On average, a woman will use 12,000 disposable pads and tampons in her lifetime, with the end destination being landfill. Once in landfill, they could take as long as 500-800 years to decompose.
A few years ago I wrote about my Menstrual Audit and the Diva Cup, which was all about my conversion from tampons to a menstrual cup, including looking at the waste that is associated with using tampons and pads. My estimate for my own personal use was slightly more conservative than the one above coming in at 8,910 although, it’s still a huge amount of tampons and waste!
Fast forward over four years and once again, mostly due to child birth, my body has changed, and consequently, my Diva Cup no longer does what I need it to do. After the birth of Pud, baby number two, I was left with even more stitches and scarring (totally worth it). However, this now means, much to my disappointment my menstrual cup longer fits in the way I need it to to catch all blood during my cycle. Believe me, I’m more appalled by this than I would like to be.
So, now I have a leaky cup situation and need to fix it ASAP. In the short term I went back to using organic, albeit disposable pads and tampons. But as the waste piled up, I felt the sense of unease I usually get when dealing with rubbish.
In a moment of haste I jumped online and ordered a pack of reusable pads by Kiki and Green. They were reasonably priced (I didn’t want to spend a fortune as I wasn’t sure how I would go using them long term having never used them before), made from some natural fibers (bamboo – although had I realised the rest was polyester I may have searched harder for a more natural option) and least importantly, they were pretty.
Admittedly, they have taken a while to get used to. On the downside they’re a bit bulky and using them means extra washing – just when I thought my cloth nappy days were over! On the plus side I’m saving an incredible amount of waste and money and so far so good on the leakage front!
Sidebar: On the cost…
The Kiki and Green Cost me €29/$47AUD for six pads (€4.85/$7.85 each).
Lets say they last me 10 years (I’m saying 10 years because my cloth nappies which were used everyday for almost 4.5 years (1,642 days) still had life in them – pads would be approximately 60 days/year = 600 days).
If you have your period for approximately 37 years and you need 12 pads for each cycle, you’re looking at approximately €58/$95 x 3.7 = €215/$352 (rounded up).
Organic cotton disposable regular pads are around €0.25/$0.40 each x 8,910 = €2,184/$3,564 on a conservative estimate. According to The ABC it could be up to 12,000 (€2,942/$4,800).
Reusable Pads Overview and Audit
- Can be indiscreet depending on what you are wearing
- Made from polyester which means microfibres in the wash and a wicking effect if there is a lot of blood
- More washing and water use (although this could arguably be less than used in the production of disposable pads)
- Expensive initial outlay
- Without the sticky backing of disposables, the pads can shift around depending on your undies or movements
- Saves a massive amount of waste – it could take disposables up to 500 to 800 years to decompose in landfill – that alone is enough to make the switch!!!!
- Minimal leakages
- Always on hand (you never run out!)
- Excellent for night time
- Saves a lot of money in the long run (reusables could be as little as one tenth of the cost!)
- You can also make your own pads very easily using scrap materials
I soon realised the six pads in the pack aren’t enough to get me through the five days of my cycle. As a backup, for the last few years I have also used period undies. I love these! they are comfy, discreet, and also saves waste. However, they are also polyester and are only good for a very light flow – more like a panty liner replacement than a pad.
I started looking for a natural fibre reusable pad but was turned off by the cost. Instead, I thought, why not make my own – how hard can it be! I found an excellent FREE tutorial and pattern at Luna Wolf. Victoria’s instructions are foolproof, and to show your gratitude, all she asks is for you to buy her a cuppa via a small PayPal donation. Such a lovely idea!
I made three pads with two slightly different versions using cotton for the backing, an old flat terry cloth nappy for the wadding and one with an old cotton t-shirt (the grey one) for two of the pads and an old pair of corduroy trousers for the other (turned cord side down) for the upper layer. I varied the thickness of the wadding – one with five layers, one with four and one with three plus two layers of the t-shirt.
I’m super chuffed with the results (even if they’re a bit wonky) and find these ones comfier and less bulky than the Kiki and Green pads (although they’re not as long so better for lighter days).
Menstrual Pad Tips
- Pre-soaking your pads before first use really helps with absorption. I didn’t do this but I did notice the wicking effect has decreased after a few washes.
- Without the sticky backing of disposable pads I initially found they moved around when going about my day to day so my sister-in-law, who is a veteran at cloth pads, suggested wearing two pairs of undies, the ones on the outside being your best and biggest granny pair for extra support. This works a treat!
- If making your own pads or, even if buying pads, avoid light colours on the upper layer (the layer you will bleed on). Even with a good wash routine, the blood will stain. This really is only an aesthetic issue, but going for a dark colour will be more appealing.
Washing Your Pads
- Always use cold water as hot water ‘sets’ blood into fabric, causing it to stain (I always think of it as cooking it into the fabric – gross, I know)
- Rinse your pads under cold water until the water runs clear
- Soak in a bucket of cold soapy water until you’re ready to wash (I try to do this every 2-3 days)
- Wash on a cold cycle (no hotter than 40 degrees)
- If you have the polyester pads, you can use a washing bag like the Guppy Friend to minimise microfibres
- If you can, air dry – this saves energy and extends the life of your pads
A Final Note…
For those of you that think this might be a bit ‘icky’, it’s 100% not! It’s 100% natural. It’s what we did for 100’s or even 1000’s of years before the invention of plastic and our throw away society (that’s why some people refer to it as ‘being on your rags’).
I’ve found using cloth has, in a way, reconnected me with my menstural cycle – the process of making my own pads, spending the time caring for, and cleaning them. It feels like a simple way of slowing down and moving away from the conveyor belt of consumption and waste.
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