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Sustainable Menstruation Through Menstrual Cup: Keeping You & The Earth Clean

Every year, close to 20 billion menstrual products such as sanitary napkins and tampons are dumped into landfills in a single country - imagine the global situation! Discarding the use of sanitary products is close to impossible, especially considering that women on periods are no longer required to hide behind the veils of the social construct of femininity. And, the environmental impact caused by the sanitary napkins is one amongst the most discussed topics.

A normal sanitary napkin or a tampon contains large amounts of plastic, which can take up to 500-800 years to decompose. In India, 432 million sanitary napkins are produced every year - which all end up in landfills or even worse scattered all around on the earth. Because of our culture and social setting, women naturally opt pads or tampons as that is what we see around us. That is, television commercials or print ads, whatever it may be, is centralised on acknowledging sanitary napkins as the best means during one's menstrual cycle [1] .

But, with the rampant rise in the levels of global pollution and environmental crisis - time has come to renew your conventional ways and chose sustainable menstruation. A single person uses 11,000 sanitary pads or napkins in their lifetime and now, multiply that with the number of the female population who are menstruating[2] .

The challenge of disposable feminine hygiene products are posing an imminent risk, environmental researchers assert. It is not only the product waste that is causing concern but also the packaging and covering of these hygiene products are made of plastic.

So, what is the best and feasible solution for having an environmentally sustainable period? It is overtly due that as an earthling, we begin taking environmentally conscious steps in our daily life. From Meat Free Monday to Reduce. Reuse. Recycle, there a plethora of ways and means you can adopt to lead a normal that is beneficial not only for you but for the earth that you live in[3] [4] .

And the best way to shift towards an environment-friendly period every month is by switching to menstrual cups.

What Are Menstrual Cups?

One of the lesser-used and talked about feminine hygiene measures, menstrual cups are not an invention of the twenty-first century. Having been around for more than 80 years, these eco-friendly feminine hygiene products are in demand now - thanks to the environmentally conscious society. With various awareness and health campaigns all across India actively popularizing the idea of sustainable menstruation, there are various measures to utilise menstrual care products without any impact on the environment[5] .

Menstrual cups are one of the most cost-effective as well as inexpensive menstrual hygiene product that has a life span of 10 years. The medical-grade silicone used in the manufacturing of menstrual cups has very low chances of contracting any infections or irritations.

With various brands already in the market, getting yourself one is very easy. There is stigma pertaining to the use of menstrual cup as some people tend to believe that it can result in breaking the hymen - causing one to 'lose their virginity.' But let me tell you, with the support of more than thousands of studies that, the sleek container made of soft and clear silicone easily fits (can be irritating the first or second time) and eliminates the possibility of any rashes or irritation [6] [7] .

In comparison to sanitary napkins and tampons, menstrual cups can accommodate larger volumes and avoid any spill and does not emit any odour. Contrary to popular belief (which is actually changing), menstrual cups are travel-friendly and do not need to be changed every 5-6 hours [8] .

How To Use Menstrual Cup For A Healthier Period

Impact Of Menstrual Cups On The Environment

With tampons and sanitary napkins being 90 per cent plastic, it is imperative that we adopt a more sustainable measure. An average user of menstrual hygiene products throws away 125 to 150 kg of pads and tampons which then ends up in rivers, landfills, beaches, oceans and almost everywhere. It is not uncommon to see sanitary napkin and tampon waste scattered around public places - 'thanks' to the 800 years period of decomposing [9] .

To put it simply, even after you die, your menstrual product waste will still be there - not decomposing. Apart from the plastic waste produced from these products, manufacturing these products, turning wood into soft, cotton-like fibres is both resource and chemical-intensive. This leaves abundant carbon-footprint, which is simply irreversible [10] .

Currently, hygiene experts and health professionals are encouraging the use of menstrual cups especially due to the very minute, actually the zero-negative impact it has on the environment. As asserted by Dr Michael Brook, a silicone expert at McMaster University, "menstrual cups are in fact a greener alternative."

