The Plastic free July challenge was started nine years ago with the intention of encouraging people to take their step towards a plastic free world. It calls our attention each year to the increasing plastic waste disposed all around the world and inspires us to challenge ourselves to spend a day, a week or even a month without plastic.
In celebration of plastic free July, we encourage and hope to inspire all menstruating individuals to take part by taking a step towards a plastic free period. A plastic free period essentially means using alternatives to plastic based products during menstruation, which are eco-friendly, sustainable and non-toxic to both the user and the environment.
The effects that our usual period practices have on our planet are concerning and can no longer be ignored. We now have choices such as menstrual cups and period proof underwear that allow us to be a part of a worldwide movement to heal our planet, and we must definitely take advantage of it and make the shift to a plastic free period.
Why your current period isn’t sustainable
Before that, let’s talk about sustainable menstruation and its importance. Why must we switch to ‘sustainable’ products when we are perfectly happy with our pre-existing pads and tampons? And, with new paper-based versions out in the markets, we have been reducing our contribution to waste, haven’t we?
Ever thought about the plastic content of your tampon or sanitary towel? Estimates show that a sanitary pad - the preferred product for women around the world - contains up to 90% plastic! In fact, a packet of sanitary napkins is equivalent to roughly five plastic bags. Tampons have approximately 6% of plastic but this may vary. Though they are mostly made of cotton, some tampons contain polyester components and the string is often made of plastic and, crucially, the applicator.
Also, paper-based alternatives require the mass extraction of paper and cotton. Thus, they use up a large amount of natural resources (such as trees and cotton), making them less sustainable products. So even though paper-based products do help in reducing plastic pollution, we cannot ignore the fact that they aren’t very sustainable. Hence, we need to look further into alternatives that are both eco-friendly and sustainable.
A growing popular product that fits both the above criteria is the menstrual cup. Hopefully, apart from learning about an alternative to your usual period products, you’ll discover your new favourite period partner!
What is a Menstrual Cup? Is it really a sustainable product?
The menstrual cup is a soft, medical-grade silicone cup that sits a little lower than a tampon, and simply forms a comfortable but tight seal to hold any menstrual flow. It is bell shaped and consists of three parts- a rim, base, and stem. The flexible material allows the cup to be easily folded and inserted in the vagina where it opens to fit against the cervix. The cup must be emptied every 6-12 hours depending on blood flow and washed before reuse.
The fact that the cup can be reused ensures that the contribution to menstrual waste is wholly minimised. Silicone itself is a pretty green ingredient. It degrades easily and is not hazardous to the environment making it a very sustainable eco-friendly product.
By switching to the menstrual cup, you would be saving approximately 120 disposable menstrual products from polluting our planet each year! Also, the cost benefits would be immense as one would no longer have to spend money regularly on pads and tampons every month when they have one cup that lasts for approximately 6-10 years.
Added benefits to using a menstrual cup are:
Once inserted properly into the vagina, the cup cannot leak or move as it is held firmly by strong pelvic muscles (suitable for athletes). It is a very comfortable option and most users have said they hardly feel the cup as they go about their daily activities.
Once one is comfortable with the cup, it is a very practical option in public washrooms - it requires low maintenance (a simple wash between uses, & sterilisation between cycles), and removes the hassle of disposal.
The cup can remain in the body for long durations and hold up to 3 times more blood than a tampon and thus doesn't need to be emptied very frequently.
There is no risk of developing toxic shock syndrome in menstrual cup users. TSS is a fatal condition common in persons aged 15-25 who use tampons during menstruation.
Self-confidence is an overlooked aspect of the menstrual cup. The intimacy involved using a cup every month, pushes individuals to be comfortable and confident with their bodies. This promotes a sense of body positivity that is very crucial in this modern, critical world.
Can a menstrual cup affect one’s virginity?
A menstrual cup may interfere with the hymen just like a tampon; but the hymen can also break by engaging in other activities such as running, riding a cycle or even yoga which are normal activities.
It is a common myth that the presence of the hymen is a sign of a person’s virginity. However, the basic concept of virginity implies that it can only be affected when the individual engages in sexual intercourse. So, no, using a menstrual cup cannot affect one’s virginity.
Despite the menstrual cup having been on the market for several years now, many Indian menstruators are only discovering its benefits now, resulting in a significant increase in users and its accessibility to individuals across the country.
Menstrual cups in India can be found at local drugstores, supermarkets and even online. Some well-known Indian brands are Pee Safe and Sirona, while some popular worldwide brands are SheCup and Diva Cup. If one is looking for popular affordable options one can try Boondh, Everteen and iCare menstrual cups which are still good quality and last for an average of 3-5 years.
If you are looking to shift permanently to sustainable menstruation options - in specific the menstrual cup – hesitate no more! As we are all advised to stay at home during lockdown, you can get accustomed to using the cup right now in the comforts of your own home, giving you the privacy you need to ease into a new menstrual product!
And finally! Once you’ve found your new period partner in the menstrual cup, rumour has it that you may never wish to go back! Although, with the benefits of easy and comfortable period days, coupled with the fact that you’re taking a major step to helping our environment, who would want to?
Written by Sanjana Gandhi
Graphics by Anashwara Mandalay