Most of us are up to speed when it comes to being environmental and the 'leave no trace' philosophy when we are adventuring in the great outdoors. In our everyday lives we may be using glass drink bottles, saying no to plastic bags, choosing energy saving light globes, or cycling to work. When making the switch from disposable to reusable there is a lot of choice. One area often missed is greening the menstrual cycle.
So here are are some 'greener' options, what they are the pros the cons and how to use them.
Silicone Menstrual Cup
Used since: In current form, the 1980’s. Widely used throughout Europe and Canada, rising in popularity in USA, Australia and the rest of the world.
How it works: A medical-grade silicone device, the cup is folded and inserted into the vagina. The cup opens creating a seal, and collects the menstrual fluid. For removal, the seal is broken by squeezing the base of the cup. Once emptied, it is rinsed and reinserted. Between cycles it can be sterilised by boiling in water for 3 to 5 minutes. One device lasts up to ten years.
Learning curve: 2 – 4 cycles.
Pros: Leak-free*; can be worn up to 12 hours without emptying; non-absorbing and non-drying; comfortable for sleeping; not felt when worn correctly; secure underwater or during strenuous exercise; compatible with any or no underwear; long product lifespan; easy and discreet for travel; no leaching chemicals; easy to measure flow for tracking and health purposes; no waste; low maintenance; cheapest option over time; improves body awareness; many people report lighter and shorter periods.
Cons: Internal device requiring insertion, not suitable for some survivors of FGM, requires some body literacy, must be kept clean, and creates “cup evangelists”.
Availability: Currently three brands with Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval for sale in Australia; Lunette, Juju, and Diva Cup. Available online through various sites including Sustainable Menstruation Australia ; some health food stores and chemists.
Energy rating: If used for recommended lifespan of ten years, ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
*when worn correctly and changed at adequate intervals
Used since: As early as the 4th century by Hypatia in Suda, who threw hers at an admirer to discourage him.
How they work: Modern reusable pads come in a variety of materials from natural fibres to synthetics, and can be handmade, or commercially produced. Usually have several layers including a waterproof backing, absorbent material core, and soft lining. Most do up with snaps or Velcro, are worn inside underwear and changed when required. Used pads can be rinsed and hung out to dry, then washed with regular clothing. Most modern pads do not stain.
Learning curve: 1 – 2 cycles.
Pros: Comfortable, do not require insertion, easy to use, come in a variety of colours and patterns (artwork for your underwear), great for post-natal bleeding and menarche, can last several years with good care.
Cons: Difficult to use with some styles of underwear, must be changed throughout the day; used pads need to be transported home; not as convenient for travel.
Availability: Numerous makers with fun names like Glad Rags, Rad Pads, Precious Stars Pads and Party in my Pants. Many makers sell pads on Etsy; can be bought from some health stores.
Energy rating: Depending on usage habits, ⭐️⭐️⭐️ to ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Used since: Thousands of years, originally by coastal tribes
How they work: The sponge is moistened and then inserted with the holes of the sponge angled upwards. The sponge absorbs flow much like a tampon. When full, it is removed, rinsed, wrung and reinserted. Between cycles it can be sanitised with several different methods, the simplest is to boil in water for ten minutes.
Learning curve: 2 – 3 cycles
Pros: Natural product; easier to insert initially than tampons or menstrual cups; comfortable.
Cons: Not as long-lasting as other reusables, usually 6 to 12 months; they are from a living creature, so are not vegan-friendly; must be harvested sustainably; do not have TGA approval, and may carry impurities from the ocean if they are not certified for menstrual use; muscle contractions (caused by sneezing or coughing) may cause sponge to leak.
Availability: There are several brands that supply sea sponges for the purposes of menstruation including Jade & Pearl and Jam Sponge.
Energy rating: If harvested sustainably, ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Used since: In their current form, approximately 10 years.
How they work: Used like conventional underwear, catches flow and is then rinsed, dried and washed. New materials are being developed to increase absorbency and ease of use.
Learning curve: 1 – 2 cycles.
Pros: Easy to use, comfortable for sleeping, keeps relatively dry, thinner models great as a liner alternative or for incontinence.
Cons: Expensive option; several pairs needed, must be changed regularly depending on flow, can reduce airflow around vulva and develop odour if not changed regularly.
Availability: There are several brands available with different popularity, materials and applications, including Thinx, ModiBodi (made in Australia), Harebrained and Padkix.
Energy rating: Depending on number needed, ⭐️⭐️ to ⭐️⭐️⭐️