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Caption:Hilary, 27, uses reusable sanitary pads to manage her period. 'The environment is a big factor for why I use reusable sanitary pads. It’s about reducing waste.' London, UK, April 2019
Credit:WaterAid/ Billy Barraclough
Usage Rights:(1) Images may be used for all purposes, globally, in perpetuity. Images may be used by third parties.
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Hilary, 27, London, UK

I use a combination of different reusable sanitary pads, cotton or bamboo, when I am on my period. A group of women in India makes some of them as a means of sustainable income. It is important to me that they are made of natural materials because I find it most comfortable and eco friendly. Fortunately, I am in the privileged position to think of comfort when it comes to sanitary towels.

I buy these pads mainly from independent stores, most of them are online only, that focus on sustainable products. Most regular stores don’t sell them. They are about 9 pounds for one towel, though the price differs depending on size and absorbency.

They do stain and since they are made of cotton or bamboo, they usually last about as long as a regular piece of clothing. Some of the ones I have are now 2 years old.
The environment is a big factor for why I use reusable sanitary pads. It’s about reducing waste. There is no way to recycle or properly dispose of regular sanitary pads, so with up to half the world’s population using those, it has a huge impact on the environment yet nobody discusses it.

I am also concerned about the materials that go into tampons, such as lots of chemicals and rayon that leave trace fibres in the vagina and can cause small cuts and thus infections. Reusable pads are also cost-effective and I always have them, so I never find myself without when my period starts.

In the past, I tried other products to avoid the regular supermarket brands. I used a moon cup but found that unreliable in terms of leaking. I occasionally use 100 percent organic tampons, but for exercise mainly. I use organic cotton as they’re biodegradable and without a plastic applicator, so it’s still environmentally friendly and zero waste and I don’t have to worry about chemicals. If I use regular tampons, I worry about the possibility of infection or discomfort so I don’t use those.

In primary school I was shown a video about getting your period one day during assembly, but it was a video from the 80s and after watching it I still had no idea about modern products that were available. They showed us huge pants that we could wear and we were mainly just thinking that we’d never want to wear those. The teachers did then show us some regular sanitary pads. After that, discussions with friends influenced mostly what I used as well as researching online.

The downside about reusable sanitary pads is that it can be inconvenient in terms of washing. I live in a house share, so finding somewhere with privacy to clean then can be challenging. You are supposed to soak, scrub and then cold wash them. I don’t want to cause any embarrassment or discomfort to my house mates. They do see them drying, they don’t mind that.

In the future, I could see myself trying period pants though they are more expensive, or period swimwear.

When I am on my period I take more care with myself: I take a bath to relieve cramps, relax a bit more to avoid getting tired or grumpy. I am just generally a bit gentler with myself and listen to my body. While I do get period pain, for me my period is a sign that my body is doing what it is supposed to do.

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