Posted on November 4, 2009 by
Image credit: treehugger.com
I realize that today’s topic may squick out some people, but let’s be honest here: The majority of ladies out there are generating a lot of waste for three to five days out of every month. The menstrual cycle is one of Mother Nature’s less convenient gifts to us, and it’s a fact of our modern society that we women will buy products to contain it, and these products will often end up in a landfill. But there is one product out there that virtually eliminates all feminine hygiene-related solid waste altogether, and that product is the menstrual cup.
Before I proceed, I’d like to ask our male readers not to skip out on this discussion simply because the joys of menstruation do not personally happen to you. I’m not trying to be gross here; I’m just talking about an eco-friendly and realistic way to deal with a fact of nature. So let’s all put away our squeamishness and our preconceived notions and talk about this like grown-ups. Okay? Okay.
There are two types of menstrual cups. The first is a reusable bell-shaped cup made of flexible latex or silicone that measures about 2 inches (5 cm) long. There are different widths available; the smaller sizes are typically recommended for women younger than 25, while the larger sizes are for women over 25 and/or who have given birth. The second option is a flexible polyethylene cup that resembles a contraceptive diaphragm, and it is disposable. Because the first option is reusable and therefore greener, I’m going to focus on that one here.
Essentially, the menstrual cup collects the flow rather than absorbing it like pads or tampons. You fold it when inserting; once inside, it resumes its normal shape and forms a seal with the vaginal wall, kind of like a dam. When the cup is full, you simply remove it, dump the contents, then re-insert it. These cups can last as long as 10 years! It’s nothing new, either. The first one was patented in 1932, though the first widely marketed cup, The Keeper, was unveiled in the United States in 1987. (It’s now called The Moon Cup.)
Let’s talk about the pros of using the menstrual cup over pads or tampons. From an environmentalist point of view, it’s obviously a better choice because it eliminates solid waste. I couldn’t find any solid figures on how much feminine hygiene trash goes into our landfills, but common sense tells me it’s a lot. Another pro: There have been no documented cases of toxic shock syndrome with cup users. The FDA has approved them for widespread use, as the menstrual cup has not been proven to cause any health risks. It’s also more convenient if you’re traveling, as you only have to carry one cup rather than a slew of pads or tampons. The cup holds more liquid than even the largest tampons, which is more convenient for women with heavy flows. It’s also much cheaper — a quick search of “menstrual cups” on Amazon tells me you’ll pay roughly $20-$30 for one. Keep in mind they last 10 years, so that’s way less than what you’d pay for pads or tampons over that same time period.
Of course, there are cons as well. Some women find the cup difficult to insert, and they can be messy to remove. I’ve not personally tried the cup, so I can’t attest to its comfort or convenience, but it’s up to each individual woman to decide what works for her.
And that’s it! If a menstrual cup seems too scary for you, there are other ways to reduce the environmental impact of your period. Companies such as Natracare make natural feminine hygiene products out of organic cotton and without using chlorine or plastics. There are also washable cloth pads out there, as well as biodegradable pads and tampons. You could also opt to go on a birth control pill such as Seasonique that reduces your cycle to four periods per year.
I’m very interested to hear what you all think of the menstrual cup. Has anyone used it? If so, what did you think? What are the pros and cons? Would you recommend it? If you haven’t tried it, would you consider doing so? Why or why not?