Did you know that the first sanitary pad that your mother ever handed you (while hopelessly avoiding eye-contact with you) is still lying somewhere rotting in a landfill or polluting the ocean? And it's not just YOUR pad. Even the first one created in 1896 has still not decomposed!

That's because sanitary napkins are 90% plastic and take anywhere from 500-800 years to decompose! And with an average woman using roughly 16,800+ sanitary napkins in her lifetime, our periods are racking up a huge toll on Mother Earth.

But is plastic pollution the only reason why we must consider alternatives to sanitary napkins?

A woman handing another woman a menstrual pad package. Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

Why consider alternatives to disposable menstrual pads?

Photo by Lux Graves on Unsplash Photo by Lux Graves on Unsplash

Limitations

  • Sleeping with a sanitary napkin is a total pain and you can't go to the beach or swim in a pool with a bulky pad on.

  • Not all menstruators have access to dustbins or privacy to dispose of pads with dignity.

Photo by Sven Fischer on Unsplash Photo by Sven Fischer on Unsplash

Accessibility

  • In rural areas, urban low-income settlements, refugee camps, and homeless centers, access to sanitary napkins is limited.

  • Often sanitary napkin companies don't have supply chains in certain areas or don't cater to underprivileged markets.

Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash

Infections and Thrush

Using disposable pads when worn for a long time can sometimes lead to:

  • infections of the lower reproductive tract

  • bacterial vaginosis

  • yeast infection

Photo by micheile || visual stories on Unsplash Photo by micheile || visual stories on Unsplash

Affordability

  • For many women, sanitary napkins are a luxury. Some use rags or husks, or skip school during this time.

  • Many don't have the means to purchase sanitary napkins on a monthly basis for multiple menstruators at home.

I'm sold! What are my options for a sustainable period experience?

Depending on where you live, and the amount of time and money you're willing to invest on your sustainable menstrual journey, you could find an array of choices for a healthier, more hygienic and eco-friendly period experience.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Tampons

These look like a plug of soft material inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood. They come with or without an applicator.

  • Tampons need to be disposed of like pads.

  • You can use them for 4-8 hours.

  • You can swim with them.

  • There's a learning curve in using them.

  • They're expensive and not easily available in many countries.

  • Many people believe that using tampons can break the hymen.

Menstrual Cups

 A menstrual cup is a small, flexible funnel-shaped rubber or silicone cup that can be inserted into your vagina. It has to be washed & boiled each time before use. It can be folded into different shapes for easy insertion.

  • You can swim, skip rope, exercise, and run with them.

  • They can be used for 6-12 hours.

  • Similar to tampons, you might have issues with the learning curve, availability, and hymen injury.

Reusable Pads

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Reusable pads look like normal sanitary napkins in shape and size but are made from cloth and buttons and can be washed and dried multiple times. They have several layers of soft easily washable material inside them.

  • They can last up to 2 years if you take good care of them.

  • They need to be dried in the sun.

  • They can be worn for 4-5 hours depending on your flow.

  • You can make one yourself by watching a YouTube video and using a sewing machine.

Period Panties

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

These are undergarments that are specially designed for you to wear during your period as they absorb your blood flow.

  • They can be worn for up to 24 hours, but it's recommended that you change your period underwear every 10-12 hours.

  • They need to be washed and dried right after wearing.

Quiz

When did the first disposable pad hit the market?

Let's start making menstrual choices

Now that you know all the popular menstrual options available for you, you can start considering what factors are most important to you.

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Longevity

Menstrual cups, reusable cloth pads, and period panties last the longest. They don't need to be thrown away and when used appropriately, they can last several years.

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Comfort

Once you get comfortable with tampons or cups, you barely know that you're wearing one. You can even sleep while wearing them but of course, they do come with a warning of toxic shock syndrome if worn for too long.

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Eco-friendliness

Cups would be the most sustainable choice and now they're replacing the plastic with materials like algae.

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Affordability & Accessibility

Making your own menstrual reusable pad is the best option as materials are easy to source and it doesn't require extensive sewing experience.

Quiz

Rita, your cousin living in a rural Sindh, wants to practice better menstrual hygiene. She wants your advice on the best menstrual product. Which option would you suggest to her?

Take Action

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What immediate things can you do to become an eco-friendly menstruator?

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This Byte has been authored by

SK

Saba Khalid

Founder & CEO at Aurat Raaj