reusable menstrual Cup vs washable period pants and pads
Tamara vs Emma
tamara: The Menstrual Cup
My menstruation journey started when I (Tamara) was eleven years old and continues to this day. It has included bleeding through my trousers when travelling solo aged 16 on a flight to Trinidad, tying a sweater around my waist and hoping that no one would notice, to being put on the contraceptive pill to try to calm my cystic acne, to always being surprised by my period every month and never understanding the myriad of tampon and pad options available to me. Too much choice = overwhelm!
In my mid-20s, as I became aware of the environmental footprint of my period, I started to experiment with ‘alternative’ options. For a while, I used Natracare’s tampons and pads which are made from organic cotton and FSC and PEFC certified sustainable wood pulp. But I was the Goldilocks of periods -I was still generating waste every month and it just wasn’t right. I would often forget to stockpile when I saw them and so would often end up with a high street brand purchase.
My First Menstrual CUP
In the late 2000s, on impulse, I bought a menstrual cup for dirt cheap when a friend’s eco store closed down on Marmion Road.
A menstrual cup is a small silicone/ rubber cup that you insert like a tampon which catches and collects your menstrual blood. You empty the cup, rinse and reinsert and after each period clean it by boiling in water.
The cup I bought was very big and plastic-y and back then I was ever so squeamish about my body. Ah, past me had to unlearn so many anxieties caused by society. I used it off and on but just found it terribly uncomfortable, it slid down all the time and I was always hyper-aware of it when I was using it. It took me many years of alternating between disposable tampons and pads and this uncomfortable cup before I decided I’d had enough.
MY FAVOURITE CUP
Reader, I am a bloody idiot! (yes, pun intended). A few years ago, I finally did some research. I spent about 20 minutes internet searching ‘tilted cervix’ (which I was told I had at a cervical smear test) and ‘menstrual cup uncomfortable’ and soon realised the menstrual cup had evolved significantly since I bought my original cup many moons ago (yes, again pun intended!).
My period has been revolutionised by one small product: the Me Luna Shorty cup. For a vertically challenged person (ok fine, I’m short!), who has not birthed any babies and who has a tilted cervix, this very specific and highly affordable menstrual cup is perfect! I think it cost me about £15. It is comfortable, hygienic and waste-free and I have not looked back.
On writing this article, I realised I do not know how to dispose of it when it comes to the end of its life as it is made of Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) which can be used as an alternative to latex, silicone, PVC, or rubber. A quick internet search suggests recycling menstrual cups may be tricky. However, I feel the reusable aspect of the cup makes it a sustainable option. I messaged Me Luna to inquire about this. They confirmed that TPE can be recycled and suggested some creative upcycling at the end of the cups life.
One advantage of the TPE is that you can actually recycle it very well. In contrast to silicone rubber, the TPE can be melted down again. This is also practiced industrially. But you should always consider that a menstrual cup consists of only 10 grams of material. So if you drive to a collection point by car, you would have produced so much CO2 that the environment does not benefit from it. If you have no way to recycle the cup, then it depends on which country you live in, which is the most reasonable disposal. Within the EU, a menstrual cup can be disposed of with household waste because there are modern waste incinerators here.Me Luna Facebook Response (April 9 2019)
From my personal perspective, I hands-down recommend using a menstrual cup if you have a uterus that sheds its lining once a month. But don’t be like me, do a bit of research first to find the right fit for you. I can’t believe I was such a ninny.
So Emma, have I convinced you to give the menstrual cup a try? I did look at buying reusable pads but I am so lazy – extra washing just seems like a hassle. How have you found it?
emma: Reusable Menstrual Pads and Pants
Hey Tamara, I also got my period aged 11 and ever since then I (Emma) have pondered how best to end the damn process altogether because I could not cope with the pain, the staining of clothes, and the inconvenience of it all.
