Menstruation is an important aspect of a woman's life, forming a routine that occurs approximately once every month from around the age of 11 until she reaches 50, throughout her fertile years.
Starting in girlhood, women learn how to manage their periods using various products such as pads, tampons, or menstrual cups.
An adult woman typically experiences 9 to 12 menstrual cycles per year, with each period lasting between 3 and 7 days, typically requiring an average of 3 pads per day. The span between a woman's first and last period covers approximately 40 years, during which she may use between 6,000 and 11,000 disposable menstrual products in her lifetime. Additionally, new mothers use pads in the month following childbirth.
It has been documented that single-use menstrual products generate 200,000 tonnes of waste each year. Most menstrual pads consist of 90% plastic and can take up to a thousand years to decompose in landfills or the ocean.
Disposable pads are often manufactured with toxic chemicals and plastics that may pose risks to a woman's health. For instance, superabsorbent polymers (SAPs), designed to hold substantial liquid, contain synthetic materials and are likely contaminated with acrylic acid, which may lead to health issues. Moreover, disposable pads significantly contribute to monthly grocery expenses, particularly in countries where these products are taxed, such as Italy.
In such circumstances, reusable pads offer a sustainable alternative to disposable ones. Reusable cloth pads have been used for decades by millions of women and were prevalent before the introduction of plastic pads in the 1990s. Resembling disposable pads in shape, cloth pads are typically made from cotton or other natural materials. Unlike their plastic counterparts, they do not have adhesive backing; instead, they have wings that fasten on the backside of underwear.
Generally, a woman needs between 1 and 4 cloth pads per day, with changes required every 2 to 4 hours depending on her menstrual flow. You can purchase cloth pads online or from small businesses, either individually or in packages. A woman typically requires between 16 and 20 cloth pads per menstrual cycle, making it advisable to buy a package to start.
Most cloth pads are expected to last for 3 to 5 years with proper care. They are easy to wash; after use, rinsing them under cold water and then washing them in a washing machine is recommended.
Contrary to popular belief, cloth pads do not emit unpleasant odours and tend to remain fresher than disposable pads, as they are made of breathable fabric rather than plastic.
Elena, a 40-year-old from Italy, shared her experience: "I have been using cloth pads for over two years, and I was pleased to discover that they absorb more than disposable ones. Every month when I put them back in their drawer, I feel like I have done something good for myself and the environment."
Here are five reasons why using cloth pads is more practical than disposable ones:
According to the University of Missouri-Kansas City Women's Center, women typically spend around £3,840 on disposable pads throughout their lifetime. Reusable pads, which cost between £10 and £25 per pack (depending on the quantity), offer significant long-term savings, lasting from 3 to over 5 years.
A woman uses an average of 9,000 disposable menstrual products in her lifetime, contributing to environmental pollution through manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and disposal. Each year, around 45 billion end up in landfill, and many end up in the sea.
Cloth pads are generally healthier for the skin and body due to their use of natural materials.
Disposable sanitary pads contain various chemicals that can be toxic and irritate the skin. Studies have linked these chemicals to dermatitis, dryness, and worsened menstrual symptoms like cramping.
Cloth pads are easy to clean and won't leak, as they are equipped with a waterproof lining to prevent leakage. Many cloth pad packages also include a small pouch designed to seal in any odours, allowing for discreet storage when changing the pad outside the home.
5. Sustain small business/make your own:
Reusable pads are especially valuable in areas where women lack regular access to disposable products or cannot afford them. By using reusable pads, women can avoid the challenges of period poverty. Furthermore, purchasing reusable pads supports small businesses. If you possess basic sewing skills, making your own cloth pads is a viable option, requiring thin fabric like cotton, absorbent material, thread, a needle, scissors, a button, and creativity.
So, don't wait any longer! Take a step towards benefiting yourself and the environment by switching to reusable pads!
Cover image: Modern Cloth Nappies
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