Informed choice around menstruation can be empowering
A week ago, I joined a group of individuals advocating to not only reduce the use of plastics during menstruation, but also the impacts periods have more widely.
Menstrual health impacts:
- Engagement in education - many girls don’t attend school during their periods
- Bodily autonomy and dignity – many people feel huge shame during their periods, and limit their movements and activities as a result
- Creates economic pressures – due to the continual cost of period products.
So, informed choice regarding how periods are managed can create important individual and societal benefits. But the environmental impacts of period products and the options available to menstruators are still rarely discussed.
Menstrual cups* should be part of the environmentally friendly period conversation
Why you ask?
Including menstrual cups in the period agenda means greater choice for those who menstruate. During a lifetime, a menstruator choosing disposable period products will use about 11,000 tampons or pads in the global north. Moreover, conventional plastic applicators take some 500 years to decompose.
This means that disposable menstrual products have huge environmental impacts. Beyond the waste they create, the life cycle of the product affects the environment; from the pesticides used in growing the cotton, through to transport emissions and packaging production.
In comparison, menstrual cups last around ten years and require very little water use. They are made of medical-grade silicone and the production and waste implications are far more environmentally friendly that the disposable alternatives.
But periods are more than just the products
The ability to make informed choices about one’s period is also linked to health and societal benefits, not just environmental ones. Did you know….
Tampons are not made from just cotton. Pesticides, fragrance chemicals and other unsafe components, including endocrine disruptors, are hidden in many period products. Made Safe has developed a period product profile where you can learn more about the toxic chemicals in tampons.
Apart from large economic savings (in Europe, you will save around 5,000 euros in a lifetime by using reusable period products), reusable products lead to social benefits too.
Disposable products are also sometimes associated with risky behavior for people living in poverty – for example exchanging sex for money, in order to earn the income needed to afford menstrual products.
Lack of access and availability of period products has been associated with poor school attendance. Menstrual cups pose a solution to that problem and not only improve attendance but school performance: while using it, pupils do not have to leave the classroom to change or worry about a lack of suitable toilets for changing in while at school, as the cup can stay inside the vagina for up to 12 hours.
Is there a single or best solution for managing periods?
No, it’s what works best for each person and ensuring that the information is available to make an informed choice. Menstrual cups are not perfect for everyone. But when introducing menstrual cups in the period-choice conversation, it has often been found that people are incredibly pragmatic: they will favour the most convenient choice for their context. As research has found, around 70% of menstrual cups users do not want to ever use anything else after just three months.
Keep sharing our stories
In the past few years, the attention on menstrual cups has risen exponentially. Partly responsible for this is the Menstrual Cup Coalition, a collection of organisations advocating for increased availability and access to menstrual cups. In addition, The Menstrual Cup Fund managed by MannionDaniels provides grants to organisations delivering innovative menstrual health projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Let’s continue to educate ourselves and others and advocate for more open period discussions.
The content in this piece is a follow up from the event “Plastic-free periods” organized by the Plastic Pollution Coalition on the 28th July 2021. Learn about the speakers of the event Amy Ziff, founder and Executive Director of Nontoxic Certified & the MADE SAFE® certification; Alethea Osborne - Technical Specialist in Gender & Social Development, MannionDaniels; and Nadya Okamoto - Co-Founder of August & Author of PERIOD POWER.
* Menstrual cups are reusable period products that collect period blood in the vagina. They are made of medical-grade silicone or latex rubber and, when placed correctly, cannot be felt.