Sustainable menstrual products
Half the population has their period every month, but discussions surrounding what menstruation is and does to women’s bodies remains a rarity. (x)
According to this article, many critics say that the taboo surrounding periods has helped the disposable feminine hygiene industry thrive – it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, with over 100 million women using tampons and even more women using pads. In the past century, not many sustainable options have been developed, even though it has been an inconvenience for women since the beginning of time. Apart from the environmental footprint, disposable sanitary products are profitable to big corporations, and remain a health risk to many women.
This widespread use comes with a hefty cost on our environment. The ordinary woman will use roughly 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. Each of these tampons take centuries to degrade in a landfill, especially when wrapped in a plastic wrapper or bag (which they usually are). The process of manufacturing disposable pads and tampons is also quite taxing on the earth’s resources.
Apart from the taboo, I think another reason why I hadn’t been aware of or/and come across any sustainable alternatives is that they are not profitable to businesses as people do not need to keep buying them. It’s also not profitable to the government – the way that feminine hygiene products are classed in some countries results in the pink-tax.
“The paper feminine hygiene industry has done a very good job of convincing women that their period is something [which] should be out of sight and out of mind, something they shouldn’t talk about,” said Zivku, communications and education director for DivaCup. “Think about the advertisements we see – it’s all about silent wrappers, discrete and smaller products that are easier to hide or dispose of, and concealing the fact you have your period. Without opportunities for positive period talk, women and girls may not have the opportunity to learn about or even ask about other, more sustainable options.”
Co-founder of LunaPads, Madeleine Shaw says “Most consumers of feminine hygiene products have almost invariably only been exposed to disposable products, and brand loyalty is entrenched at an early age”. “Most consumers are also unaware of questionable ingredients in disposable products, or even the fact that manufacturers are not legally required to disclose ingredients in the first place.”
I’ve been menstruating for over six years now, and to think about how much waste I’ve produced so far is pretty distressing. To think that I still need to deal with a period each month for another few decades is even more distressing. A month ago, I saw a post about DivaCups and cloth pads in my uni’s Women’s Collective facebook group. I googled it and ended up watching reviews on Bree Farmer’s YouTube channel ‘Precious Star Pads’.
There are videos for so reusable menstrual products, most of which I didn’t even know existed. Due to cultural aversion from tampons and the act of insertion, I’d never tried tampons or really been exposed to them. I decided to steer away from menstrual cups and sea sponges for now and try cloth pads instead.
The cloth pad looks like a disposable pad, but it’s made out of fabric and waterproof backing. Instead of a sticky backing, the wings of the pad are secured with snap fasteners. Scrolling through Esty I saw many different shapes, thicknesses, fabrics and patterns. I decided to go with a night-time one to avoid the changing situation as I had 12 hour uni days.
I found a local seller on Etsy (I highly recommend buying from Maria) who made cloth pads using hemp-blend material and bamboo-blend material. “Hemp has four times the durability and absorption of cotton and also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties”. “Bamboo has great absorbency properties, as well as antibacterial and anti-fungal properties”. “The back of the pad is made from waterproof PUL: Polyurethane laminate. It is a laminated cloth fabric with a thin film of polyurethane.” Amazing!!
Feel: It felt like an ordinary disposable pad, but much softer. It felt like a nice hug. It didn’t cause any itchiness like some disposable ones do.
Effectiveness: No leakage – I got the thickest and longest size because I didn’t know what to expect. It stayed in place and did its job.
Washing: The pads are machine washable – in fact, this is preferred over hand-washing as too much wringing may shorten the lifespan of the pad. I soaked it for a few hours and came back to hand-wash it since my mum was apprehensive of me putting it in the wash. All the stains came out, even though I wasn’t really trying to get rid of them. Apparently the soak water is great for your garden. I dried it in the sun, using the snap fasteners to clip it to my pool gate hehe. It dried in a few hours and came back nice and white.
Convenience: Unless you have access to a sink and basin, I imagine it will be hard to deal with the washing. If you don’t do regular loads of washing or if you share the load with others, the cleaning situation may be trickier.
Cost: One regular pad is around $15, which means it’s expensive to start out, but in the long term it’s a lot more economical than disposable products.
It was an interesting experience but I felt much better after those few days of bleeding, knowing I had taken better care of myself and the earth. For now, I will stick to the night ones and look at other options for day use. Darcy Morgan’s post, The uterus owner’s guide to reusable menstrual products on Honi Soit is a great read for reviews of other reusable products.
I forgot to take photos of the washing process, but I will next time!