I recently wrote about Bea Johnson's zero waste lifestyle. She can fit a years worth of trash into one mason jar. Holy cow. Inspired by her, I've decided to embark on my own zero waste journey. It may seem impossible, but I know there are plenty of things I can do to minimize my waste. The point isn't to make life more complicated or to give up things, rather to detox - to clean up my life by trashing my wasteful habits.
For Bea, this means doing simple things like swapping out drugstore bronzer in favor of cacao powder which she buys in bulk for pennies. She didn't given up make-up or make it her guilty pleasure. Rather she found a way to get the look she wanted while saving money and not sending empty plastic compacts to the landfill.
This post focuses on another area of women's lives that is a major unnecessary source of waste, periods. I've noticed more and more women are saying no to disposable tampons and pads as they learn about alternatives. The more women share their experiences, the less taboo it is to speak up about our periods. On the other hand, companies marketing perfumed menstrual products to young women are sending the opposite message that periods are something we need to cover up and hide.
Hearing influential women, like Bea Johnson talk openly about using alternatives to disposable menstrual products helps other women do the same. I've used cloth pads for over eight years, but always hesitated to share this information with anyone. I was especially nervous to tell my boyfriend when we first started dating because I was sure he would be grossed out. He wasn't - turns out his mom uses them too! Now that I'm a little older and wiser, I'm happy to recommend them to my friends and family and share my experience with those who want to give them a try.
Initially, my motive for making the switch was to reduce my ecological footprint. I was a freshman in college at the time and I still remember how empowering it felt to realize that being a woman did not mean I had to be responsible for tossing out a dozen plastic pads each month. There were less wasteful alternatives I could choose from. I chose cloth pads because I was already accustomed to using disposable ones. There are lots of other options, such as menstrual cups and period panties.
Now, I'm enjoying the savings. Doing some quick mental math, I would have spent at least $400 by now on disposable pads. Contrast that with the $100 I have spent on my reusable pads and it's easy to see I've saved a lot of money over the years. Menstrual cups can be even more cost effective over time, though they are still made from plastic which won't break down in the end like cloth.
The sheer variety and availability of products, styles, and brands making reusable alternatives to tampons and pads is a good sign that more and more women are making the switch. Personally, I'm a big fan of the company Gladrags. They make cotton flannel pads with removable inserts so you can adjust according to your flow. I bought five of them back in college and they have held up so well that I'm still using them today. If you feel hesitant about making the switch, I created a FAQ to help dispel any lingering doubts you might have. Of course it always takes time to adjust to something new, but the first step is simply to try!
Cloth Pads - FAQ
How many pads per cycle?
- This will depend on your individual needs and preferences, but seven is a good number to start with. For years, I only had five and that worked just fine. Now, I have eight pads and three panty liners. I rarely use that many, but I like having a few extras just in case.
How much do cloth pads cost?
- Gladrags are about $16.00 each. I also have a couple I bought at a craft fair in Japan for about $5-$8 each.
Where to buy them?
- Health food stores are likely to sell them. If you don't have one in your area you can buy them online. Craft fairs and sites like Etsy.com are good places to find handmade ones or you can use a free pattern online to make your own! My mom made me a couple with some fabric scraps that she modeled from Gladrags.
How to clean them?
- I usually rinse them out in the shower with a bar of soap before throwing them in the wash. To prevent blood stains you can let them soak in baking soda. I do this once every few months to keep them looking nice. You can also use an iron to sanitize them.
How to travel with them?
- I travel with mine just fine. I fold them up in little squares and toss them in a bag until I have a chance to rinse and wash them. It's a little more work than disposables, but not much.