Zero Waste Period

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It took me forever to try a menstrual cup, and for the life of me, I don't know why. I was afraid. I thought they'd be gross and hard to use. Now I'm obsessed! It was the single most life-changing zero waste switch I made. Dysmenorrhea, hypermenorrhea, amenhorrhea- you name it, I had it all. With the cup, my period regulated itself. Cramps went away. Each cycle was lighter and shorter. Instead of doubling up on super-plus pads and tampons to prevent leaks, I can swim, wear light colors, and function normally. I only wish I started sooner.

In the US, around 19 billion pads and tampons are thrown away annually. Feminine hygiene products sent to wastewater treatment facilities require hours of costly, energy-intensive processing, after which they end up on beaches or in landfills anyway. Disposable options don't biodegrade in septic systems, and landfill conditions preserve them. The average woman may use up to 16,800 tampons in her lifetime! That's a lot of trash, pesticides, dioxin, and potential toxicity to deal with, even at ultra-low levels of exposure. 

Researching non-disposable options led me down an eye-opening rabbit hole. There are natural sponges, period panties, crocheted hemp and cotton tampons, and reusable pads ranging from Glad Rags to Luna Pads to homemade, organic fleece styles. Despite my initial misgivings, I decided it was better to collect, not absorb, and purchased a clear, medical-grade silicone Moon Cup- certified vegan, with a fair-trade, organic cotton storage pouch in renewable-energy powered, 100% post-consumer recycled packaging. Designed to last a decade, the $35 investment offers significant savings over pricey (and often ineffective) pads and tampons. I immediately loved the convenience of not having to schlep to a store every time I had my period, or ask a friend or co-worker for a tampon in emergency situations.  

Some women report needing several cycles to get used to a menstrual cup. Others try various models before finding a good fit. The Moon Cup size B, for women under 30 who haven't given birth yet, worked perfectly right away. I trimmed a few centimeters off the stem for comfort, folded it in half, and couldn't feel a thing. Rinsing the cup with water first aids insertion. There were no leaks, even while sleeping, and compared to tampons, removal was a breeze. With a capacity of 28 ml, you may not need to empty during the workday- on average, heavy bleeders lose about 80 ml blood per cycle. In public restrooms, simply pull the stem to empty and A) re-insert as is, B) bring drinking water into the stall with you, or C) wipe with toilet paper. Just wash hands before and after handling, clean the cup when you get home, and don't drop it. Sounds overwhelming, but the cup seems a lot more sanitary and convenient than tampons or pads, without any foul odors to boot. 

Silicone usage is controversial among zero waste, plastic-free folk. Silicone is a synthetic rubber composed of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms. It is non-toxic to aquatic or animal life, nor does it negatively impact soil and water. However, medical grade silicone is derived from petrochemical resources and often tested on animals. I know this seems hypocritical, since I'm all "down with microfiber" and staunchly anti-synthetics, but I feel comfortable using silicone because it's highly durable and, though non-compostable, fully recyclable. Toxicity databases and longitudinal studies indicate silicones are inert and unlikely to pose hazardous health threats. From what I've read, claims of cyclic and linear polysiloxane toxicity, carcinogenicity, and inflammation occur infrequently, in the presence of other toxins and infections. Of course, this is a personal choice, and everyone should do their own research before making a decision. Fully biodegradable rubber cups, such as the Keeper, are one option for women without latex allergies. I read online that menstrual cups are compatible with intrauterine devices, but found only one study about expulsion, so consult a gynecologist before use (UPDATE: I've used these with an IUD with no problems).

The main factors to consider in choosing a cup are flow (determines cup size), how high or low your cervix sits (determines cup length), firmness (depends on bladder strength), color (I prefer dye-free, but some people want color to hide stains, or express their personality or something), handle type (not everyone likes the stem), and ethics. For instance, you may want to purchase from a company with a buy one, give one program. Don't stress too much about the other stuff- differences between cups are fairly nominal. Use vinegar or boiling water to sterilize; reusable pads and tampons can be tossed in the wash. Not quite ready for reusables? NatraCare disposable pads and tampons are organic, biodegradable and unbleached. To me, a single reusable cup made the most sense economically and environmentally, considering the cost of disposables and energy inputs needed to harvest and process plant cellulose. 

Paris to Go

41 comments:

  1. Thank you a thousand times for finally writing a post on this! This blog has been my go-to in transitioning to a less wasteful lifestyle, but this was the one topic I needed more information on. You answered all of my burning questions. I wonder though, how do you bring drinking water into the stall with you? Is it ok to just use water from the tap? Thank you for all the research and personal experience that went into this.

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    1. Thank you Sophia! Some people keep a small cup or use the plastic carrying case their cup comes in. Tap water is fine in most places. The point is the water has to be potable. I read once that you're not supposed to use airplane bathroom water on the cup for instance, but drinking water. Not sure how true that is or how much it matters.

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    2. I've been using a Diva cup for years now (I LOVE it!), and I've never worried about washing it while in a public stall. I just use a bit of toilet paper to wipe it clean before reinserting it and then wash it as I normally would do (soap and water) the next time. I never have to empty it in a public bathroom more than once a day, though, so maybe that would change my method?

