It’s time to face the facts, ladies: our feminine hygiene products are not doing the environment any favors. According to a study from the Rochester Institute of Technology, 20 billion menstrual pads and tampons contribute to the world’s landfills every year—and this is just in North America alone. Every pad we consume is equivalent to 4 plastic bags, and tampon applicators take centuries to biodegrade.
Yes, pads and tampons are the most widely accepted feminine care products that help us catch Aunt Flo in the red, but we need to start challenging the status quo with more sustainable options for menstrual days.
Thankfully, we have a number of alternative feminine care products that are just as effective, without contributing to non-biodegradable waste. The two most popular ones are the menstrual cups and the washable menstrual pads.
Here’s a closer look at what they are, and if they’re the right red-day partner for you.
What are menstrual cups?
First patented by actress Leona Chalmers in 1937, menstrual cups are exactly what they sound like: tiny, portable, chalice-shaped devices that collect your period blood like an actual cup. They’re usually made of silicone or rubber, and thus, are reusable and super gentle. (If you want to be scientific, the exact material is called TPE, or thermoplastic elastomer!)
What about washable pads?
Also called ‘cloth pads’ or ‘reusable pads’, these are worn similar to your typical menstrual pad (along the lining of your underwear) and, as the name suggests, are not meant to be disposed after a single use. Many local suppliers use soft, hypoallergenic materials like cotton and bamboo fibers to create cloth pads. However, bamboo fibers have seen a higher shift in the market since their mother material is inexpensive, fast-growing, and biodegradable, without irritating the sensitive skin in your groin area.
A case for menstrual cups and what you need to look out for
Interested in trying out a menstrual cup for your next cycle? Besides its onset advantage of being reusable for an unprecedented amount of time, menstrual cups are also perfect for women who still wish to work out during Shark Week. Plus, for the busier ladies, you only need to dump out the mess after 10-12 hours, depending on how heavy or light your flow. The material they’re made of is also bacteria-resistant, so if you have certain gynecological problems, menstrual cups can actually be better for you as disposable pads can collect germs the longer you wear them during your period. As for the budget, you only need to spend around P1,000-P1,200 per menstrual cup as a one-time purchase, as opposed to spending small increments every day to change disposable pads, over the span of decades!
However, there is the tricky bit of actually inserting the cup inside your vaginal canal, which will require you to stick your fingers inside to make sure it’s placed correctly. For women with uterine problems and BV (bacterial vaginosis), you need to be extra careful not to aggravate pre-existing conditions. Dumping out all your blood and bodily fluids after a long day may not be your cup of tea either. There’s also the issue of trial and error, as you must be certain of the size of the menstrual cup before you settle in. Too big or too small, and you could look at a potential leak, or worse—the cup getting stuck in places you don’t want it to go!
What about reusable pads? What are the pros and cons?
This may be the friendliest option for women who are not comfortable introducing new devices into their menstrual routine. Most will also design their panties in cute and engaging patterns to encourage women to make the switch too! And since they’re made of cloth, they’re definitely more breathable on the body, as opposed to disposables which are always made from a form of plastic that sticks to the skin.
Some cons to consider: washable pads are going to force you to be more hands-on during Aunt Flo’s visits. Not only do you need to ensure they’re clean and dry before use, you may also need to buy more than one size depending on your heaviest and lightest days. You may feel your period a bit more intimately with washable pads as well.
Whether your style suits a cup or a washable pad, consult first with your OB-GYN for the best sustainable option that won’t compromise on your genital health and safety. Regardless, periods are our inevitable truth as women for the foreseeable future. While disposable pads and tampons have been our go-to for years, let’s start introducing Aunt Flo to greener ways while we can still make a difference.