Reducing plastic with your periods – How to make the swap to reusable/washable sanitary products

EcoFemme Night Pad ‘Natural’

We’re here to help you make the swap to cloth pads

This post is updated for the October Environmenstrual Week 2020. This campaign aims to raise awareness of hidden plastic and chemicals in conventional menstrual products and promote reusable and organic options.

I wrote this blog in Plastic Free July 2020, to help people who are wanting to make the swap to reusable pads. At the time, we were subject to some COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Consequently, disposable pads became more limited in the shops. So more people opted for trying washable cloth pads. Moreover, once people had swapped, they were telling us that they wished they had done it years ago.

Making the swap from disposable sanitary pads is one of the top ways to reduce plastic and waste

Did you know:

  • 90% of menstrual pads are plastic? (Natracare, 2018)
  • Half of tampon users in the UK flush them down the toilet? There’s estimated to be 1.5-2 billion menstrual products flushed away each year (Marine Plastics: Pollution and policy statement 2015, Marine Stewardship Council).

What to call them?

Cloth pads / washable sanitary pads / plastic free period products

Even knowing what to call them can be confusing. Then there’s how many to buy, what types and sizes to get. There seem to be so many things to consider! 

Never mind wondering if it might be a bit – eurgh! But really, using cloth pads feels is a lot less yuck than you might imagine. Let’s remember that having periods is natural and completely normal. Plus many people report less period pains when using natural products.

You’ll quickly get used to using cloth pads. Folks report that they are so much more comfortable and feel cleaner than using plastic and disposable products

Some benefits of Reusable Period Products:

  • Over the lifetime of your reusable products you will save masses of waste. Did you know that disposal of single use menstrual products produces 200,000 tonnes of waste a year (www.knowwaste.com)?
  • You choose to put natural fibres against your body, rather than synthetic chemicals. Some studies have found that chemicals used to make disposable products can still be found in them. (‘Tampax tampons and Always Sanitary towels among feminine hygiene products that ‘contain toxic chemicals’‘. Lizzie Dearden Independent 25thFeb, 2016)
  • They wash easily and dry quickly
  • Although they may seem like an investment, they will last for years and years! It’s estimated that an average women could spend up to £18,000 on menstrual products in her lifetime! (Moss, R., 2015. ‘Women Spend more than £18,000 in their lifetime, Study reveals’, The Huffington Post).  

Things to consider when choosing cloth pads

Remember, we’re all individuals and what might suit one person, might not suit another. Here are some things to think about:

  • Your flow rate– which pad sizes do you want? How many will you need?
  • Do you use a menstrual cup? Maybe panty liners are what you need and perhaps some pads for lighter days at the end of your period.
  • Do you mind having a little bit of Polyurethane Laminate (PUL) in your pads? Although this will not be biodegradable at end-of-life, it makes them waterproof and breathable and still massively cuts down your plastic footprint during the time that you will use them.  
  • Is addressing period poverty and the welfare of women and girls in developing countries important to you? 
  • Would you prefer organic materials?
  • Would you like UK made pads that support a local maker?

Meeting our aims at Shop Zero

Our aim is to provide great quality, ethically produced and sourced products that don’t cost the Earth. No greenwashing – we are transparent and open about the products we stock and why we choose them. We choose products with the highest environmental credentials that are currently available whilst still considering the monetary costs to you too.   

So, we have a range of different pads available.  There are different aspects of each to consider and I will outline them here.

Period products we stock at Shop Zero, and why

When I was looking to buy cloth pads myself, I went online, took a chance and bought a wide range of different ones. Now I have my own zero waste shop, I am pleased that the two types that I have used the most have been those that I buy to sell in the shop, these are Earthwise and Eco Femme.

The pads we stock:

Eco Femme 3 x panty liner with PUL

Eco Femme

These are made by a women’s empowerment project in India. They run a Pad for Pad scheme – for each pad you buy, one is given to a girl in India so that they can go to school.

The pads are made of organic cotton flannel. Moreover, most of the pads have a PUL layer, which makes them waterproof and breathable (there are some panty liners available without polyurethane).  

There is a good range of pad sizes available in our shop and also a starter pack and a full cycle kit too. We even stock a stitch-your-own-pads kit! There are panty liners, day pads, day pad plus and night pads available. Check out the 2 colourways; Vibrant and Natural. The pads are secured in your pants by (recyclable) metal press studs.

