Alternatives to Disposable Menstrual Products

The average woman might use upwards of 10,000 disposable sanitary products in their lifetime. Every single sanitary towel contains up to 4 carrier bags worth of plastic and will exist for over 500 years. That’s right – the sanitary towel that you used today may outlive 14 generations of your family!

Now imagine that each of those 14 generations also use disposables for their entire menstruating life.

Are you scared yet?

You should be!

But you use applicator-less tampons. That’s better, right?

Tampons have been found to contain dioxin, BPA and chlorine, so while plastic is less of an issue, inserting those hideous chemicals into your body for 20% of your fertile life can only be a bad thing.

Disposable menstrual care has been a thing since 1896, and was seen as a more convenient, hygienic, modern alternative to the ‘rags’ and cloth used previously. Women can be forgiven for thinking that they were a good idea, because nobody knew the dangers they would present in the long term.

SInce the 70’s, a small wave of women across the developed world have reverted to using reusable, cloth sanitary towels as a healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative. Many others are using menstrual cups, which have existed since the 1930’s.

Regardless of your menstrual needs, there is a reusable solution for you.

Reusable Menstrual Pads / Cloth Sanitary Pads / CSP

Varying from a teeny tiny 5” daily liner, up to an 18” mammoth, ultra heavy super-flared postpartum pad, you will always find a pad that meets the needs of your flow, your body shape and your lifestyle.

There are around 40 makers of CSP in the UK – mostly small businesses based in the home, working around family life. Each maker offers a different shape, style and ethos. It’s worth having a good nose around Google, Etsy, and Facebook to see what catches your eye. Different makers tend to favour different fabrics – some focusing on more natural options to reduce their dependence on plastic, whilst others favour synthetics for their quick drying and quick absorption.

Many users of CSP are on a budget, and opt for mass produced pads made in China, and often sold on eBay. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, many women find that they are less comfortable to wear, and soon switch to hand made. There is a compromise, with the likes of Fae Pads – designed by a UK small business, and mass produced to her strict specification in China.

An overwhelming number of CSP users make their own pads. All you need is a reasonable understanding of fabrics, the ability to sew (hand or machine), and a pattern. There are many online resources, my favourite being You could buy everything you need at Fabricland!

Menstrual cups

In my opinion, menstrual cups are the ultimate in zero waste menstrual care. Provided that you get a cup that suits you, doesn’t leak and is comfortable, a single product costing under £25 could be all you need for up to 10 years!

The reality is that many cup users do experience some minor leakage and use cloth liners as a backup just in case. But even then, that’s a pretty minimalist, affordable approach.

Menstrual cups are made with medical grade silicone, and are folded to insert into your vagina to catch your flow before it leaves your body. Cups have varying capacity, and come in different shapes, sizes and firmness. Most are available online, but you can also pick up a Mooncup in Boots and a Diva Cup in Superdrug.

Cups aren’t for everyone – you either love the idea or hate it. Most users also go through a period of adjustment, spending a few months getting to grips with the process of insertion and removal, but if you can get your head around cups, then they are definitely worth a shot!


As you can probably tell, the world of reusable menstrual products is varied, and growing daily. Humans at all stages from menarche (as young as 9) to menopause are using reusable products to handle their cycle. With any luck, reusables will become the norm, and the next generation will consist of individuals who will ONLY use CSP and cups for their entire lives!

If you’d like to find out more about reusable ways of managing your period, I’m always happy to share my experiences. Thanks for reading!

Useful Links

Group with endless support and shared resources for making your own pads:

Group with lots of new and preloved pad sales:

The Bloody Waste – Run by Earthwise Girls, good for generic support on reusable menstrual products:  (use discount code solent10)