Aunt Flo is visiting! Painters and decorators are in! The Communists are coming! Despite the menstrual cycle being a perfectly normal part of life, we often shroud ourselves in a veil of euphemisms when discussing (dare I say?) periods. For countless millennia, roughly half the population have devised their own methods for surfing the crimson way and yet it’s only in the last century that our ways of dealing with periods have become unsustainable. In today’s western world, in addition to significantly boosting the sales of the chocolate industry, menstruation leads to a phenomenal amount of plastic waste.
[picture; woman with chocolate or similar – comment with picture is not needed]
Those who are all too familiar with the monthly gifts brought by Aunt Flo, typically each use around 12,000 menstrual products over their lifetime and throw away over 200kg of waste. To make that more visual, it’s the equivalent of two minibuses per person, each crammed full of disposable pads or tampons which will take roughly 500 years to decompose. Disposable sanitary pads are the worst offenders as each one can contain four carrier bags’ worth of plastic! However, tampons are hot on their heels in second place, containing synthetic fibres and often coming in individual plastic wrapping with a disposable plastic applicator.
So, what options are there for those wanting to bleed with a clear environmental conscience? Reusable menstrual products have existed for decades but it’s only in more recent years that the zero-waste movement has really gained traction and made them popular. One way (and, in my opinion, the best way) to ensure plastic-free periods is to opt for a menstrual cup. A menstrual cup is a small, flexible, bell-shaped item, typically made out of medical grade silicone, which is inserted into the vagina to catch the blood. When inserted properly, you’re completely unaware the cup is even there and can enjoy up to 12 hours of mess-free bliss before needing to empty it. As well as being chemical-free and plastic-free, cups also save the user an incredible amount of money. It is estimated that the average person spends nearly £5,000 over the course of their life on disposable menstrual products. What if that could be reduced to under £100? One cup costs around £20 and lasts for ten years, thereby making it a worthwhile investment, not only for the planet, but also for your bank account. There’s no describing the feeling of intense satisfaction that comes at the end of an entirely waste-free period! Plus, menstrual cups banish the monthly nightmare of realising too late that you’re out of tampons and waddling to the nearest shop with a makeshift pad of loo roll stuck between your legs. Made out of non-absorbent material, cups don’t interfere with the pH levels or bacterial balance of the vagina. In fact, using a cup means you can truly forget you’re on your period (apart from the bloating, cramping, fatigue, cravings, mood swings, homicidal tendencies and other minor side effects). And those who are sporty need not be afraid as, when inserted correctly, the cup creates a leak-proof vacuum seal that withstands most physical activity. My own sports of pole fitness and karate are testament to this: whether I’m upside down in the splits in fairly short shorts, or all decked out in that dreaded colour white, all worries are gone with the cup.
At this point I should mention that it can take some time to really get used to inserting and removing it properly. Many people struggle the first few times they use it and it took me a few months to feel that I’d really got the hang of it. Despite this, it is fully worth persevering with the cup as the benefits are so numerous. One option is to combine a menstrual cup with another reusable menstrual product.
This brings me to my final point: sustainable alternatives to the cup. Not everyone likes the idea or the practice of inserting a silicone cup into a pretty intimate place. However, that’s not to say that these people must surrender to the dominion of disposable products. Reusable sanitary pads and absorbent, leak-proof underwear are easily available and provide reliable, non-intrusive alternatives to menstrual cups.
Mother Nature can be cruel but that’s no reason to take it out on Mother Earth!