Earthwise pack of 3 long

Earthwise pads

These pads are sometimes viewed as an ‘entry level’ pads, but they are much more than that. At a good price, they are great quality too. Often people start out with these cloth pads, before investing further.

These pads are ethically made in China and imported by the wonderful Oxfordshire-based company, ‘Earthwise Girls’. If you buy one of the 3 packs of pads, then a donation of a pad is made to a girl in Kenya so she can do her schooling.

They have fleece layers and a polyurethane laminate (PUL) backing that goes against your pants (waterproof and breathable). Available in small, medium (moderate flow) and long (night time and heavier days). Secured with plastic press studs. Find them here in our shop.

Cloth Pads UK

Cloth Pads UK 6” liner

We just had to stock some handmade pads from the UK! These pads are made by Lesley. She’s a mum who has been making pads for many years. Available in panty liners and pads (see them here in the shop).

The pads comprise a patterned cotton or jersey topper that goes against your body. She chooses a great range of fun fabric.We never know exactly what patterns she is going to send us. It’s very exciting when they arrive! We can send you a photo of the current patterns we have but lots of customers let us choose the pattern we think they will like. And we surprise them in their order!

These pads come in 2 varieties:

  • Liners – 6″ and 8″ suitable for light days. With 1 layer of 100% cotton flannel.
  • Regular pads – 8″ and 10″ suitable for medium and heavier days. With 1 layer of 100% cotton flannel along with an absorbent ‘wicking’ layer of Zorb which is a blend of bamboo viscose, cotton, organic cotton and polyester fibre.

Both varieties are backed with a polyester fleece that goes against your pants. This is genius as it helps to prevent the slipping that can sometimes occur with some cloth pads (like maybe those with a PUL backing, for example).  They fasten with a plastic press stud.

Moon cup™ Menstrual Cup

Mooncup

There are lots of different brands of menstrual cups available, so please shop around.

I like Mooncup for a number of reasons. They are UK-based, they are tried and tested, they use surgical quality silicone, they give great customer service and are well established with their environmental credentials. Find them here in our shop

A menstrual cup is not for everyone but those it suits find that it is a ‘revelation’. I’ve had people coming back to me after buying one saying how they wish they’d got one years earlier (that’s certainly my experience). There are 2 sizes available: one for when you are under 30 years old and haven’t had a baby or a vaginal birth. And one for over 30s. The latter is slightly larger in size.

You can leave the cup in for up to 8 hours (overnight too). If you can feel it then take it out and insert it again. It can actually feel that you aren’t having a period!

How to use a Mooncup

Just sterilize by boiling for 5 minutes before and after your period. During your period; rinse with water after emptying down the loo.  If it’s not easy to get to a sink, maybe carry a water bottle (reusable of course) for rinsing. You can also clean with a mild detergent and rinse in clean water.

At the end of your period, wash again before sterilising by boiling again. and putting away in it’s own dedicated cotton bag ready for next month. Instructions for use and lots more info is available on the Mooncup website.

How to use cloth pads

Wash your new pads at least a couple of times before you use them as this will increase their absorbency. The pads are placed in your pants like a disposable pad and the wings go around the outside of your pants away from your body where a press stud secures them. 

When you change pads during your period, you can fold them up on themselves into a little parcel. And you can transport them like that too. Some people like to get a waterproof pad purse to keep them in for when out-and-about.

As soon as you can, give the used pads a rinse in cold water until you have washed the blood out. You can then stick them in the washing machine with your usual washing, or leave them to dry until you next put a wash on. Some people like to wash them by hand. You’ll find they usually dry overnight. Don’t use fabric conditioner or put them in the tumble dryer. Dry naturally. And if you can get them out on the washing line, do. And sunlight is good for stain removal too.

Inevitably, pads will likely get some staining. This does not affect their performance. I find it useful to have a solid laundry soap on hand for stain removal. We stock a version by Saint Monday, which does a great job.

Ready to give it a go?

If you do make the swap, you can be assured that you will get many years of use out of these products. Moreover, you will know that you are taking positive steps to reduce your plastic and environmental footprint. Do let us know how you get on in the comments box below; we love to hear feedback on our products.  

3 thoughts on “Reducing plastic with your periods – How to make the swap to reusable/washable sanitary products”

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog. A fantastic read. I will certainly be back. Roobbie Granny Alwyn

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