The Environmental Impact of Making CSP
Why do you use reusable menstrual pads?
Because they look pretty? Because they are more comfortable to wear? Because you’re a bit of a magpie and you like to collect stuff? Because you want to save money? Have a more positive menstrual experience? To reduce the toxins and chemicals that your body is exposed to?
Or do you use CSP and other reusables because you want to reduce your impact on our little planet and to reduce waste? The chances are, saving the world is one of the factors that has led you to reusable menstrual products and you are pretty aware of the damaging effects of disposables.
CSP are an excellent way of reducing your waste, in particular single-use plastics, of which disposable towels are full. However you might want to take your eco-friendliness a step further and consider the shedding of microplastics into the oceans, or you might be aiming to reduce your use of plastics full stop.
The purpose of this blog is to inform, raise awareness and (hopefully) get you thinking about your impact on the planet. Every single reusable menstrual pad that is made, purchased and used is a credit to every individual involved and a positive influence on the environment. As an analyst, researching in detail is what I do. These are my findings and the consequential impact on the future direction of my business.
Plastics in Reusable Menstrual Pads
The vast majority of modern reusable menstrual pads contain an element of plastic. PUL – POLYurethane Laminate, POLYester fleece, plastic snaps, Zorb, POLYester thread, and cotton jersey with Lycra for toppers are all commonly used and prevalent in the market.
The biggest issue for plastic-free purists buying CSP has to be the need for a moisture resistant backing, and the fact that the most commonly used material for providing this is polyester fleece. Fleece is notorious for shedding its fibres, the state of my cutting mat will testify to that! When you wash fleece backed pads, those fibres get into the sewerage system and eventually into rivers and oceans where they can be harmful to wildlife, and even end up in fish intended for human consumption. Check out this video for more information (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqkekY5t7KY). Although not measurable, it is expected that a fleece backed pad will continue to leak its fibres for its entire lifespan – thats upwards of 5 years!
PUL has the advantage over fleece in that it sheds far fewer fibres, and is thinner so less volume of fabric per pad. The disadvantage with PUL is that it is less breathable than fleece and so many wearers avoid it, even if it’s hidden behind a thin layer of natural fabric like cotton needlecord.
2018 has seen an upsurge of the use of PU (polyurethane film) bonded organic cotton as a more eco friendly option for backing pads. Manufactured and sold in the US, it is a relatively costly option for UK CSP makers, but many users find it cooler to wear (me included), and so an increase in product price is accepted. Earthkind Menstrual Pads are made using PU bonded organic cotton rib as a backing. It is thin, cool and effective.
Environmental Impact of Fibre Production
It is also important to consider the environmental impact of the production of the materials used within reusable pads. Some materials are more obviously damaging in their production than others, but some are surprising. This table shows information extracted from a report produced by Made-By in 2013 on the environmental benchmark for fibre production and considers the following aspects: greenhouse gas emissions, eco toxicity, human toxicity, energy input, water input and land use. It only shows those materials that are available and in use in the UK CSP market.
|Class A||Class B||Class C||Class D||Class E|
|Mechanically Recycled Polyester
(eg. Windpro made from recycled polyester)
|Organic Cotton||Conventional Hemp||Virgin Polyester||Bamboo Viscose
Spandex (Elastane, Lycra)
|More Sustainable||Less Sustainable|
Bearing in mind that the benchmark only describes the impact of production and not use of these fibres, I feel that the sustainable nature of recycled polyester should be ignored. It may be sustainably produced, but its use will still result in microplastic shedding making it undesirable in my opinion, as is also the case with virgin polyester.
The increased sustainability of organic cotton and hemp make them an ideal combination for an absorbent core, hence the use of organic cotton and hemp fleece use in Earthkind pads. This is particularly favourable in comparison to bamboo (viscose & organic cotton) fleece whose production and over-processing has been reported to have a very detrimental effect on the quality of the waterways in china where it is produced in bulk. Reference: https://goodonyou.eco/material-guide-viscose-really-better-environment/
It’s also worth noting that non-organic cotton is rated poorly in its production, primarily because of the vast quantities of water needed. It is estimated that over 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce enough cotton for one pair of jean and one t-shirt. That’s pretty astonishing! Reference: https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-cotton/
I should say at this point that it is impossible to have zero impact if we want to wear clothes, do anything with our lives, eat. The 24 square inches of non-organic cotton used to make your menstrual pad that will last you for over 5 years is nothing. I don’t believe that you should feel bad for using products made of natural fibres, but our strength is in our knowledge and our ability to make positive choices where we can. Often our choices are limited by external forces and we can’t be as eco-friendly as we would like to be. (As an example, on a personal note – I’d like to be vegan, but my partner cooks 80% of my evening meals and he is all carnivore! As much as possible, my other meals are animal-product free.)
Ngozi Sews – Being Earthkind
As I have already mentioned, my research has led me to consider the future of Ngozi Sews and the environmental impact of my products:
- Introducing Earthkind was the first big step, and over the next 12 months you will see other changes that aim to give the consumer more eco-friendly choices.
- I am in the latter testing stages of a natural fibre water-resistant textile, removing the need for PUL and fleece. This product will enable me to offer plastic-free pads with confidence – Earthkind 2.0 is something I’m truly excited about!
- Already I only make instock daily liners with a cotton needlecord backing. Polar fleece is available as a made-to-order option. I will be prioritising PUL & needlecord as a backer for menstrual pads over and above polar fleece and waterproof softshell to encourage new users to make more eco-friendly choices. There are a plethora of excellent CSP makers using fleece, and I need to be different to stand out – this is my place in a saturated market.
- I am reducing my usage of Zorb across my range, and it will only feature as standard in my Ultra pads. Zorb is a fast absorbing man-made product created by Wazoodle – a leading producer of fabrics for the reusable market. It is made from a blend of natural fibres and polyester, and sheds those fibres fairly freely. It is an excellent product for CSP, but my preference lies with natural fibre fleeces such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo.
As you can probably tell, I do not take decisions surrounding my products lightly. Every part of the shape, composition and construction of my pads is carefully considered as is the direction of Ngozi Sews as a business.
The reusables market is heavily saturated with new CSP makers cropping up every few weeks. I believe that the avoidance of plastic and overall consideration of environmental impact beyond the obvious is what sets Ngozi and Earthkind apart from the competition. I will continue to strive for the most eco-friendly option for my products.
Thanks for reading, please add your comments if you wish.