Reusing vs throwing away
January 8, 2014 3:17 AM   Subscribe

It's taken as a given that reusable nappies and sanitary pads are more environmentally friendly than their disposable equivalents - but are reusable cotton pads/rounds better for the environment?

I was looking at these yesterday as I go through about three of the disposable equivalent a day, and that makes for a lot of bathroom clutter. They are more expensive than the disposable ones - to get enough for a week would cost me £20, which would buy me roughly 2000 disposable pads if I buy when on offer - although it would be possible to make my own were I to get access to a serger and somewhere that sells the right fabric (the towelling ones look better for my needs than the flannel versions). Having sensitive skin makes me feel the disposable ones are potentially better than something that goes through the wash, but the disposable ones do generate a lot of waste. Whereas the thought of reusing sanitary towels or 'family cloth' doesn't feel comfortable for me, this seems like something that I would find useful and potentially better than what I'm doing now.

However, what I was wondering was, hypothetically speaking, are they really kinder for the environment?

- Made from cotton wool, which they say is a 'natural product' (so unbleached?)
- Available at a store on my way to work (although they would have had to get there first)
- Sold in a plastic sleeve
- Throw away after use; no composting or recycling where we are
- Need to be replaced often
- One use only (unless I use the toner pads again to take off nail varnish once dry)

- Made from bought or byproduct terry fabric
- Would have to get them shipped from the UK or US (ie. by plane)
- Not sure about packaging but would need to be packaged for posting
- Washed after use, although this would be in the machine with my regular wash rather than as a separate thing - I would need to wash them once a week
- Shouldn't need to be replaced often
- Multiple use

I don't have the kind of brain that can calculate micro-variables, so I was wondering if any enviro experts might be able to work this out!
posted by mippy to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(you might run into a bit of US/UK english problems around the word "pad". Although I understand you mean the little round cotton thingies you use on your face, "pad" pretty well means menstruation products in US english.)

What I think would be the most, absolutely "green" option is if you didn't purchase anything new, but repurposed something you already had. Any washcloths, old clothing, socks, you could cut into appropriate sizes? I know you're worried about some fabrics not being soft enough, but really any kind of cotton fabric should be fine on your face. Some knits don't need to be hemmed to be stable.

Also, I bet most toners could be applied with your fingertips.

If they fit into your normal laundry washing routine, I don't think there would be any increased environmental cost.
posted by fontophilic at 5:32 AM on January 8, 2014

Really not sure why those reusable pads would be any better than a soft old towel cut up into pieces with pinking shears. I would not buy them, personally. If you like the single-use-iness of the disposable cotton pads, I don't think you'll be satisfied with the reusable ones. I don't think there's anything magical about the reusable ones that will make you happier than using a facecloth.

Also, I find that I use less toner/polish remover when I use the disposable pads, because reusable toweling/rags absorb more. Something else to consider.
posted by mskyle at 6:20 AM on January 8, 2014

Some of this depends on what you will use the pads for. If it's just for toner (something I assume is alcohol-based or similar?) and used on your face, I think they'd be okay. But I would hesitate to use them with nail polish remover and then wash them with your regular laundry--acetone is pretty nasty stuff, and the polish that has been removed (and is now on the pads) is also going to be a risk for your clothes. Likewise if you use these with an oil-based eye makeup remover to take off mascara, I don't think they'd wash up well at all without large amounts of detergent and very hot water. And then the "environmental" aspect becomes even more tricky.

I say this as someone who has cloth-diapered her toddler for over two years now, so I'm a big proponent of reusable stuff! But for some things it makes more sense to use disposables, and I would count pads used with noxious chemicals (nail polish remover) and cloths that will come into regular, direct contact with my eyes in this category.
posted by Jemstar at 6:32 AM on January 8, 2014

Response by poster: Oh, I wouldn't think of using something twice for nail varnish. Thankfully when I dropped and broke a bottle on our kitchen floor, it was when wearing old jeans...

I did wonder about absorbency. I use a cream cleanser, and I've started using a toner - one without alcohol but which has, I think, fruit acid in it. I am not wearing eye products at the moment due to an eczema flareup, but when I do I use an oil-based remover to get everything off. They look a lot more absorbent and hardy than cutting up a facecloth, which is why I was wondering about them if I were going to go the reusable route.
posted by mippy at 6:55 AM on January 8, 2014

Any reason you need fancy expensive pads when a stack of cheap washcloth/face cloths would do the same thing? I have used washcloth for years for everything from removing makeup from my face and eyes (I use an oil based eye makeup remover too) to applying toner. The absorbancy is fine. They get thrown in the wash when I do my towels and all the makeup etc on then wash right of. For the price of those fancy pads you could buy a big stack of them, heh you could even get them in fancy organic cotton/bamboo out some such and save money.
posted by wwax at 6:58 AM on January 8, 2014

I have about 40 white washcloths that I use for pretty much everything except nail polish remover. They all get washed (together with the white kitchen towels and the white flour sack towels I dry my hair with) and bleached about once a month.

I have a mesh hamper specifically for all that stuff, which I let dry before I toss it in there. I dry stuff on a towel bar overnight, and if I'm being really clever in the mornings I'll use it to wipe down the counter and dust stuff that needs dusting before it goes in the hamper.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:05 AM on January 8, 2014

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