I once got my period on a 12-hour flight to South Africa at age 12 and hadn’t packed any pads in my carry on. At 13, asked my mum if I could have a hysterectomy because I was in so much pain, which resulted in a hasty trip to the doctors for prescription painkillers that I was on for six years around my period. I didn’t honestly think about the eco-aspect of my period until my early 20s because I was far too concerned about the searing pain that I had every month. (If any younger period-havers are now freaking out, it did get better with age, but go see a medical professional if you have any worries.)
At roughly 23, I bought a menstrual cup online that was recommended for uterus owners under 30 who hadn’t given birth vaginally. And I had a similar first experience to Tamara, where I was like “this is uncomfortable”, except I could never really get it inserted properly at all. It has sat unused in a drawer ever since.
At 25, a friend started using Thinx period pants, which work by absorbing the blood into a secret chamber in the pants through a process that they scientifically explain on their site, but I believe is some sort of magic. They claim to hold between 0.5 and two tampons’ worth of blood depending on the style that you go for.
I was sceptical because I often am. Doesn’t it leak? Doesn’t it smell? She assured me that they didn’t and I took a shot because I trusted her. I ordered two pairs (they have bundles available for better value). And I was amazed. It was a freeing experience not having to worry about the pad shifting or my tampon leaking and ruining the lower half of my outfit.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. They can leak and/or smell if you wear them for too long. (The same as with regular pads.) You need to change them every four to eight hours depending on your flow. If you’re using them in conjunction with tampons/cups, then you can probably stretch this out to a day.
REUSABLE MENSTRUAL pADS
Just last month, at a package-free larder event in Southsea, I also bought some reusable menstrual pads from Ngozi Sews, that work in the same way as Thinx, except you can use them in any underwear. Now, I’m covered for every day of my period and I don’t have to buy disposables anymore.
wash-a-dub-dub, pants in the tub
“What about washing them?”, I can hear Tamara cry. Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s really simple.
- Soak them after using to rinse off the majority of the blood. I soak them in the “greywater” that we use to flush the toilet in our house. (I realise that is a weird as fuck statement, so here’s a blog post to explain.)
- Wash them at 40 degrees or lower without fabric conditioner (it affects the absorbency) and then air dry. You can put them safely in with the rest of your washing, but I toss mine in with a darks wash just to be safe.
Now, how should they be disposed of? Well, I haven’t had to dispose of any of my items yet, but I believe that you should wash them and put them in with the “rags” bag for charity shops.
I’ve found out that you should ‘deconstruct’ the pads or pants first, to increase recyclability. Please see this post for more info.
One of the (many) reasons we love our reusables is the money-saving aspect. Once purchased, they can last years, if not a lifetime. Periods cost money. For many, this cost can be debilitating and dehumanising. Following sterling work by period charities such as the Red Box Project, the Government has recently announced that free sanitary products will be made available to secondary schools and colleges.
But why stop there? Anna T, a lovely Shades of Green reader, emailed in with the fantastic idea for secondary schools to introduce students to reusable sanitary towels and nappies by incorporating the making of these items into Design + Technology and Textiles lessons.
The sanitary products would be something that young girls can take home, or donate to the period poverty cause. In the long term, hopefully, this will become mainstream and making disposable sanitary products the alternative.
The nappies could be donated to the food/baby bank which would really help low-income households as disposable nappies are very expensive and not good for our environment.
Anna T. (Shades of Green reader)
I really believe that some of the other benefits would include boosting skills for young people, understanding and tackling period poverty, help demystify periods for all genders, and positively contribute to our community.
Thank you, Anna, for writing in with your thoughts. Locally, earlier this year, Zero Waste Portsmouth and Nina of Ngozi Sews hosted a free make-your-own-reuseable-pad workshop. Get workshops like these into schools and empower and educate our young people. This is the future, people!
A note: This article was written by two cis women and we would really like to invite any trans men or non-binary people who would feel comfortable discussing any green or eco period products that they use to get in touch for a future article. You can speak anonymously if you wish or we can link to your socials, business, etc, as we do work with all other contributors.