Apr 9, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Alanna Jackson | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
Finding the right menstrual products can be headache-inducing and tedious. Menstruation, even in your twenties, is riddled with catastrophes, embarrassment, and social taboo. On top of these societal pressures, there is now increased awareness about how such products may contribute to environmental waste.
On average, a person who menstruates gets their period 450 times in their lifetime. Since tampons need to be changed usually every four to six hours, a person may use four tampons per day. If their period lasts five days, that’s 20 tampons per period.
Fortunately, in recent years I have noticed not only growing acceptance and conversations about menstruation, but also a surge in cutting-edge, sustainable menstrual products. These include reusable menstrual cups, such as the Diva Cup and the Saalt Soft Cup, free-bleed underwear, from brands like Thinx and Knix, biodegradable pads, such as Saathi, and applicator free tampons, such as O.B.
The products prioritize sustainability through reducing the use of plastic, forefronting reusability, or improving the breakdown of products after their disposal.
In an interview with a Colorado College student, The Catalyst dove into their use of sustainable menstrual products. They use the Saalt reusable menstrual cup along with the Saalt Cup Wash, which is a specific soap to clean the cup after use without deteriorating the material or irritating skin.
Last summer, they were supposed to work as a trail crew worker in the mountains; the company they were going to work for requested that participants purchase a sustainable menstrual cup. The interviewee explained, “We were going to be in the backcountry for a long time so carrying and packing out tampons would be difficult.”
The trail crew job fell through due to COVID-19, but they ended up trying the product. The first time was disastrous, but after a three-month hiatus of not using the cup, they tried it again. And they loved it.
They explained that by checking out the instructions and videos on Saalt’s website showing how to properly fold and insert the cup and learning about the correct angles and positioning for their own body, they better understood how to make the cup work for them. Overtime, they became more comfortable and confident in using and trusting it.
Using the cup has plenty of advantages. My interviewee testified that they have never bled through while using the cup, meaning they can “wear white clothes without any fear.” The cup can be worn for up to 12 hours, which is particularly convenient for busy days.
Amazingly enough, the risk for toxic shock syndrome is drastically lower. The student also explained that now, they don’t have to carry around tampons or pads, confessing that remembering to pack tampons in every bag or bring them to the restroom used to be such a hassle.
Plus, as a long-term investment, the cup and soap combo is cost effective — only around $30 for years of use. According to Saalt’s website, they donate 2% of their revenue to secure period care in regions with the most need, while also leading initiatives in menstrual health, education, and sustainability. So, each time a cup is purchased, customers are increasing access and care for other people as well.
Most notably, Saalt claims to have diverted over 2.8 million waste products from landfills.
The interviewee was candid about the disadvantages as well, noting that the transition to using and caring for the product can be daunting at first. They stressed the importance of creating a routine, especially for cleaning.
They also gave some advice for first-time users: It might be helpful to transition from plastic tampons to cardboard tampons to no applicator tampons, prior to trying a menstrual cup — possibly a smaller size first. Check out the videos from the menstrual cup company to what is most comfortable for you in terms of positioning and folding patterns. Make sure you have a safe menstrual cup soap. And remember, there are lots of other alternative products. Find what works best for you!
It is important to acknowledge that 1) menstrual products are not accessible for all people and 2) certain products may not be everyone’s vibe.
Thinking about the sustainable menstrual product movement connects to a bigger conversation about the deep entanglement between inequity, social taboo, and environmental concerns for menstruation. In order to attain environmental justice and sustainability in regard to menstrual products, we need to first ensure access and support for all menstruating bodies — and, hopefully, menstrual eco-friendliness will flourish along the way.