While on the subject of personal hygiene, I’d like to address a question that is regularly asked of me (usually half whispered) by both men and women during conversations about the No Trash Project: “What do you do when you’re on your period?” I think it’s high time to get into it. So to all the squeamish and hemaphobic out there, let this be a warning… It’s about to get real.
In a woman’s lifetime (from menarche to menopause), she is likely to use 15,000 pads or tampons. This amounts to approximately 300 pounds of waste. There are 85 million women of menstruating age in North America. That means that 1.275 trillion disposable pads and tampons (12.75 million tons) end up in landfills, sewage treatment centers, and littering oceans and beaches in just this corner of the world… and wherever currents may carry our garbage to. Growing up on the ocean in Massachusetts, I often saw plastic pastel-colored tampon applicators floating in the water, or in the sand and seaweed along the shore.
Many of you may recognize the object pictured above. It’s a silicone menstrual cup. This product collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. Believe it or not, the commercial menstrual cup has actually been around since the early 1930s but the it didn’t sell successfully until the late 1980s. I’ve been using one in place of tampons since starting my project 17 months ago. I wish I had been hip to the cup since I first started getting my period. I love it for many reasons. There’s no packaging or product garbage to flush or toss. I find it less irritating than even the organic cotton tampons I had been using for years (since reading about dioxin—a toxic bi-product of bleaching the rayon and cotton used in conventional tampons). A menstrual cup does not affect the vaginal flora or have the same risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome as tampons do. I have also found that I have less leaking than I used to have with tampons. The cup is supposed to last 10 years—So no longer stocking up on tampons means saving a lot of money.
When I tell friends about the cup, questions about comfort, logistics, and the ick factor come up. Though it took some getting used to (a couple of cycles before I had it down), I now find the cup to be very comfortable to insert, wear, and remove. Okay, so logistics…. First of all, many cups on the market have a greater capacity than even a Super tampon, which means not having to emptying it every few hours the way one would frequently change tampons. Before emptying the cup, I wash my hands (this is important to prevent infection). I empty it into the toilet and then usually wash it out in the sink (unless I’m in a multi-stall public bathroom, but I hardly find myself in that situation because there are private bathrooms in almost all of the places I frequent during the day), reinsert the cup, then wash my hands again. It’s very quick, easy, and simple. I don’t find it to be gross or messy. In fact, I personally feel it’s less icky than using tampons and certainly pads, which hold odor because they are exposed to air.
The cup in the picture is the Diva Cup I just purchased from Whole Foods for a friend. The one I use is a Lunette Cup, which I ordered online before any were available on a store shelf near me. The Lunette Cup is a Finnish product and Diva Cup is manufactured in Canada. Most menstrual cup brands carry two sizes—a smaller size for young women, and women who haven’t delivered vaginally or by caesarian, and a larger size for older women and women who have delivered. The Diva Cup packaging is more obnoxious than the Lunette cup packaging. The box is glossy and has a cellophane window. It also comes with a metal stud pin that says “Diva”… uh, what?! Is this meant to be worn? The Lunette Cup box is just paper. Both brand cups come with a synthetic storage bag, decorated with a cheesy print. The Keeper is another brand of menstrual cup. They carry both a latex and silicone version.
I highly recommend a menstrual cup to anyone who is thinking of trying one. There are other “eco” friendly feminine products on the market like washable pads, but from an environmental, health, and practical standpoint, the cup just makes the most sense to me. I’ll never go back.