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  2. I've been using one for several years now. It's probably my biggest zero-waste success (my use of reusable bags being a close second!). It can take a few tries to get the hang of it but it's so worth it. I have the Diva Cup, FWIW.

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    1. That's wonderful Laurie! I'm so surprised at how many women are menstrual cup users and have such positive things to say about them.

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  3. It's worth noting that rubber cups should not be used if your partner has a latex allergy as well. I find sponges to be very effective at preventing leaks and comfortable, but they're a little harder to remove than the cup, and don't last as long. Only about six months. But since trying zero-waste menstrual products, I will not go back. I was sick of the hassle. While I'm not one to enjoy a 'moon flow' I appreciate the ease of a more natural routine.

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    1. I was wondering about sponges. I never used them but heard good things. Six months is still better than a single-use item. Oh yeah, I know nothing about moon flows but I love the convenience and savings of reusables :)

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  4. I tried the Diva Cup and it was.....shall we say....INSANELY uncomfortable. Luckily I also ordered a Lunette cup which was much softer and easier to remove and use. I almost never needed to empty it in a public stall (actually I can't think of any times). At most I needed to empty it three times on the heaviest days, in the morning, after work, and at night before bed. You can use it with washable woolen pads if you're afraid of leaks.

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    1. That is interesting! Good to know the difference in materials. I didn't know there were woolen pads either, thanks for sharing.

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  5. I have been waiting for this post.

    I made the switch last year. The first time I looked at it, I thought there was no way I was going to use one. It looked very scary. I finally gave it a go after I wrote down my zero waste resolutions. And I cant believe how easy and convenient it is. I wish I got started sooner. It has become leak free after the first month. I used it with pany liners till I got confident about it being leak free. I am more comfortable using it now.

    I do think its a slight inconvenience changing in public restrooms. I have a heavy short duration period. I have to change multiple times during the day. But nothing some basic hygiene techniques cant fix.

    And not to mention the money saved from not buying disposables.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience Archana, good to know that a little planning helps in public restrooms. I couldn't believe the ease either. I never in a million years thought I'd use one. Good to know it was leak free after a month, not bad at all!

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    2. I love the blog you have created. Look at all the women out here sharing their experiences !

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  6. I love my Diva cup and cotton panty liners ~ I will never go back to industrial plastic feminine hygiene products. Regarding using tap water to rinse and reinsert, I use a peri bottle to rinse and clean my Diva cup when out-and-about.

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    1. Good idea! Wow, so many people love the cup, that's awesome!

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  7. I've tried the Diva cup, the Keeper and Moon Cup. I did NOT like the Keeper, being natural rubber it was bizarre and oddly like using a plunger. I struggled along for several years with sponges and reusable pads before re-braving the world of menstrual cups. I loved my Diva cup and used it nearly a decade before an unfortunate squatting toilet incident in a small Italian train station. My replacement was the Moon Cup (only because I couldn't find a Diva Cup where I was at the time). And, after 5 months use, I love my Moon Cup just as much as the Diva.

    I will say, beyond getting past the surprising size, the only issue with ease of use is learning how to properly create a seal so there's no leakage.

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    1. The Keeper looked a little intense for me. That's too bad about the train station in Italy :( But it's great that you were able to switch, I always wonder about the differences between cups. So far everything I've heard is they are fairly similar. Yea the surprise was intimidating out of the box but ended up not being an issue in use!

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  8. Like the others, this is the post I really wanted to see. Reusable pads didn't cut it for me. I found that to create the seal I simply needed to twist the cup until it popped open (I also prefer to fold it in half. I use a Mooncup, other cups may be larger in size and need different folds to function). To break the seal I didn't even need my finger, I simply pulled the stem. The stem as is was a little long, and I did cut half an inch off to make it so that I couldn't feel it anymore. I feel it's more discreet in a public restroom than fiddling with tampon packaging. I did have to explain my bloody fingers at the sink but rest assured, your female coworkers will be more sympathetic and curious than grossed out. At least that's my experience! I think I've converted half the office.

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    1. That's what I do too for the seal. I haven't had to deal with bloody fingers yet but it's great that your officemates are so supportive :)

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  9. I'm intrigued by the idea of the cup, but I'm reading conflicting information. Can't you only use them for a year? Some people report health issues with the cup. I was diagnosed with endometriosis 11 years ago, and my obgyn recommended a menstrual cup to help cope with the heavy periods. But online I read that it is associated with increased risk of endometriosis? That being said I like the idea that the Keeper is a US made product. The plunger part is so not appealing though!

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    1. I think the only paper on endometriosis and menstrual cups was published at Kenyon College (I can't find the exact paper now) but it discussed the theoretical risk of endometriosis in the presence of other issues and predisposition:

      http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/657679.html

      I couldn't find any more recent papers or studies. Probably your doctor knows best. I can't see how an obgyn would have an interest in recommending one other than to help ease your symptoms. The Keeper is made in Ohio, right?

