Sustainable UCL


Project period

Project Period aims to make UCL the first university to offer free sustainable period products to anyone who needs it.

Image of Project Period event

15 June 2022

Project period began when the Student Union’s Women's Officer began stocking free sanitary towels and tampons across all Students Union female toilets and at their main office for collection. Meanwhile, UCL's Hockey Society ran a campaign to promote menstrual cups in a bid to reduce single-use plastics across campus.

To aid these initiatives, Sustainable UCL started the conversation at UCL’s Professional Awards. We asked staff and students to help us break the taboo of periods and come up with a mechanism that can help our community move towards sustainable period products.

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Aims of Project Period

  • Raise awareness of the pros and cons of different disposable and reusable menstrual products in relation to health and the environment. This will allow individuals to make informed choices of which period products to use and help break the taboo around periods.   
  • Work out a mechanism that allows UCL to provide sustainable period products to staff and students who need them, and to reduce period poverty.  
  • UCL is a bold, forward-thinking university. We want to use UCL’s research and power as a global university to support change in the UK and other countries surrounding period poverty and plastic-free periods. 

What is Period Poverty?

  • On average a person who menstruates spends £4,500 on period products over a lifetime.
  • Products are classed as a ‘luxury, non-essential item’ in the UK and are taxed at 5%.  
  • More than 25% of menstruating people haven’t been able to afford period products at one time in their life.
  • 140,000 children in the UK have missed school because of their period. 

Plastic-free periods

  • 4.3 billion disposable menstrual products are used in the UK every year.
  • 2 billion menstrual products are flushed down Britain’s toilets, contaminating our beaches.
  • A ‘conventional’ menstrual pad is 90% plastic and contains around the same amount of plastic as four carrier bags.
  • Depending on where menstrual pads end up, they could have a longer lifespan than the person who uses them! 

Inclusive periods

  • Many people who don’t identify as women – such as trans men, agender and/or non-binary people menstruate and so we want to offer sustainable period products in gender-neutral toilets.
  • People with disabilities such as autism may experience additional sensory issues around menstruation, such as sensitivity to the texture and material of different period products.
  • Whilst carers are often not supported to manage another person’s period. We want to break the taboo around periods, discuss these issues and help make sustainable periods more inclusive.

Plastic-free period products 

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups have grown in popularity in recent years, so luckily for us, there are lots of cups available in different shapes and sizes. Menstrual cups are reusable, so by using them you are reducing single-use plastic and preventing tampons and pads from ending up on our beaches.

  • Cups can save you money too, costing between £20 – 30 and are said to last around 10 years.
  • Cups are typically made of medical grade silicone, free from chemicals, harmful gels, additives, toxins, pesticides, bleaches or perfumes.
  • They also don’t need to be emptied very often, on average between 8-12 hours, so great for those of us with busy schedules.
  • And you can use them during sports (including swimming and running)!
  • One additional thing to note, is that if you have a coil, it is not advised to use a cup, as it can pull it out, and we’ve had friends where this has actually happened!
  • And if for personal or religious reasons, if you want to keep the hymen intact, it is best not to use a menstrual cup.  

To find out which cup could be suitable for you, and a cross-comparison between cups, you can visit ‘Put a Cup in It’. 

Reusable period underwear
  • Reusable pants are great if you want to help reduce the waste from disposable tampons and pads but don’t want to insert anything into your vagina.
  • There are different types of underwear for different needs and flow types. 
  • There are a few products on the market ranging between £18 – 30.   
  • You can buy them at the following places
    • You can find WUKA pants on-line. (~£24).  
    • FLUX UNDIES can be found at Planet Organic and Holland & Barrett (~£29.95).  
    • THINX can be purchased at asos.com and Selfridges. (~£20-£28).  
    • ModiBodi pants can be bought on-line. Prices vary. Modibodi currently offer a 10% student discount at Modibodi with Student Beans and a 30-day trial. 
Reusable Pads
  • Cloth pads are a replacement for disposable pads.
  • They cost more upfront but can save you a lot of money in the long run. 
  • Typically people prefer to have 6-8 reusable pads as a minimum and wash them daily, you may need more if you prefer to wash them together at the end of the period.
  • Reusable pads are soft (usually cotton), making them breathable and cool, and there are a variety of different pads depending on flow. 
Biodegradable Products
  • Biodegradable products, whilst still single-use are better than non-biodegradable tampons and pads because they require less carbon in the production process and harmful gases are not released by burning plastic.
  • They are also better for health.
  • Costs vary depending on the product. 

