So lets start by first discussing the environmental damage associated with millions of women all over the "civilized world" menstruating month after month, year after year... According to the new book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, the average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of "pads, plugs, and applicators" in her lifetime. Now, lets add up all the women in the US, Canada, Europe and all around the world, the numbers are horrifyingly staggering! We are talking Trillions and Trillions of pounds of trash!
Looking beyond the amount of trash that this is creating, lets take a look at the dangers to YOU that the average cycle comes with when we use these products...
Tampons: If open a box of Tampons and pull that little piece of paper out you'll find a LIST of chemicals and "risks" listed... Chlorine Bleach and Synthetic Fibers are both linked to a potentially deadly condition called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). In addition many women have developed allergies to one or more of the chemicals in tampons resulting in health complications and again, death is even a risk... In addition to Chlorine, the average Tampon contains dangerous pesticides, asbestos and others scary chemicals which ARE absorbed in to your body through use - prolonged use is even worse!
Then there is the dangers associated with bacterial growth inside tampons. There is NO WAY for you to clean a tampon before insertion, and frankly we are only taking the word of a multimillion dollar company that they are truly sterile. And the majority of tampons are in fact NOT sterile, easily leading to yeast and bacterial infections. - Although rare, it does happen.
As if that weren't enough, the drying affect that the cotton and other fibers in Tampons can cause irritation, swelling, and tears in the fragile tissues of your vagina. Not fun!
Sanitary Pads and Liners: As with Tampons, Pads & Liners are full of chemicals. Although they are not placed inside the body the way a Tampon is, Pads & Liners are placed right next to the skin and worn for days and days, allowing the body to absorb all those same chemicals - in addition to a few new ones! While TSS is normally only associated with Tampon use, the fine print on any Maxi Pad box clearly states there is one.
And as with those chemicals in Tampons there is a risk of cancer, infection, and, yes, even death associated with Pads & Liners... The lack of breathablity in the materials also leads to irritation, ingrown hairs, external bacterial infections, sores and what I call "pad rash" which is really diaper rash, just from a pad. I mean, really, which of us hasn't experienced discomfort, itch and soreness from our maxi?
Blood Hazard: When you are at the doctor or in a hospital, blood, blood products and everything that comes with it is considered to be, and treated as Bio-hazard materials because of the dangers that come with contact with blood. In NO WAY should that change! And in no way are YOU at risk simply by tossing your blood soaked disposables in to the trash. BUT, once they leave your home, where do they go? How many people or animals are coming in contact with those "bio-hazard" materials? And something more to think about, although it's not generally dangerous for YOU to come in contact with your own blood, how do you feel about coming in contact with someone elses?
When you dispose of these "disposable" products not only are those bio materials sitting in a landfill for literally HUNDREDS of years, but they are being handled by trash workers, and picked through by animals potentially affecting their lives and putting them and even their families in danger. In addition to the dangers to those who come directly in contact with these materials there is the added danger to those who come in "indirect" contact as well.
Economical Impact: I have always been a fan of Dollar Stores, but even there, most packages of Tampons, Pads or Liners are going to cost you $10-$15 a month... Over the course of a woman's lifetime that's a cost of between $4500 and $6800. And if you're one of those women who prefers a "brand name" you could easily be spending a great deal more.
Now, lets talk about greener, healthier alternatives...
I'll admit, until a year or so ago, this was all unknown territory for me. I used the same Pads and Tampons that everyone else does and never knew there was another option. In fact, I remember asking my grandmother one time what they used when she was young, because I didn't understand how this stuff could be dealt with without disposable pads and tampons. Sadly, when I was younger, I was addicted to tampons, and now, I have developed an allergy which prevents me from using them in any way, it's also led to my having to cut back on some non-menstrual products due to the build up of chemicals in my system, so it has affected my life beyond the period!
It was after the birth of my second child that I discovered there were other options available to us today. And now, I will frankly never go any other route!
Menstrual Cups: A menstrual cup is a type of cup or barrier worn inside the vagina during menstruation to collect menstrual fluid. Unlike tampons and pads, the cup collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it.
There are two types of menstrual cup currently available.
The first is a soft, flexible, disposable cup made of polyethylene and resembles the contraceptive diaphragm. However, it is important to not that these are NOT contraceptive devices and do NOT protect against pregnancy or STDs. Unlike traditional options, these cups are able to be worn up to 12 hours without needing changed and most women will use quite a few less cups than they do tampons or pads.
The second type is a bell-shaped cup made of rubber (latex), silicone or thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). It is reusable and designed to last for up to 10 years. Some brands recommend replacement each year, 5–10 years or state that women have been comfortable using them up to 10 years.
The benefits which come with this second type are endless! You are NOT absorbing chemicals, there is NO unnatural or synthetic fibers and the CAN be sanitized and washed so there is no need to worry about foreign bacterial infections, irritation or poisoning. In addition they are easy to empty and care for while you're using the bathroom and don't require any extra care on a day to day basis. No "extra" supplies either! And because they are able to be used for 5-10 years at a time without wearing out the cost is extremely lower than that of a month by month purchase of tampons. On average Menstrual cups cost between $25 and $30 and even should you choose to replace them yearly, that's an obvious savings over other options!
Cloth Pads & Liners: Before the idea of a disposable maxi pad was ever even thought of, women used cloth. These cloth pads of the path were more along the lines of a folded wash rag or cloth diaper that you shoved in your pants... Very uncomfortable, not very sanitary, as they moved around and leaked easily, and thankfully, women didn't try to wear tight pants back then cause I can't imagine the bulging issues!
Today however, these issues aren't issues! Today's cloth pads are super absorbent, easy to change, wrap all the way around your panties so there is no shifting or moving and no more leaking than your average disposable. The ONLY real difference is instead of taking them off and tossing them in the trash, you're washing them out and reusing them. As more and more people are discovering with cloth diapers, this isn't at all as difficult as it sounds. Simply remove your used cloth pad, place in a cold water soak, or rinse out by hand, and wash with your normal laundry... I prefer to do a small load with all my undies, pads, bras and anything else that isn't going to get fabric softener or bleach. Beyond that, nothing special. If you happen to be out and have a need to change your pad - NOT an issue! Simply wrap your soiled pad up and place in your "wet bag" (which is a fluid proof pouch) and replace with a clean one, once you're home, care for as normal.
Again, cloth pads are basically chemical free besides any chemicals in the laundry soap YOU choose to use. Most are made with cotton, organic cotton or other natural materials and they come in all different colors, absorbencies, and sizes...
As with the menstrual cup, the difference in cost to you is immense! Cloth pads are usually made to last an average of 5 years, however I know many women who with care have used them for years beyond that...
On average your initial investment is going to seem quite pricey. But if you look at the long term savings, you are really making out! I would say from what I have looked at you're going to have an investment of between $150 and $350 (depending on the line you choose) to equip you with everything you need... Comparing that to that average of $120 a year for disposables, you can easily see how they pay for themselves!
Now, this is far from all the information, each company will have their own tips and tricks on usage and care for their products as well as differences in product styles, colors and whatever else. Make sure that you take your time and look through your options before making a large investment. Most companies have "sample" packs to allow you to try their products at a lower cost to you...
Here are just a few of the companies, if you run a search I'm sure you'll find many more!
- Luna Pads
- Glad Pads
- Mimi's Dreams
(Until I started making my own, this is where I got all of mine! I HIGHLY recommend her work!)
Originally posted on my blog "One Witch's Wonderland" on 9/22/2010.