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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

Zero Waste Feminine Hygiene

Eliminating, substituting and reducing the waste from our monthly, female-only, menstrual ordeals.

[This topic concerns only the prettier half of the human population who have survived puberty, but the men can read and enjoy the pictures too, if they want.]

My first ever attempt at waste elimination was to tackle the type of waste that appears on a predictable monthly cycle: menstrual pads. This was way back in 2008-2009.

Despite using disposable menstrual pads for half of my life, I still couldn’t figure out a good way to actually handle or dispose of them in a way that I was comfortable with. Most women just throw them into a waste bin and think no more of it, but I knew that some poor soul would eventually have to deal with it, be it the cleaners or the landfill workers, and it didn’t seem particularly fair or responsible of me.

During a school camping trip, I remember watching (unwillingly and completely by accident) a senior student chucking her pad into the jungle (tsk tsk tsk), only to have a monkey snatch it and run away with it. I really don’t want to know what the monkey ended up doing with it, but it did highlight to me, at that very impressionable age, that what we throw away doesn’t just ‘disappear’ even if it’s out of our sight – it is still in someone else’s way or someone else’s hands (in this case, it was in monkey hands).

Surely there must be a better way to handle this.

Luckily for us women, there are!

Eliminate & Substitute:The Menstrual Cup

The Menstrual Cup is basically a silicone cup that you can insert into you-know-where (kind of like a tampon) and it will catch all of the blood.

Same basic idea as a tampon, but with no waste

You have to empty it every couple of hours simply by taking it out, dumping the contents into the toilet or snk where you can flush it or drain it away. Then you clean the cup with a tissue or with water, reinsert it back to where it was, and carry on with your life.

The Menstrual Cup is perfectly safe to use and is easy to clean and reuse. For some, it can even be life-changing - no mess, no fuss. I've been using the cup for a few years now and highly recommend it!

Eliminate & Substitute: Cloth Pads

I discovered cloth pads when attending the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Fest for the first time upon my return to Malaysia, back when it was still a fledgling festival held in a university hall instead of the glamorous Publika event it has become now.

The concept itself is nothing new. Before disposable pads were invented, women used cloth to catch all that outflow and then washed them clean. It’s the same thing as cloth diapers and napkins. But for people used to simply throwing away stuff, this might take some getting used to.

Cloth pads come in all sorts of colours and patterns, and you can even make them on your own if you are crafty!

Cloth pads come in ten bajillion colours and patterns

You clip them onto your panties, and go about your day, just as you would if you were using a disposable pad.

When it comes to cleaning, just treat them like any soiled piece of cloth.First, wash it by hand, and let it soak in a small bucket for a few hours. Then rinse, dry, and if you want to be even cleaner, chuck it into the laundry basket to be washed in your next laundry cycle. Done.

But what do you do when you’re out and about, and need to change the pad to a fresh one? Again, treat it like any soiled piece of cloth - store it in a pouch (preferably waterproof) where it won’t touch anything else inside your bag, and clean it when you get home.

A cute wet bag to go with your cute cloth pads

If you are not comfortable with this, then use a disposable pad during the day and a cloth pad during the night as well as during the last few days of your menstrual cycle when the flow isn’t all that heavy and won’t require frequent changing. As long as you can reduce the use of disposables, that’s good enough to start!

How many do you need?

If you’re just starting out, just buy one or two to see if you are okay with it, and if it's something you see yourself doing for the long term.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, I recommend the following:

  • 2 super long night pads

  • 4 large day pads

  • 2 medium day pads

  • 2 small day pads

It will vary depending on your flow, so feel free to switch it up based on your actual needs.

“OMIGOD, this is too radical for me!”

I’ve had very strong reactions to this suggestion before, and to be fair, if you’re used to simply getting rid of your menstrual waste, it can be unthinkable to actually have to handle it yourself, with your own two hands and your own ten fingers.

Just like any change, it will take some getting used to. You won’t be able to judge if something is better for you until you actually try it. So for a start, why not try cloth pantyliners instead?

Cloth pantyliners are less of a mess as no blood is involved, and they are smaller, thinner and much easier to clean.

Give cloth pantyliners a go, and then once you are comfortable with that, you can transition to cloth pads. Or the Menstrual Cup, whichever is your cup of tea (see what I did there...).

I’ve been using cloth pantyliners and pads for close to a decade now, before transitioning to a Menstrual Cup in the past few years, and cannot imagine going back to using itchy, dry disposables. Plenty of other women have made the transition and have glowing testimonials to give.

You can be one of us, too. Just give it a chance.

Going all motivational-poster on you



Achievement Award: Eliminate altogether by switching from disposable pads or tampons to reusable cloth pads or the Menstrual Cup.

Points For Effort: Alternate between disposables and reusables to reduce the amount of waste.

Um, Maybe Not: Menstrual Cup and cloth pads not your thing? That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.

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