Dear Umbra,

You mentioned in “Kid Commando” that the “disposable vs. reusable diaper fight is in a stalemate for the foreseeable future.” Is the same true for sanitary napkins?

Clara Yuan
Ithaca, N.Y.

Dearest Clara,

I haven’t heard tell of the debate, frankly. I certainly get several “which is better” diaper questions a month, but yours is the first on sanitary napkins in quite a while. Perhaps the Eco-Patriarchy is deliberately stifling debate on this vital wimmin’s issue. Well, this womyn has something new to say (always).

Legends of the fallopian.

Photo: iStockphoto

I’ve managed to find only one lifecycle analysis of such supplies, a comparison of tampons vs. sanitary napkins written by students at a technology institute in Sweden. Their conclusion, based on the data available to them, was that tampons posed less of an ecological burden. Pads are built of layers of ingeniously engineered petroleum product, and hence contribute to climate troubles. Tampons are mostly cotton. Cotton is no innocent crop from a petroleum standpoint, but has less impact, according to this study.

I know you didn’t ask about tampons, but this was the only lifecycle analysis I could find, so we’ll have to extrapolate and let reusable cotton sanitary pads stand in for tampons. The differences are that reusable pads are — well, reusable, but contain more cotton than tampons and also require household water for cleansing. Are any men still reading at this point? Just curious.

Let’s assume those who choose reusable pads are sparing with the water. I think we can then assume that reusable pads edge out disposable pads in the imaginary fight for eco-status. If you sewed your own cotton or fleece pads out of old clothing or towels, you would divert solid waste and gain extra points for the permanent pads.

So I say reusable wins, but the pad debate has a catch similar to that in the diaper debate: either you are willing to use and wash reusable pads or diapers, or you aren’t. Don’t write in and tell me there’s no difference in effort, efficacy, comfort, and convenience. Both types of pads and diapers have their pros and cons — I’m not saying one is better. I’m just saying it’s hard to change who you are, and in neither situation will earnest ecological tendencies outweigh strongly ingrained personal hygiene habits.

Don’t forget about other choices available to ladies. I ran over what I knew in the previous column on the topic. To update, there are now three reusable cups of which I’m aware: the silicone Moon Cup, natural latex Keeper, and the silicone intercapped DivaCup. There are also disposable cups available at the supermarket, but if you must buy them, please make it a one-time purchase in service of investigating the concept, and then move on to a permanent cup.

Womanly,
Umbra