How to switch to sustainable menstrual cups
Great news! Year on year women around the globe are searching for more environmentally friendly ways to bleed. If you’re thinking about switching to a menstrual cup here are a few good reasons why you probably should.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a small, dome shaped cup usually made from medical grade silicone, which is inserted into the vagina to catch blood rather than absorb it. They have been around since the 1930’s but have only recently been given the attention they rightly deserve. They are an environmental, low-cost replacement to the traditional tampon or pad.
How do I use it?
It can be quite daunting at first to transition from a tampon or pad but they are really easy to use. You can insert the cup a day or so before you are scheduled to start your period to avoid worrying about starting at an inconvenient time.
You simply fold the cup as shown in the instructions booklet (or shown below) and insert the cup into the vagina. Once the cup is inserted it will ‘pop’ open, if it doesn’t do this on it’s own you can pull on the stem and it should open. Sometimes you might want to pull on the stem to ensure it has sealed equally all around.
Now you can go about your day for up to 12 hours without checking on it. Menstrual cups can hold up to three times more blood than tampons and pads which allows you to feel less worried about leeks or being active for long periods of time. This makes them perfect fitness and travel companions.
When you are ready to empty your cup go to the toilet (or a bush if you’re in the middle of a hike) and pull lightly on the stem. Once you have the cup low enough insert your fingers and pinch the base of the cup. This will break the seal and it will be easy to remove. Either pour the blood down the sink or into the toilet (if you are pouring into the toilet we recommend pouring on to tissue first or lining the toilet with tissue. As the famous saying goes… blood is thicker than water. So if you are in a public toilet it’s easier to flush the blood away in a tissue rather than from the bottom of the basin. You’re welcome!). If you are in a bush you can really pour it wherever you please I guess?!
Please don’t be worried about it being ‘icky’, yes you can get blood on your fingers but it’s your own lovely womanly blood which you should embrace! You get the knack after a few periods and the ‘messiness’ is reduced.
Clean the cup either by running under the tap, with a bottle of water if you’re on the go or just with a quick wipe with a tissue. Then reinsert and go back to slaying the sh*t out of your day.
Why should I switch?
Obviously the first reason for us is the environmental impact.
Plastic wrapping and applicators end up in landfill, or even worse can end up in the oceans and wash up on beautiful beaches. In 2010, a UK beach clean found an average of 23 sanitary pads and 9 tampon applicators per kilometre of British coastline. Every tampon you have ever used is still on this earth and will take longer than your lifespan to decompose. Times that by the amount of women between the age 12-55 across the world who bleed every month. That is a lot of waste!
A menstrual cup is made of silicone which is sand based and can last up to ten years. These are slow to decompose but it will degrade to it’s natural ingredient. Most are packaged in a cardboard box and come with a discrete cotton bag to protect it when not in use.
In addition, manufacturing these products is both resource intensive and chemical-intensive. A year’s worth of disposable period products leave a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalents. If every woman were to use eco alternatives this can be greatly reduced.
Need another reason to switch? Menstrual cups are a cost effective way to bleed.
A woman will have on average 480 periods in her lifetime, Bloody Good Period reckon ladies will spend around £4,800 in her lifetime on sanitary products. Each menstrual cup costs between £8-£25 and can last up to ten years. Even if you were to buy a new cup each year that predicted £4,800 would turn into only £800* in your lifetime.
It isn’t only cheaper for you, but it’s also cheaper for the economy. In the UK alone, two billion period products are flushed down the toilet a year. This has a huge impact on the sewage system as 75% of all cases of blocked drains are caused by sanitary products. Oh, while we are here on this topic please, please, please avoid flushing make-up wipes down the loo too!
The cost to remove these items to the UK economy alone is £14 billion each year. And if you don’t have enough stats just yet… cotton buds, tampons, applicators and panty liners make up 7.3 % of items flushed down the toilet in the UK. If you don’t flush these items down the toilet, they still are ending up in landfills across the world. Taking up space and still not biodegrading!
If that isn’t enough reason to switch, you will save money on Tampon Tax. Sanitary products are still classed as a non-essential or luxury items according to the European Commission (I know right!?!?!) and are therefore taxed by the government. Not only are you taxed for tampons and pads by your own government, but large supermarket chains have also been covering the 5% tax (just in case it gets abolished in the UK they can pay it to the government as a goodwill gesture….) so you can be paying twice!
We do have to say the UK government has pledged to invest the money raised by the tax in projects that benefit women and girls. But there are many organisations who are working hard to get rid of this ludicrous tax.
Our last reason to switch (and maybe the most important to you) is how the menstrual cup can make you feel.
This is personal! Every time I pour my lovely blood away I feel a sense of joy in many ways.
I feel like I understand my body and my period cycle more intimately – I can actually see how much I bleed on which days of my period. We have grown up with society making us feel embarrassed or disgusted by our blood, but this blood is what brings life to the world. We should celebrate it! The fact that adverts are only just showing sanitary product adverts with red liquid is bewildering to me, but that’s another topic entirely. I feel like I know my lovely body a bit more, and tampons or pads didn’t give me that feeling.
Not only do I feel closer to my period but I also feel more comfortable. I used to buy larger tampons to avoid changing so often, but these were uncomfortable and I could feel when it was full. Being silicone, a cup moves as you move, it doesn’t ever ‘feel’ full. As long as you insert it correctly it should be leak proof, this means you can be as active as you like. You never need to worry about swimming again! You could even go out with no knickers on if you wanted to! I would actually trust my cup enough but i’m too scared to go commando in a club!
Menstrual blood starts to smell when it comes into contact with air, with tampons and pads this is impossible to avoid. Therefore people can feel very embarrassed about being intimate during their period. The blood only comes into contact with the air once the seal is broken when you are emptying the cup and therefore I never need to worry about feeling smelly. I feel comfortable sleeping naked and being intimate on my period if I want, which to me and many people is a big plus.
Knowing that I haven’t put a single item of sanitary waste in landfill or the waterways since 2017 makes me feel like i’ve really put no effort into helping the plastic and waste problem. And I will have saved around £240 by using my £20 Mooncup in just two years.
Are there other products out there that I can use instead?
Yes yes and yes!
We completely understand that a menstrual cup may not be for you. The fact that you’re considering an alternative is enough!
Our co-founder Katie swears by period proof underwear Thinx. Await her article soon to read more about her experience!
If you can’t ditch tampons because they just work for your lifestyle and your body then check out organic tampons.
Lots of ladies are switching to reusable pads (most are lovingly handmade by eco-warriors) which can be washed in the washing machine. We recommend searching on Instagram for a small eco shop selling them!
Have you found a product that you would recommend? Get in contact with us and tell us about it!
* (based on periods for 40 years buying a new £20 cup every year)
Grace works for a School Improvement Partnership and is our resident ocean lover. Having worked as a scuba instructor in Indonesia she has picked up her fair share of ocean plastic. Her favourite eco product is Oliva Olive Oil Soap.