For discount codes visit Wen.   


  • A project period working group was established with both students and staff from UCL and Students' Union. 
  • A successful pilot was run for a year between Dec 2021 - 2022.
  • Colleagues in Campus Experience and Infrastructure will support the ongoing purchase of period products. This will be charged via Sodexo, who will support the refilling of the dispensers. 
  • The UCL Students Union will stock sustainable period products in the SU Outlets on campus for sale at cost (no retail mark) to make them affordable to all.  
  • Engagement events have helped us to speak to staff and students about the impact that period pollution and period poverty have on the environment and human health. 
  • The team listened to feedback on how periods impact work and studying at UCL.
  • We are investigating the opportunities for a UCL voucher scheme to offer people the opportunity to try a re-usable product such as a menstrual cup, reusable pads or pants. 
  • Our overall ambition is that UCL will fund the provision of period products across the campus.  

Period Poster
The Pilot 

  • The working group investigated different types of period products that were available on the market and made plans for the implementation of a pilot providing free period products on campus. 
  • The pandemic put the project on hold in 2020, but then in 2021 with the enthusiasm of SU Sabbatical Women’s Officer and with support from colleagues in Estates and Sodexo, funding for a pilot was secured.  
  • Free Period Products were installed until December 2022 in: 
    • DMS Watson - Level 2 Female washroom & Level 4 Female washroom;
    • IOE – 20 Bedford way – Library level 3 – female washroom;
    • 1 to 19 Torrington Place – Ground floor – Washroom corridor gender neutral;
    • SSEES Building – Library - Basement level – female washroom;
    • Bidborough House – Ground floor toilets (Refilling on this dispenser is currently paused);
    • Student Centre – Ground floor and 3rd-floor corridor;
    • Wilkins – Main library – Level Female washroom.

Get involved 

Project Period is an inclusive campaign, members include:

  • UCL’s Access & Inclusion Manager;
  • Sustainable UCL;
  • UCLU’s Head of Operations and Equity Officer.

Members are of all genders and ages, and health and cultural beliefs have been considered. For this reason, no one product will be advised, but instead, information will help the user choose the best product for themselves.  

Please get in touch, if you have any questions by emailing sustainableucl@ucl.ac.uk
If you would like to support the expansion of plastic-free period products to your department, please email Andy.Norton@sodexo.com.

Related links

  • Women's Environmental Network - WEN raising awareness of the hidden plastic and chemicals in conventional menstrual products. 
  • The Cup - The Cup empowers underprivileged girls worldwide by providing them with sustainable menstrual cups and comprehensive education on sexuality and reproductive rights.
  • Bloody Good Period - was started to create a sustainable flow (pun intended) of menstrual products for those who can't afford to buy them. They have now partnered with 40 asylum seeker drop-in centres, helping more people to have bloody good periods. 
  • Action Aid - work with women and girls, community leaders, men and boys, schools and governments to help end period poverty around the world — once and for all. 
  • Red Box Project - a community-based, not-for-profit initiative, to support young people by providing red boxes filled with free period products to local schools.
  • Freedom 4 Girls - support those who menstruate by challenging the stigmas, taboos and gender inequalities associated with menstruation.
  • Pink Protest - a community of activists committed to engaging in action and supporting each other.

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