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    2. I had my first Diva Cup for 10 years, so I don't think it can be true that you can only use them for a year!

      The fact that a doctor recommended that you use a cup because you have endometriosis, makes me immediately suspicious of a link between endometriosis use and menstrual cup use. It could easily be the case that women who have difficult periods are more likely to try alternative period solutions.

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    3. That's great to know Sadie! I've had mine for almost three years and it still has no stains and works great. I hope it will last as long as yours.

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    4. The funniest thing is that after using no disposables for 10 years, I didn't even know where they were in the store. I had to run out to get some for a friend once, walked in the giant mega-grocery I go to every week, and realized I didn't even know which side they were on. It took me forever to find them, and then I was horrified at how expensive they had become!

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  10. I have been using mine (same brand as in picture) for four years now. I had known about them for a decade, but just like you a bit afraid to try. I am very happy with mine and have not gone back to pads. I know people who have been using the same cup for more than a decade now. Amazing contribution to reducing waste.

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    1. I never even heard about them for a long time... my mom told me about them and now I'm so happy. That's a lot of disposables kept out of landfills!

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  11. I know women (including my mother) who've been using menstrual cups for decades as well with no adverse problems. The longest I heard of a menstrual cup lasting was 15 years. With proper care and cleaning it won't accumulate bacteria, especially if you choose a medical grade silicone cup. I myself only started a few years ago, but I know menstrual cups predate tampons and pads. Interestingly, companies realized they weren't profiting enough from menstrual cups and made a disposable version instead. It was made from polyethylene and I believe it's still on the market if I'm not mistaken. Sounds like a nasty thing to put in your body, but some people swear by the softcup kind.

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    1. That is good to know! Yea the history is amazing. It's kind of evil how marketers put aside our health concerns for the sake of profit. Oh well. I guess they didn't know about the dangers at the time and they were thinking about their employees' jobs.

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    2. I tried the disposable cup version (I think it's called Instead) before I bought my Diva Cup. It was like a Livestrong bracelet with a plastic bag attached. HATED it.

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  12. I've tried the Meluna classic and the Lunette. The Meluna classic was too soft for me, so it leaked when I moved, maybe the sport version would have been better. With the Lunette I'm very happy. I also like natural sponges. You can use them as so-called Soft Tampons are supposed to be used.
    There's a great overview of the different brands on afriska.ch (if this is allowed) in English, French and German.

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    1. Ah thanks for sharing your experience about the Meluna, I know some people like them so it's good to hear about its properties. I never heard of Soft Tampons before! And thanks for sharing that overview! Of course it's allowed :) It's very helpful!

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  13. All of these positive reviews, I'm surprised more women haven't used them or even heard of them before. You would be shocked at how many eyebrows were raised when I tried to buy my first cup in our drugstores here. I don't know anybody else who uses one, so it's exciting to see the positive reviews. It makes me feel like I belong to an enlightened society, knowing the secret to a better period!

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    1. I'm surprised too. It says a lot about marketing and the power of industry influence. It seems like all the gynecologists I've ever seen love them though. That is crazy that they treated you like that when you wanted to buy a cup... I got mine in a natural foods store and got no attitude. It was totally normal to them.

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  14. I have seen these for years and always meant to buy one, opting instead for reusable cloth pads. Your post has reminded me of my wish to simplify this area of my life, so I will certainly go to buy one at the health foods store down the street this week. Thanks.

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  15. I remember reading in earlier posts your use of the Mooncup and my head was blown. We're so ingrained as adolescents that the only form of female sanitary product acceptable is tampons or pads, therefore anything alternative is just "too much". However, I just pressed purchase on my very first cup (JuJu - Australian brand) and am eagerly waiting its arrival. This post has convinced me the switch to cup is the way to go, not only in a sustainable way but for convenience and logic too. I can't tell you how many positive lifestyle changes I've made thanks to your posts. What's more, they're all achievable and easy to adopt and take little extra thought to maintain.

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    1. Cindy, sorry I didn't see this until just now but thank you for saying that! This made me so happy :) I hope you like the cup!

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  16. I have had my Mooncup more than 7 years and it's still going strong. It felt uncomfortable post-partum so I cut the stem off but that didn't help. Turning it inside out worked a treat! After 2nd labour I get leaks unfortunately, not sure if it's temporary or if I need to look for a brand that makes larger cups. I haven't researched it yet.
    What form of birth control do you use/recommend? Any experience with caps?

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    1. Great to hear that it works great for you! And congratulations on your 2nd baby :) I don't recommend a particular form of birth control because I know it's a very personal thing, and I can't use birth control because of a medical condition, but I understand if someone isn't zero waste about it. I'd never judge anyone for using medicine or medication packaged in plastic, I do so myself when it's necessary. It's better to be healthy and safe than slavish about packaging.

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    2. I am assuming since Diaphragms and caps are reusable, they'd be better than condoms in terms of zero-waste. I don't really consider contraception as medication except maybe pill or injection but I would never go anywhere near them and it has nothing to do with zero-waste.

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  17. Made the switch this month after doing some research on living more sustainably - and I love it. Can't believe it took me so long to try it out!

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