Disposable menstrual products are not great for the planet. An average menstrual cycle results in the use of 20 pads or tampons. Multiply that by everyone with a period, then multiply by twelve months in a year, and you can see how this adds up quickly. In the U.S. alone, 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons – and their (often plastic) packaging – are discarded every year.
What can be done about this?
Enter the menstrual cup. A cup can last for up to ten years – that’s a single item keeping thousands of pads, tampons, applicators, and wrappers out of landfill. Sounds great, right?
Why isn’t everyone using them?
There are a number of reasons. In some cases, it’s the product of societal forces, like norms – we live in a throwaway society, and disposable products are simply what’s done. Moreover, the big players in the tampon/disposable pad market are huge corporations with large advertising budgets (there’s, after all, significantly greater profit in selling disposable products that need to be regularly replenished than in selling reusable products which are purchased a handful of times over the course of one’s life!). And in schools, when menstrual education is addressed, the focus has long been on disposable products – again, in part because big corporations have the resources to offer samples to students, instilling brand and product loyalty early on.
But there are also personal reasons that keep us from using cups and that’s what we’re here to address. We’ll help you to choose a cup, and come up with a plan to get past the “what if”s that have kept many of the cup curious from becoming cup converts. (You can also read about the experience and doubts of one of our team members here).
How to choose a cup?
Finding the right cup can seem intimidating. There are a lot of choices and there’s a lot of information out there. It’s easy to spend so much time researching that your cycle comes and goes and you miss your first chance for a plastic-free period. And if you’re having any other doubts, it would be easy to let this step slow you down… but don’t! By all means, do some research. Sit down, read a couple of articles, take the Put A Cup In It Quiz, and then… take your best guess. Most likely, it will be fine. The differences among most of the cups are relatively minor. Quizzes and articles will get you to the right ballpark. Beyond that, you’ll really need to try one to figure out the specifics. Maybe your first cup won’t be the one you order when it’s time for a replacement, but it will probably be fine. It might even be good. It might even be great! So take a quiz, read an article, watch a video if you like, but don’t let this step slow you down. You could read for days or weeks or months – again, there’s a lot out there – and you’re still going to have to take your best guess.
If you don’t feel like putting in a lot of research, and you’re not aware of having any specialized circumstances, Kim and Amanda from Put A Cup In It recommend Lunette or Lena for beginners – they’re middle-of-the-road options that are likely to work for a large cross-section of people.
Okay, so you’ve selected your cup. (Hooray!) Now let’s talk about the “what if”s that can keep cups sitting unused in the bathroom cabinet: what if it doesn’t work? What if it’s messy? What if it hurts?
It’s true that many people have an adjustment period in getting used to the menstrual cup. It’s also worth noting that some don’t, but the general understanding is that you can expect it to take a few cycles to fully get used to the cup.
We understand that you might not want to be trying the cup for the first time in your semi-public office bathroom five minutes before a big meeting. That’s fair enough – let’s find another way.
For your first cycle, if you’re hesitant, consider taking it one day at a time. If your menstrual timing cooperates, try using the cup over a weekend. Otherwise, try it at night. Read the directions, check out an instructional video, and just try it.
If it goes well and you’re feeling good about it, keep going. (You can always wear a liner as a backup if you’re not completely confident. Did you know there are washable, reusable cotton pads and liners?) It’s also worth noting that one of the benefits of the cup is that it holds three times the volume of a pad or a tampon, so, if you have an average flow, it only needs to be emptied every 12 hours. This allows for a fair amount of flexibility. Depending on your work schedule, your commute, and your flow, you could theoretically never have to deal with it at work. You could empty it at 7 am and 7 pm. Or 8 am and 8 pm. You get the idea.
If you’re really having a hard time, it’s okay to stop. Try again next month. If, after a few tries, it’s still really not for you, that’s okay. There are other ways to reduce your plastic use if you’re not interested in the cup or able to use it comfortably.
- Reusable pads. Look for varieties without a plastic/polyester backing – this will reduce plastic microfibers shedding in the wash;
- Period underwear. Again, look for varieties made without synthetic fabrics to avoid microfiber shedding;
- Reusable cotton tampons.
- If disposable tampons are the best option for you, choosing a brand without an applicator will significantly reduce plastic waste.
Photo by Brooke Lark via Unsplash.