Over six years ago, I wrote about bleeding with pride by making one's own reusable menstrual pads. Switching over to reusables is a subject worth re-visiting again, as a new generation of young, conscious women are probably searching these pages, wondering if there are alternatives to disposable pads.
Thankfully, there are other choices -- choices which make a big impact, considering that on average, a woman will use up to 16,800 disposable pads and tampons during her lifetime. There are so many reasons not to support the disposable menstrual product industry, which is based on unneeded waste and profit at the expense of women's health and the environment.
So whether you are looking for a better and healthier alternative, or you are engaging in a bit of menstrual activism, here are six compelling reasons why you should switch to a reusable choice for your period:
1. You will reduce your menstrual cramps, infections and skin rashes.
If you suffer intense pain during your period and are using disposables, consider using alternatives like cloth pads, 100% organic cotton products or menstrual cups. Disposable pads also use plastics, which block airflow to your vagina, and not surprisingly, can encourage a painful rash. Disposables also use synthetic fibers like rayon, which are super-absorbent, but will also absorb all the moisture in your vagina, increasing your chances of severe pain and infections -- especially if you are wearing one for hours, all day, all week. Once I switched to reusable cloth pads, my own severe cramping was reduced to nil -- a real menstrual miracle.
2. Reusable options are much healthier for you.Disposables are typically made with a combination of plastics, cotton, synthetic fibers and wood pulp. Conventionally produced cotton is one of the most toxic crops grown, using 20 percent of the world's pesticides and herbicides. These materials are then bleached with chlorine dioxide, creating polluting, harmful and bio-accumulative byproducts like dioxin, which not only end up in the environment, but also remain in our bodies for decades. Add other synthetic chemicals and artificial fragrances to the mix, and you've got a recipe for side effects like allergic reactions, hormone disruption, reproductive and gynecological disorders like endometriosis.
3. You will save loads of money.If the health reasons don't sway you, maybe the numbers will be more convincing. Granted, reusables have a larger initial cost, but they last much, much longer. With proper care, cloth pads can last for years (my own cloth napkins are six years old and are still going strong). Compare this to the disposable that has a lifespan of a few hours before it's thrown away, forcing you to buy more and more -- all of them ending up in a landfill.
You can do the math: assuming a woman menstruates for 40 years, buys a $8 pack of disposables every other month, it eventually adds up to $1,920 over her lifetime. If she's using a pack a month, that's $3,840. A half-dozen set of reusables for the same period, at an estimated cost of $80, replaced every five years, total only $640. Opt for a $40 silicone menstrual cup, and you save even more.
4. You will help save the environment.Switching to reusables is a striking example of how seemingly small personal choices can have a tremendous positive impact on our environment. It's estimated that nearly 20 billion (billion!) pads and tampons are discarded each year in North America alone. The plastics in a pad will take hundreds of years to decompose. The process of manufacturing these disposables also pollutes our waterways, air and animal habitats. Switching to reusables can make a difference.
5. You will support independent companies and artisanal makers.If you are already leery of handing your money over to big, faceless corporations that probably don't have your best interests in mind, check out the companies that specialize in providing safe and healthier alternatives: Lunapads, GladRags, Sckoon, Divacup, Mooncup, The Keeper, not to mention the droves of hand-made options on marketplace sites like Etsy (just search for "cloth pads").
6. It's sanitary, doesn't leak and easier to clean than you think.When talking about reusable options, one is inevitably faced with the questions: "is it clean?" and "will it leak?" Many cloth pads use a removable liner for extra absorption, and many have a waterproof lining sewn inside. It may be a tad bulkier, but occasional bulk is infinitely better than a lifetime of health problems. With the right maintenance, reusable products are just as sanitary. For cloth pads, most recommend soaking them overnight in water (you can add hydrogen peroxide or tea tree oil to sanitize further) and toss them in the wash for a hot water cycle. For menstrual cups, it's even easier.
7. Heck, it's pretty. And empowering.Forget those boring, bleached white synthetic products -- reusable options are bursting with color, patterns, unique designs -- personality. I don't know what the background science may be, but surely bright colors can help alleviate any premenstrual syndrome-related moodiness.
We would also do well to remember that non-disposables are nothing new; women have been using sea sponges and rags forever. The "culture of concealment" surrounding menstruation has influenced women to feel ashamed about their bodies, and this imposed shame makes us docile, unquestioning consumers of products that are neither good for us, nor the environment.
So while we might not have the space to discuss the gender politics behind the modern menstrual industry (making us perceive a natural process as "filthy"), it ultimately comes down to the fact that it is about our bodies, our minds -- and our choices to make.