Menstrual Cup

Have you ever thought about sustainability during your period? This is the moment!

Many people think that a sustainable lifestyle equals an expansive lifestyle or a burdensome, complex or difficult lifestyle. This does not have to be the case at all. There are many ways in which you can decrease your environmental footprint, while at the same time making your life easier, more comfortable and more fun! Today I will write about a more sustainable menstrual hygiene product. The menstrual cup! In my opinion, this is a life changing and empowering product. Next to being more environmental than other menstrual products, it is hygienic, easy to use, cheap, comfortable and you will be much less dependent on toilets nearby! Do I have to say more? 

Environmental and other downsides of “regular” menstrual products

It is estimated that per year in North America 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators are brought to landfills. In a lifetime of monthly menstruation on average between 10,000 and 16,800 of disposable pads or tampons are used which equals 125 to 150 kg of waste. Pads are partly made of plastic, which takes hundreds of years to degrade. Another ingredient of pads and tampons is cotton, which is an agricultural product that needs a lot of space, energy and water to grow. Also, pads and tampons are often still disposed in the toilet, which can result in an obstructed sewage system. Otherwise, they end up in landfills and are burned or just stay at the landfill and leak plastics and other chemicals in the environment, causing pollution.

Other problems connected to pads is that they can smell, because the blood gets into contact with oxygen. Also, they form a source of food for bacteria, which can cause discomfort. Tampons, on the other hand, don’t only absorb blood, but also other body “juices” which are actually important for a healthy area “down under”. Also, there are incidents of a “toxic shock syndrome”, which can be fatal, as a result of using tampons for too long (without changing it every few hours).

The cup and its benefits

Enough negativity now, let’s focus on the menstrual cup and its benefits. In the first half of the twentieth century the cup has been developed for the first time. Since then, a lot of improvement has been done to make the menstrual cup the comfortable, convenient, economic, safe and environmental product that it is today. Since around 2003, the popularity and availability of the cup has increased widely. Nowadays there are more than 50 different types, coming in different sizes and colours. There is even an organic version of the cup (organicup). 

But what is this cup actually? The cup is made of flexible medical grade silicone, which is quite easy to insert and pull out. It is antibacterial, which makes it more hygienic as it repels bacteria. Also, it is hypoallergenic, which makes it extremely unlikely that people are allergic to it. The main reason that it is so environmental is that you can use one cup for up to 10 years. This means that less cups need to be made (therefore less resources used) and less products end up in landfills (less waste). Most users would only need four cups for their whole life! Next to this more technical properties, you don’t feel or barely feel the cup and you only need to change it twice a day. Besides possible cramps that you might still have, nothing else will keep you from doing sports, go swimming or dance out all night long, even during your period!

So, why is it so important to talk about this topic in connection to sustainability? Sustainability is a broad and complex challenge. The United Nations have developed a set of international goals aimed at tackling all aspects of sustainability, which are called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The topic of sustainable menstrual products is connected to at least four of these goals, including Goal 3 on health and wellbeing, Goal 5 on gender equality, Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and Goal 13 on combating climate change. Next to the more obvious connection to the environment and health, the cup is also key to reducing the inequality between different groups. For example, by increasing the quality of life and productivity of people that menstruate. 

The Society & Environment Interest Group (SEIG) wants AEGEE to contribute to reaching the SDGs and can help you and your local in many different ways. Next to writing articles like this one, SEIG can provide trainers and workshop materials to address the SDGs and other sustainability topics within your AEGEE local. 

Written by Maartje Zaal