Would I even be a wannabe zero-waster if I didn’t do a post on using a menstrual cup?!
Pretty much every (female) zero-waste Instagram feed has at least one pic of a menstrual cup, so I thought ‘d better see what all the fuss is about.
What is a Menstrual Cup?
There are a few brands of menstrual cup out there, I purchased a Diva Cup as it was the cheaper of the two available at the store I was in. On their website, Diva Cup explains a menstrual cup as:
A reuseable, bell-shaped cup that is worn internally and sits low in the vaginal canal, collecting, rather than absorbing menstrual flow. Menstrual cups have existed since the 1930’s.
My initial reason behind using a menstrual cup was to cut down on waste. Although tampons are small, over the course of our lives we go through a LOT of them.
Here’s a quick estimate of how many the average woman might use in her life….
Let’s say most girls get their first period around the age of 13 and their last around the age of 50. That’s 37 years of menstruation. But, we’ll take off a few years for pregnancy and breastfeeding – so 33 years worth of periods.
If we have a “monthly” once a month, or every four weeks, then, in theory we have about 12 periods per year.
33 years x 12 periods = 396 periods in one lifetime.
For this part I will assume I’m average. In any given 24 hours during my period I use around four to five tampons and my period usually lasts around five days.
4.5 tampons x 5 days = 22.5 tampons per period.
396 overall periods x 22.5 tampons = 8,910 tampons in a lifetime.
And that’s a conservative estimate. Treehugger states it could be as much as 16,800! Think about the increase in volume if you use pads!
Not only that, I have a tendency to wrap my used tampons in toilet paper – more waste, and think of all the plastic packaging around each individual tampon/pad and around the box they come in.
But there’s more…
According to Life Without Plastic (my new favourite book by Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha), “most tampons and pads are made of bleached cotton, viscose rayon or a combination of both.” Although both derived from natural products, they “may be bleached using dioxin-creating chlorine and carcinogenic dioxins are amongst the most toxic chemicals out there.” Plus, they probably contain pesticide residues left over from non-organic farming practices.
Not only that, tampons and pads also contain polymers (plastics), synthetic gels with surfactants and polyethylene dry weave plastic backings (meaning you can’t compost tampons or pads, they are destined for landfill). Although it’s still hotly debated, the possible side effects of these substances include:
- Allergic rash
- Cervical cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Breast cancer
- Immune system deficiencies
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Toxic shock syndrome
Yikes! That’s a lot of nasties in your lady bits.
You put THAT in there?!
Quote un-quote my dear husband. Compared to tampons, a menstrual cup seems somewhat large.
The Diva Cup comes in two sizes:
1 – for those under 30 and/or have not given birth.
2 – for those over 30 and/or have given birth vaginally or by caesarean.
It was like that moment when you have to tick the next age group box – and I ticked both the boxes for size two. Here I was, standing in the aisle of the health food store, my life being defined into a tight or loose vagina category and to my horror, I am apparently the latter. Girls and young women – heed this warning – babies change EVERYTHING!
Even I was dubious about the size of the cup, considering it’s size in comparison to a tampon, but when you’ve delivered an almost 4kg baby with a 35cm head circumference, I really don’t think it will be an issue.
Looking at the cup, I was envisaged it to go something like this…
After two false starts I finally got the hang of insertion and can report it is much more comfortable and easier than I was imagining.
Here’s what I love:
- Menstrual cups can last up to 12 hours before you need to clean them, four hours longer than a tampon, meaning in a lot of ways, they are more convenient. You might only need to change it two or three times a day, instead of my usual four or five with a tampon. So realistically, I could change it before bed, before work and then when I get home from work.
- They save soooo much waste – as per above. One menstrual cup will last you anywhere from 5 – 12 years and come in a simple cardboard box. Although when I read the fine print, Diva Cup recommend you replace yours every 12 months. even so, that’s 33 cups versus 8,910 tampons.
- They save you money. The average cup is around $50AUD so give or take $200 – $800 over your 400 periods (or $1,650 if you buy one every year), versus tampons, which will cost you in the vicinity of $2,700+ during the course of your 400 periods.
- Advocates tout menstrual cups hold more, leak less and have no odour. I haven’t been using mine long enough but I believe it!
- You don’t have to worry about that annoying little string when you go to the loo… nothing worse than when you forget and wee all over it!
What’s not to love:
- The Diva cup is made of silicone, which in essence is a type of plastic – by the time they add all the fillers to morph it from sand to the rubbery substance we know as silicone that is. On the bright side, silicone is a reasonably stable substance, so as long it’s in good nick and medical grade, there shouldn’t be any concern about leaching (a lot of plastics are unstable and can leach toxins).
- Changing it in public places. Since you need to wash the cup in oil and fragrance-free soap in-between uses, it could be a bit messy and awkward trying to clean it in a public setting and ensuring there is soap readily available. This could be solved by timing it so that you won’t have to change it when out. Given you only have to change it every 12 hours this shouldn’t be too difficult.
There you have it, like all the other zero-wasters, I’m a convert, and I figure, although I’m making assumptions, it’s got to be better than reuseable cloth/wool/bamboo tampons or pads right? I’m almost through the cloth nappy stage, I don’t want to be washing my own nappies for the next 20 years!