Reusable Feminine Hygiene Products vs. Disposables: What Comes Out Ahead?

Recently on One Brown Planet, we uncovered a vast but largely ignored environmental issue, the disposable of sanitary products. Almost 500 million pads are discarded into landfill every month! This week our guest writer,  Jackie Bolen, pits disposables against reusables to see which one really does provide the best product for women.  

People with periods are fortunate to live in 2018! We have a huge array of options available to us, unlike our sisters from days gone by. Their options included bleeding onto their clothing, elephant dung, grass, rabbit fur, leaves, and sponges. Source: One Brown Planet. They certainly have my sympathy! And I’m sure they could never have imagined that such a huge variety of feminine hygiene products would ever be available.

Let’s examine more closely reusable products, such as menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads, as well as disposables like tampons and pads. We’ll try to figure out which option comes out ahead in terms of the environment, economics, ease of use, maximum protection, and effectiveness. Then, we’ll pick an overall winner.

Reusables vs. Disposables: The Environment

70% of women in the USA use tampons. The average person uses 11,000-16,000 tampons over the course of her lifetime. Source: CNN.

Do the math-that’s a lot of tampons! Now, add in people from other countries, as well as other disposables like sanitary pads. The worst thing is that these products are made partly with plastic, which doesn’t biodegrade. It’s estimated that we’re dumping one fully loaded garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every single minute. Source: One Brown Planet. If this isn’t scary, I’m not sure what is!

On the other hand, reusable products like menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads are great for the environment. With proper care, a menstrual cup can last for up to 10 years. Source: Reusable Menstrual Cups. While cups are made with silicone which doesn’t biodegrade, it’s certainly less wasteful to consume one of them over a 10 year period, than it is to use an entire box of tampons every single month for decades.

Reusable cloth pads make a much better option, when considering the environment than disposables. They also last for 10 years or more, with proper care. They’re usually made with cotton so will biodegrade once they’re thrown away.

Reusables for the win!

Reusables vs. Disposables: Economics

Let’s talk money! One of the reasons people don’t use reusable menstruation products is because they’re expensive. The average menstrual cup costs $30 USD, while a reusable cloth pad is a minimum of $5 (and you’ll need at least five of them). It is certainly a decent amount of money to spend at one time.

However, disposable pads and tampons aren’t cheap either, at around $5 per box. This can add up quickly, particularly if you have a long and/or heavy period and have to change them frequently. Generally, by switching to a menstrual cup, or reusable cloth pads, you’ll have recouped your costs in a few months.

Reusables for the win!

Reusables vs. Disposables: Health Benefits

Disposable feminine hygiene products contain chemicals and pesticides that aren’t good for your body. It’s uncertain what exactly they are because companies in the USA aren’t required to disclose ingredients. This is because pads and tampons are considered “medical devices.” Source: Huffington Post. The pesticide comes from the cotton used in them and the chemicals from the manufacturing process. You can alleviate this problem to some extent by using organic options, although these are more expensive.


The top-quality menstrual cups (for example, the Diva Cup, MoonCup, Lunette Cup, Anigan EvaCup and Lena Cup) are made from medical grade silicone that is FDA approved. There have been no reports of menstrual cups causing TSS (toxic shock syndrome). Of course, be sure to buy a top-quality cup and not one of the cheapies from China because these ones usually contain silicone that isn’t medical grade, nor is it FDA approved for medical uses. Source: Reusable Menstrual Cups.

Reusable cloth pads, especially the ones made from organic cotton are much better to have next to your skin than disposables. You’ll probably find that they irritate your skin less, and just plain feel better down there. Be sure to wash your cloth pad before wearing though, in order to get maximum benefits.

Reusables for the win, again!

Reusables vs. Disposables: Ease of Use

Disposable pads and tampons are certainly easy to use. Once you’re done with it, throw it in the trash, or flush it down the toilet. It’s easy to carry a spare in your pocket, purse, or backpack. At the end of your period, you’re done and don’t need to think about it for a few weeks. The only thing to think about is whether or not you have any in your bathroom cupboard!

Reusables require quite a bit more work. Menstrual cups are not as easy to insert as tampons. For most people, there’s a steep learning curve and it takes them a few months to really get it. The key is to not give up too soon.

There’s also care and cleaning of your cup. You’ll have to wash it every time you remove it and then sterilize it at the end of your period. Most importantly, be sure not to store it in an airtight container.

Reusable pads, of course, require washing. And there’s the quandary of what to do with it if you’re out on the road. Disposables pads are clearly less hassle.

Disposables for the win!

Reusables vs. Disposables: Maximum Protection

Let’s talk about the maximum protection for each option. The average jumbo tampon holds around 10 ml of fluid, while the average menstrual cup has a capacity of 30 ml. There are even some high capacity cups that hold up to 40 ml. If you have a heavy, or even average period, a menstrual cup can be a game-changer. Source: Reusable Menstrual Cups.

In terms of maximum protection for pads, both disposables and reusables offer a range of options from panty-liners to overnight pads. Although disposables perhaps work slightly better, the advantage isn’t huge.

Reusables for the win!

Reusables vs. Disposables: Effectiveness

Let’s look at which option is better for preventing leaks. This is, after all, what most women are trying to avoid during their period.

Menstrual cups, especially during the first few cycles are prone to leaking. Tampons are difficult to insert incorrectly, and almost never leak, unless they’re saturated.

Disposable pads are better than reusable ones for absorbing serious amounts of liquid, and also for preventing leaks due to the plastic lining they have. Disposable also stay in place better—cloth pads have a tendency to shift around sometimes.

Disposables for the win!

Reusables vs. Disposables: Overall Winner

Let’s add up the scores. Reusables have the edge for the environment, economics, health benefits and maximum protection. Disposables come out ahead for ease of use and effectiveness. The edge goes to reusables overall.

If you’re looking to buy a menstrual cup or cloth menstrual pads, the best place to get them is online (Amazon). Prices are excellent, shipping is often free, and there are a million and one brands, colours, sizes, etc. Reusable products are not readily available in most stores, and if they are, there might only be one or two options.

By choosing reusables over disposables, you’re making an eco-friendly choice that also has the added benefits of being better for your body, as well as saving money. Love it!


About the Author

Jackie Bolen is a tree-hugging friend of the planet that can often be found surfing a wave, drinking organic coffee, or hiking to the top of a mountain around Vancouver, Canada. She hopes that one day, every single menstruating person in the world will have a reusable option in their hands! This will certainly make the world a better place.

2 thoughts on “Reusable Feminine Hygiene Products vs. Disposables: What Comes Out Ahead?

  1. […] have written before about the environmental issues of disposable feminine hygiene products, here an...
  2. Mark Blackburn Reply

    Great article Jackie, thanks for taking the time to write for us!!

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