Episode 8: Girl Talk

Welcome to 3 Changes a Week: your weekly update on how to save the planet

Every month of every year, for most of their adult lives, most women use disposable, plastic products that are just as wasteful as all those plastic coffee cups, takeaway containers and plastic bags that we hate so much – but are largely invisible.

However, the awareness of this issue is growing as more and more unnecessary uses of plastic come to light. And there are many better options for us to switch to be more environmentally conscious. The BBC recently reported how much the interest in reusable products has grown in the last few years.

This article will cover three possibilities for environmentally friendly period products. The best bit? Both the reusable pads and the menstrual cup will save you an absolute ton of money.

Personally, I use a menstrual cup (I have the original Mooncup as this is what they sell in Boots) and I have to say I could never go back. It feels like you are not even on your period at all; you can swim, dance, stay out all night, sleep all day with it in – and leave it in for 8 hours without any of the dangers associated with leaving tampons in. Even better, if you leave it for longer – which I must admit that I have – it isn’t dangerous, it just simply might start to get a bit full and might start to smell when you take it out. Not nice, but any smell disappears with cleaning anyway.

However, I do find that my menstrual cup can sometimes leak a little whilst I am asleep – although not everyone may have that problem – so I use a reusable cloth sanitary towel to catch any leaks. This has so far been very effective too! There’s a whole world out there of eco-period goodies – so let’s get started.

 

1. TRY A MENUSTRAL CUP – SERIOUSLY, DO IT

Ease: ****

Cost: £15-20

As above, these things are amazing. Buy one, never buy period products again. Literally.

You can’t feel them, you can’t see them, and you can’t beat them. Menstrual cups sit at the opening of your vagina, and is a little cup shaped like a bell with a ‘stem’ poking out the base, which is trimmed so it doesn’t poke out of the labia. They’re usually made of medical grade silicon and come in 2 sizes depending on age and whether you’ve had kids. They don’t need to be pushed right up like a tampon, but stay low down and are easy to pull out. To put them in, you simply fold them a little smaller, push them in, and allow them to expand out to their full width, sealing the vaginal canal where the blood would normally flow from. This can take a little practice, but I was completely used to it within a few days. Once a day or so (they can stay in for 8 hours) you remove the cup and pour out the collected blood, and give it a rinse under the tap. In public bathrooms you can also just wipe it with loo roll. The Mooncup site gives extensive advice on how to use the cup.

Menstrual cups are incomparably safe, with none of the risks of TSS associated with tampons, nor any of the scratching and discomfort some women experience with chemical and plastic-coated pads. To clean them, you can either boil them on the hob, or use baby bottle sterilisation tablets, which I have found is a much easier solution. If you buy a menstrual cup, you’ll be saving money within 6-8 months, if you’re spending £2-3 a period. That’s definitely worth it.

I was shocked about how many people did not know they were an option. They are cost-effective, so, so easy, so practical, and so green. I can’t recommend this enough; it is by far the best change (in terms of actual practicality) that I have made since beginning to make an effort to reduce my plastic use.

 

There are many options on the market. I have the original Mooncup, available from Boots, but there are many (usually cheaper) alternatives available online, such as LunaCup (copycat name much?), TulipCup, Eva or DivaCup. Check out this site, which lists the top-rated brands, including all of the above. It might be worth going through a few sites to find the cheapest one. Tesco has also just launched an eco-feminine care range called TOTM, which includes a menstrual cup. It’s not any cheaper than other options, but it’s exciting for the fact it helps to make the cup mainstream.

More excitingly, I have recently seen advertised valve-stemmed menstrual cups, that do not need to remove to open, so are even quicker and easier to use. Check out the StemCup, by a fairly well-known brand called TulipCup. I also came across this blog post of someone testing out a similar valve design, which might be useful. I’m really excited to try this new development, but as cups last a lifetime, it’s unlikely I’d need to buy a new one anytime soon.

 

2. SWITCH TO REUSABLE PERIOD PADS AND PANTS

Ease: *****

Cost: £3-5 for reusable pads, £25 for pants

If there’s any reason why cups aren’t for you, there are wealth of more recognisable alternatives for period products. There might be medical reasons, you might find that your cup leaks and you want a pad as extra protection, or you might just find the pouring out of blood a little gross (it is, but hey, you still have to see it on a pad). Either way, you could try reusable, washable cloth pads, or ‘period pants’ that are like pants with pads built in. Buzzfeed did a helpful video testing all sorts of reusable period products, but it seems to have got lost in the endless realms of the internet, unfortunately.

I use reusable, washable cloth sanitary towels, aka CSPs, which I bought from Exeter’s trusty Real Food Store, which I have mentioned multiple times in these articles. They were a rather pricey £7.50 each, but are much cheaper online (I needed them asap!). However, 5 or 6 of these might be a high outright cost, but it’s still much, cheaper than the £18,000 it is estimated that women spend on disposable products in their lifetime. The Telegraph (in this gold mine of an article) has described them as a revolutionary item, and, more memorably, as “fluffy vagina blankets”, which, I can tell you, is actually very accurate. I have ones with the soft ‘mink’ topping that is described in the article, and they are really are luxurious compared to the scratchy plastic/paper combo you are used to.

As for purchasing them, there is many a place online selling them. You could try Earthwise Girls (mentioned in the Telegraph article), Honour Your Flow, or one of the many options available on Amazon.

This isn’t it, however. There also brands that sell washable pants that soak up blood like the reusable pads but are even more leak proof. You simply wear them like normal pants, let them absorb the blood, and then wash them at the end of the day. The most famous brand is the very stylish American brand THINX, but each pair is about £30, and delivery is another £7….

UK brand WUKA is very similar, and though the pants are still £25, they do have free delivery, and are described as “luxurious”. Fun! For more, menstrualcupreviews.com has a handy list of all the places that sell the best ones, so check this out.

 

3. NOT READY TO MAKE THE LEAP? DISPOSABLE ECO OPTIONS

Ease: *****

Cost: £3-4 per pack

It saddens me, but if the idea of washing out your blood is still too much for you, there are more eco- and skin-friendly disposable options available. As I mentioned above, Tesco has excitingly just launched an organic feminine care range, including a reusable menstrual cup, but also organic pads with biodegradable applicators and biofilm plastic. There’s also Yoni organic cotton pads and tampons, or health shops might stock more eco friendly options. I know that vegan store Seasons, in Exeter, stocks a few.

Made these changes or already doing them? Post a picture to Instagram or Twitter and tag it to #3changesaweek to spread the word!