Thinking about switching to Sustainable Menstruation? Here's what to keep in mind

Ever wondered why are so many Indian cities facing a potable water crisis? A major reason is plastic waste pollution. And guess what, we women are one of the biggest contributors to this toxic state because we use disposable menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pads that are almost 90% plastic.

What’s even worse than this is that after you've gone, the disposable pads you are using right now will still be sitting in landfills and polluting water and air, as a pad takes about 800 hundred years to bio-degrade.

This is the reason why the global women's health movement is gathering strength, and most, if not all women are switching to reusable, non- disposable or sustainable hygiene products to manage their periods.

The switch is also good for your body

We all know about the link between toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and the use of tampons. Advocates of #cleanmenstruation are also bothered about chemicals which lurk in your favourite brand of sanitary pads and tampons with a strong link to cancer and allergies.

Even though big personal care products companies manufacturing disposable menstrual products like P.&G. have largely moved away from the ingredients linked to TSS like the super-absorbent viscose,  most disposable menstrual products still use rayon fibres and fragrances that are extremely harmful to your health.

Fragrances are amongst the most worrying as they are made of dozens of undisclosed chemicals. ‘Women’s Voices for the Earth’, an advocacy group says it has found styrene and chloroform, both carcinogens,  in several P.&G. pads.

Switching to reusable menstrual hygiene products is certainly not an easy decision and involves a learning curve. So, what all must we keep in mind while deciding?

1. What are the sustainable alternatives to disposable menstrual products in the market?

There are a number of sustainable feminine products available in the market today. But the two biggest are the silicone menstrual cups and reusable pads.

The other brave new sustainable hygiene product is the unbleached or an organic cotton variety of disposables.

These three are gaining traction amongst Indian women, though they still remain niche options at best.

a.    Reusable cloth pads

The reusable cloth pads are just like disposable napkins- only more colourful and comfortable.

These are worn during your period exactly like a pad and are washed, dried in sunlight and used again. This means that you don’t throw them away like the disposable pads, but you wash and reuse them, therefore saving money and also enjoying a plastic-free period.

These pads are made in such a way that they are hygienic, stay in place and don’t leak and stain. These eco-friendly pads are made of cotton. The top of the pad is made of soft flannel cotton, while the inside is made of layers of ultra-absorbent cotton flannel and the back of the pad is made of a breathable PUL leak proof, breathable cover.

The pads are hygienic and comfortable as they don’t feel wet as the blood gets absorbed by the layers of cotton leaving the surface dry. Cotton also feels more soft and natural against your skin as compared to wet plastic.

They also need to be changed just as you change a disposable pad to avoid leakage. And they are not that difficult to clean, either.  All you have to do is to learn the proper way to soak, wash, and dry them, and you are ready to go (read more about the correct way to wash them here).

You don’t need to make a complete switch to washable cloth pads all at once either. You can wear them when you have a light flow and once you feel confident about them, you can try wearing them during heavy flow and for longer times.

b.    Menstrual cups

Made mostly of medical grade silicone, menstrual cups are safe to insert into your vagina. They keep you dry not by absorbing menstrual blood, but by collecting it.

All you have to learn to do is to insert them correctly into your vagina so that the cup sits touching the vaginal walls. They have to be removed every two to four hours, cleaned and re-inserted depending on your flow.

They are cheap, safe and hygienic and can be used for up to 10 years. All you have to do is to clean and sterilize them after your period and store them properly for use the next month.

The secret to ‘cuplove’ is to be able to size your cervix correctly as the cup sits just next to its opening. (You can know more about menstrual cups here ---).

c.    Organic cotton disposable pads

These are disposable pads which are made using organic or pesticide-free cotton with biodegradable leak proofing made usually out of cornstarch instead of plastic.

You can use them instead of the toxic commercial sanitary napkins or tampons when you are travelling or camping and are not sure whether you have the privacy required to insert a cup or to wash and dry your reusable pad.

Once you are back home, you can switch back to a sustainable feminine product pronto.

Sustainable menstrual products are not a dirty word

Not many women, especially in India know about sustainable menstrual products or if they do, are convinced about buying and using them even though they are way cheaper, easier to use and safer for their bodies.

One of the main reasons behind this is that the reusable menstrual products are not marketed lavishly as they are usually manufactured by smaller companies.

Secondly, the dominant commercial messaging around menstruation also stops women all over the world from switching from disposable products to reusables. This messaging has convinced women that their period is something which should be out of sight and also that they shouldn’t talk about menstruation.

This sound barrier surrounding menstruation stops women from experimenting with sustainable products or even getting information about them.

Thus we see a dominance of disposables even though they are wasteful, toxic, expensive, and a part of an industrial system that is toxic to us.

When we shift toward sustainable products, we empower ourselves, smaller businesses and our communities by redirecting thousands of dollars that would otherwise end up in the already stuffed pockets of major corporations.

So, think about it- not using menstrual products that are harmful is empowering! So, go for reusables anytime, Sista!

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi