Why the menstrual cup is good for your health and the environment

Julie Frisch discusses the pros and cons of both sustainable and unsustainable period products

Have you ever wondered whether it’s worth it to invest in a menstrual cup? Well, let me tell you this: menstrual cups are not only the cheapest period product, but also the safest, most hygienic, most comfortable and the most environmentally friendly one. I’m not only talking from experience — I have statistics backing me up. So, whether you’ve been debating getting one or not, hear me out as there are very few reasons not to.

“Are we unrightfully politicising periods by pushing women to make their periods sustainable…?”

Sustainable periods have been a hot topic for quite a while, and not without good reason. Are we unrightfully politicising periods by pushing women to make their periods sustainable, or do each of us have a responsibility to do so considering the destructibility of the system that we all are partaking in? Well, let me start by saying that freedom of speech and freedom of choice are both fundamental to this piece. What you do with and to your body is yours to decide, and I want you to read this with your own boundaries in mind.

My intention is to deconstruct some of the myths that you might have been hearing about sustainable periods — specifically menstrual cups — because not only are they spreading misinformation, but they are also harming the good incentive that the cups embody.

One of those myths is that menstrual cups are a luxury product, an item for those that are well-off. The price for menstrual cups ranges between €20–€40, which at first sight might seem like a lot, but, if cleaned properly (I outline below how to), cups have proven to last 10 years. Per decade, the average person who menstruates is known to use up to 2.400 tampons alone. With a box of 20 regular tampons from Tampax costing €2.95 and 12 normal pads from Always costing €3.49 — we can conclude that cups are considerably more affordable than non-sustainable period products in the long run. Only a few months into using one, and you will be saving on buying single-use items.

“…both tampons and pads contain dioxins, toxic chemicals that are the by-product of chlorine bleaching which makes the sanitary products look white.”

What stunned me the most was the comfort that I experienced upon using the cup. Tampons frequently cause dryness and irritation, which can make it painful to remove and insert them after a while. This is not surprising since both tampons and pads contain dioxins, toxic chemicals that are the by-product of chlorine bleaching which makes the sanitary products look white. Indeed, pads and tampons contain reproductive toxins such as xylene, phthalates, and toluene to make them more absorbent, adhesive, bleach-white, and odour free. Menstrual cups, however, are made out of medical-grade silicone and contain no toxic chemicals or additives. The insertion is thus pain-free and you cannot feel the cup once it is in place. On top of that, there is very minimal risk of leakage — significantly less than with single-use period products — because the cup sits inside of your vagina and adapts to your movement with its scope being big enough to capture all the blood that you are losing. The cup can be left in place for up to 12 hours because it collects blood rather than absorbing it. Indeed, a cup holds three times as much blood as a tampon, and you are not at risk of getting toxic shock syndrome, a rare infection associated with the usage of the latter.

Considering the amount of blood that accumulates in the cup throughout the day, you need to know how to remove it so that you don’t cause a bloody mess. Removing a menstrual cup can be tricky the first few times you use one, so don’t be discouraged if you need two or three trials to figure out how it works. You need to be comfortable enough with touching your body to insert your thumb and index finger into your vagina, pull at the stem of the cup to get a better grip and slowly squeeze the base of the cup to then carefully pull it out. Do not simply try to remove it by tugging at the stem of the cup with force (which is what I did the very first time). You first need to release the pressure that builds up in the cup so that you can then fold it and subsequently take it out. Once emptied and rinsed, you can fold the cup in half once more and reinsert it. To properly clean the menstrual cup, you need to boil it for three minutes before and after each period, but in between insertions it suffices to simply wash it with water before re-inserting it. Removing and reinserting the cup in a public place is uncomfortable when you do not have immediate and private access to a sink. However, this has not yet been an issue for me since the cup can be left in place for 12 hours. I always empty it in the mornings before I leave the house and in the evenings before bed. Switching to using the menstrual cup means that you never have to worry about having enough tampons or pads on you throughout the day.

“90% of one single pad is made out of plastic, and consequently, it takes about 500 years to break down.”

Besides taking that burden off of its users, the cup takes a huge burden off of our planet – namely that of pollution. The impact of period-related products on our environment is enormous and underestimated by many. Sustainability expert Leigh Matthews claims that the average person who menstruates throws away 200 kilograms worth of period-related products in a lifetime. 90% of one single pad is made out of plastic, and consequently it takes about 500 years to break down. Tampons, too, contain 6 % of plastic and, like pads, emit methane when decomposing as part of landfills, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. On top of that, many single-use items end up in the sea because people dispose of them incorrectly, such as flushing them down the toilet. Period-related products are in fact the fifth-most common item found on Europe’s beaches.

Both sustainable and unsustainable menstrual products are heavily connoted due to the partisan politics that dominate our public and private spheres. However, in light of the aforementioned figures and findings, I believe that, as menstruators, we are impelled to opt for the mindful option, especially considering how beneficial they are to our health compared to single-use products. If the thought of inserting a menstrual cup scares you, which is understandable, there are always reusable pads and tampons or period underwear that you could use in order to minimise waste. Although you will need to wash the blood out of them on a regular basis, they are considerably kinder to your body than the chemical products that big brands want you to stick with. And if you are not ready to commit to a sustainable option yet, you can always buy organic tampons that are made of only cotton — your body and the planet will thank you for it.

As I conclude this article, I just want to highlight that the plastic which can be found in period-related products makes menstruation more uncomfortable than it needs to be. I truly noticed that upon switching back to tampons for a week when I forgot my cup at home. The smell, the feeling of dryness and the irritation that go with tampons and pads prove that menstrual cups simply make that time of the month more bearable. Knowing how all-consuming periods can be, we might as well use products that will make them as manageable as possible. So, don’t let habit or apprehension be the reason you are not switching to a sustainable alternative. On the contrary, I can tell you that, once you take the step and try using the menstrual cup, you will never want to go back.

Julie Frisch

Julie Frisch is the current Student Living Editor and a Senior Sophister in English Studies.