…by which I mean my zero waste journey began with a cup. Still confused? Let me start by giving you a snap-shot of my what my life was like around a year ago…
I would wake up in the morning and take the dog, Grue, for a walk and use a nappy sack to pick up his poo – why a nappy sack? Because they’re a f**k load cheaper than buying doggie poop bags! After the walk I would go about my day, often buying bread knowing we would likely only get through half the loaf before it went mouldy. I would buy plastic bottles of milk, again knowing we probably wouldn’t get through all of it. I would also buy a plastic bag filled with potatoes, some of which were destined to turn green and start sprouting… and yet it didn’t occur to me at the time that I was wasting more money on rotting food than I was saving on poop bags!
So what does this have to do with a cup? Well, one day I was looking to mix up my regular workout a little and thought I might give aqua aerobics a go. The classes were on almost daily and
were are extremely popular – The earliest class that had an open space was when I was due to be on day 2 of my next period (yes, this post is all about periods but this paragraph is probably the most graphic so skip ahead if you’re squeamish). Now for a lot of women that’s not a problem, just pop a fresh tampon in before you get in the pool and replace as soon as you get out – unfortunately day 2 tends to be my HEAVY day. I would typically need to use a max size tampon and would have to change it within 4 hours. But, I really really really wanted to give the class a try, so I hit the internet to see if anyone had come up with any alternatives and that’s then I discovered menstrual cups.
Menstrual cups, if you’re not aware, are typically made from medical grade silicone and are worn inside the body like you would a tampon, except instead of absorbing the flow, it gets collected and then emptied. They are reusable, lasting for up to 10 years, so are far kinder to the environment than their disposable counterpart and are generally kinder to the body – there’s no need to include a Toxic Shock Syndrome warning on the label and well, have you ever tried to remove a tampon too soon? You know, when it’s really painful and seems stuck to your insides to the point where the tampon itself appears to be breaking apart as you slowly wrench it out? That’s because the tampon actually IS stuck to your insides and has likely left some fibres behind on it’s way out. You see the tampon is designed to absorb, it’s doused in chemicals to make it even better at absorbing everything. It cannot distinguish between menstrual flow and natural vaginal discharge, which btw is how the body keeps the area clean and free of (certain) infections, so it soaks up everything remotely damp that it comes into contact with. So I decided to buy a cup, but then which one?
When buying a cup, there are sooooo many options – different shapes, sizes, colours. It was a little overwhelming at first. So, I took my time, did some research, stuck with my usual tampons and missed the aqua aerobics class in the meantime, and then I finally made a purchase. Why so many options? Well it’s because everyone is different. A woman’s age and whether or not she has given birth naturally will have an influence on the size/shape, having a high/low cervix will determine the length (or indeed absence) of a stem (which can be trimmed) for example. I may be skipping over quite a bit of important info here, so if you have any questions please leave a comment or drop me an email and I’ll happily respond.
So the cup I went for was the Lumunu Moskito cup which I purchased from Amazon. I went for a small sized one with a stem. This one also came with a carry pouch for when not in use, a bamboo brush to clean it with and a sachet of lubricant. The second day of my next period I had to travel to London for the weekend and was really paranoid about putting the cup in wrong and leaking everywhere, and yes I know I should have stuck with the tampons for yet another cycle, but instead of taking the sane option, I put in the cup and then stuck a pad onto my underpants and off I went to become a Bodycombat instructor.
What I learnt on that first cycle was that I could now go 8 hours on my heaviest day without leaking (that’s double the time I could get from a tampon). I also learnt that removing (and to an extent inserting) a cup requires patience and practice – and you will more than likely make a mess whilst developing the correct technique (I had pretty much mastered it by the end of the second period). I also spent my train journey home working out that by using the cup instead of tampons (based on my average usage) I would save almost £800 over the 10 year period some cups claim to last for. For the record, I did not leak so the pad was thankfully superfluous.
It was also on my way home that I was telling my friend all about my cup-based adventure and she was very curious, especially with regards to the environmental and financial benefits, but confessed to preferring pads over tampons. I figured there must be an eco friendly pad alternative too, so I hit the internet again and discovered cloth pads. It is only a 30-40 minute train journey from central London to Biggleswade so I left it there for the day and continued my search the following day.
Whilst looking into reusable cloth pads I discovered each disposable pad contains as much plastic as 4 carrier bags and are also doused in chemicals aimed at increasing absorbency. I also came across a statistic saying the average woman will get through roughly 17000 sanitary products during her reproductive years (I’ll link to this stat when I find it again).
I was utterly shocked by this and immediately shared the info with my friend and sent her some links to places where she could purchase some cloth pads. Disposable pads are cheaper than tampons and a full set of cloth pads will likely cost as much (or more) than a cup, plus each will only last for 3-5 years, however my friend and I worked out that over 3 years she would still be saving around £250 – not to mention having less waste going to landfill.
It was around this time that I discovered many girls/women around the world are having to miss out on their education/work because they are unable to afford any sanitary protection. I resolved to start making some pads to ship out but I’ll save that for another post. Instead, I’ll leave you with the news that I have since been able to go along to some amazing aqua aerobics classes and my periods are actually shorter, lighter and pain-free now (can’t say for certain if it is because of the cup, just pointing out the correlation); and more importantly, my friend’s pads arrived just as her period finished but she has been unable to use them at all as she’s expecting a baby girl any day now!