Silica, with which the menstrual cups are made of, is a type of sand that degrades with time. Upon degradation, the silica goes back to its original form (the second most abundant mineral in the Earth's crust) and does not pose any negative effects on the environment [11] .

Benefits Of Using Menstrual Cups

Apart from the definite fact that menstrual cups are the eco-friendly option, it also possesses various other benefits [12] .

  • It lasts up to 10 years and is cost-effective.
  • It is more comfortable and safer.
  • It is the easy pick because menstrual cups only come in two types - depending on your flow, or whether you're pre or post-childbirth.
  • It holds more blood.
  • It does not cause toxic shock syndrome.
  • You can wear a cup with an IUD.
  • It does not pose any restriction on sexual intercourse.

On A Final Note...

Though there are other options such as organic pads and tampons made from sustainable materials that are decomposable, biodegradable and a 100 per cent plastic-free - menstrual cups are easily the best option, considering the money spent. The biodegradable sanitary pads made of cloth are a bit on the expensive side (due to the cost incurred in its careful and precise production), further increasing the relevance of menstrual cups. It is high-time that you switch to the earth's side, as she is dire need of saving. Choose menstrual cups and bleed guilt-free!

View Article References
  1. [1] Sommer, M. (2010). Putting menstrual hygiene management on to the school water and sanitation agenda. Waterlines, 29(4), 268-278.
  2. [2] Phillips-Howard, P. A., Nyothach, E., ter Kuile, F. O., Omoto, J., Wang, D., Zeh, C., ... & Eleveld, A. (2016). Menstrual cups and sanitary pads to reduce school attrition, and sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections: a cluster randomised controlled feasibility study in rural western Kenya. BMJ open, 6(11), e013229.
  3. [3] Van der Molen, R. G., Schutten, J. H. F., Van Cranenbroek, B., Ter Meer, M., Donckers, J., Scholten, R. R., ... & Joosten, I. (2013). Menstrual blood closely resembles the uterine immune micro-environment and is clearly distinct from peripheral blood. Human reproduction, 29(2), 303-314.
  4. [4] Mitchell, M. A., Bisch, S., Arntfield, S., & Hosseini-Moghaddam, S. M. (2015). A confirmed case of toxic shock syndrome associated with the use of a menstrual cup. Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology, 26(4), 218-220.
  5. [5] Sommer, M., Caruso, B. A., Sahin, M., Calderon, T., Cavill, S., Mahon, T., & Phillips-Howard, P. A. (2016). A time for global action: addressing girls’ menstrual hygiene management needs in schools. PLoS medicine, 13(2), e1001962.
  6. [6] Chambers, C., & Chambers, F. (2008). U.S. Patent Application No. 11/663,470.
  7. [7] Phillips-Howard, P. A., Caruso, B., Torondel, B., Zulaika, G., Sahin, M., & Sommer, M. (2016). Menstrual hygiene management among adolescent schoolgirls in low-and middle-income countries: research priorities. Global health action, 9(1), 33032.
  8. [8] Davidson, A. (2012). Narratives of menstrual product consumption: Convenience, culture, or commoditization?. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 32(1), 56-70.
  9. [9] Peberdy, E., Jones, A., & Green, D. (2019). A Study into Public Awareness of the Environmental Impact of Menstrual Products and Product Choice. Sustainability, 11(2), 473.
  10. [10] Nonfoux, L., Chiaruzzi, M., Badiou, C., Baude, J., Tristan, A., Thioulouse, J., ... & Lina, G. (2018). Impact of currently marketed tampons and menstrual cups on Staphylococcus aureus growth and toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 production in vitro. Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 84(12), e00351-18.
  11. [11] Weir, C. S. (2015). In The Red: A private economic cost and qualitative analysis of environmental and health implications for five menstrual products. Environmental Science and Gender and Women Studies thesis, Dalhousie University
  12. [12] Mahajan, T. (2019). Imperfect Information in Menstrual Health and the Role of Informed Choice. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 26(1-2), 59-78.

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