words, it is proven to be a safe and effective alternative for managing your period.

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While similar in shape, it is slightly larger than a disposable applicator, however trust me when I say the process is just as comfortable and smooth. Essentially you get all the ease of a plastic tampon applicator without all the waste. Only sells their RTA in two sizes to fit your choice tampons (regular/super and super/super plus). The RTA is sold in a kit which comes with the reusable applicator itself, 14-16 organic cotton applicator-free tampons (depending on the size of reusable applicator you choose), a small storage tube for the applicator, as well as a handheld case which can hold both the storage tube and an extra couple of applicator-free tampons. The case is meant for discreet carrying and convenience.

How do I use the RTA?

You use the RTA like you would a disposable tampon. The main difference is that this tampon applicator has a little "window" on one side to insert an applicator-free tampon into. Simply load it in, make sure the cotton tip it pushed against the petals, pull the string of the tampon down (so that it hangs out of the device), and insert it like any other tampon. When you are finished, you will need to wash the RTA with warm water and unscented soap. You can leave it out to fully dry, or dry with a lint-free cloth, and re-use as needed! What happens if you use your RTA in a public place and you are not comfortable washing it there? No problem! As mentioned above, Only’s RTA comes with a storage tube and carrying case. This means you can safely and discreetly store the RTA after use and wash it when you get home.

I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated by the cleaning process but it really is super easy. The material is quite flexible; the petals at the tip of the applicator are super bendable so you can get right in there to clean it.

Advantages of using the RTA

Let’s talk benefits.

  • Less waste: perhaps the most obvious benefit is that, since the RTA is reusable, it will have less of an environmental impact compared to single-use period products.

  • Saves you money: While the cost for reusable products can seem a bit high, you should think of them as a long-term investment. As mentioned previously, the RTA can last you a decade. This means you will only need to purchase the non-applicator tampon refills, which are less expensive than tampons with applicators. Also, if you set up a subscription on Only’s website you can pre-order your refills (along with any other products you need) to be shipped (for free) every 3 months or every 6 months… meaning you will never run out of products again. Oh, subscribers can get up to 25% off.

  • Convenience: Ordering your RTA online, and better yet, signing up for an Only’s subscription means fewer trips to the store when your period is in town.

What about the disadvantages? Well, it is certainly true that switching to reusable products will require a learning curve. Figuring out how to use and clean the RTA may take a bit of time, though I can reassure you that after a few uses you’ll likely be a pro! Another disadvantage is the cleaning process. Some people I’ve spoken to have apprehensions over having to wash their RTA in public washrooms. This is a fair concern. While some users may never be comfortable with this and may prefer to use their RTA only when at home, others may not be as discouraged.

I am here to reassure you that washing reusables in public washrooms is nothing to be ashamed of. Given the increased popularity of reusable period products, I would imagine that a lot more people will be open-minded and non-judgemental about walking in on someone cleaning their RTA. If anything, normalizing the washing of reusable products can help us to break the stigma of menstruation! However, if ever you are uncomfortable doing so, the RTA’s storage tube and carrying case will definitely come in handy. 😊

The only way to know if an RTA is your thing is to give it a try. Although I was quite skeptical at first, I do have to say, this product has really changed the game for me. On top of that, it is so rewarding to see less plastic waste in my bathroom trash bin every month. Now I just have to decide what room to conquer next in my effort to reduce household plastic waste…


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