I’ve been making reusable cloth pads and pantyliners since February 2018, and using them since October 2018. I made my first cloth menstrual product (pantyliners) available for purchase end of January after lots of research, product testing, product improvement, and more research. Through the journey so far, I’ve realised that there is growing curiosity about and interest in reusable pads. There are also many barriers to trial and adoption.
This is a collection of my personal journey to a zerowaste period, my thoughts on reusable menstrual products, and research into why you should really ditch the single-use plastic pad.
According to Auckland gynaecologist Dr Sylvia Rosevear, an average women has 480 periods and use 12,000 pads or tampons. CNN reports a woman will use between 11,000and 16,000 tampons in her lifetime. And on GladRags, some 12,000 to 16,000 disposable pads, pantyliners, and tampons. So while I don’t have actual first hand research numbers, I think it’s safe to say that it’s quite a bit.
I never gave much thought to the number of disposables I was throwing away, but when I switched and started washing my reusable cloth pads and liners, I experienced an “aha!” moment and realised how much waste I was creating, and just during one period cycle. Reducing single-use pad waste is one big reason why anyone should stop using disposable fem care products but it wasn’t the driving factor in my journey. The realisation was the result of me switching.
I started making reusable pads with Seva Seed, a social initiative run by a volunteer community of empowered women and men in Singapore, whose goal is to create environmental and social change through revitalising menstrual practices in a healthy and environmentally sustainable way. They empower young women of all ages from around the world with the skills to sew their own reusable cloth pads as well as provide menstrual health education to create an open dialogue about the topic in underprivileged countries. I volunteered to be a part of this initiative because I could sew and had a sewing machine, and they were looking for people who could sew and/or had sewing machines.
So I started making pads in February 2018 and I loved making them. I loved the curves of the pad and how pretty fabric pads were compared to the white plastic ones. I wasn’t ready to try them though, and at the time, I was just coming off the course of a Lupron injection (a synthetic gonadotropin-releasing hormone in women to treat symptoms of endometriosis, which will be another story I write on). So I wasn’t having my period. My period returned in July and so did the pain, so my doctor put me on another drug, Visanne which worked to stop the pain as soon as I started on it.
Between July and October, I interrogated people I knew who were using reusable cloth pads. Like most people, I wanted to understand how effective cloth was, particularly cloth with no Polyurethane Laminate (PUL) lining. PUL is essentially a plastic lining. Why didn’t I want to go down the PUL route? At that point in time, I didn’t have access to a PUL whose health grade I had faith in.
The thing about cloth pads is that because everyone’s flow is different, you’re never 100% how long you can use one before you need to change out. For conventional disposables, it’s recommended that you change it out every 3–4 hours. No one really talks about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) in conjunction with pads (I’ve only ever discussed this in conjunction with tampons) but it happens with pads too. So regardless of what you use, be aware of your flow, your body and the general recommendation that you change out every 3–4 hours to avoid TSS. I will cover TSS in another article when I discuss the issue of bacterial growth and your period.
I started with pantyliners. Those worked well for me and were so much more comfortable than disposable liners. I grew comfortable with them. I learnt how to care for and wash them so that they don’t stain. So when I went to Seoul, Korea in October, I decided that would be my first test run of only using reusables. My first pads and liners were made with leftover fabric and I didn’t give much thought to the print. All I wanted to achieve was confidence in using them and caring for them.
I returned from Seoul a changed woman and that is my personal journey to a zerowaste period.
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