A few months ago, I made the switch to reusable menstrual products.
At age 30, I had been using disposable sanitary towels and tampons ever since I started having periods in my early teens.
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I’d never really considered going down the reusable route because I thought disposable products were just “the done thing”. I had this sort of stereotype in my head of reusable products being a bit weird. We weren’t taught about reusable menstrual products in sex-ed and I didn’t know anyone who used them, so I didn’t really think twice about it.
As I got older and became better informed, I started to consider the environmental impact of my use of disposable menstrual products. My periods are pretty heavy and last for seven days each month. I used A LOT of pads and tampons, and they were all ending up in landfill.
Around this time, I also noticed more and more people discussing reusable options online. Many of my online pals had made the switch and were raving about it.
So, I decided to give it a go.
I wasn’t sure where to start, apart from knowing that I wanted to try a menstrual cup, along with washable sanitary pads in case of leaks – again, HEAVY periods. I know there are other options such as period underwear, but I decided to stick to those two options for now.
I put out a tweet asking for advice on choosing a menstrual cup. There are so many options; different shapes, sizes, brands, costs… it was a bit overwhelming.
Luckily, one of my Twitter friends directed me to this online quiz. The quiz asks nine questions to identify your needs, then it suggests which type of menstrual cup they would recommend you try, based on your answers.
I took the quiz and got my result – this one, if you’re interested! I then nipped over to Amazon (also adding some basic washable pads to my basket – I wasn’t so worried about getting those “exactly right”) and with a couple of clicks, my journey into reusable menstrual products had begun in earnest!
My products arrived and I had just come on my period (great timing, for once!) so I decided to try them immediately.
I’ve used these products for my last five periods (five lots of seven days), and overall I’m incredibly happy with them. I definitely won’t be switching back to disposable.
Having said that, as with most things, there are pros and cons to reusable menstrual products. I personally find that the pros outweigh the cons, but that won’t be the case for everyone.
So, here are the pros and cons I’ve identified after four months of using reusable menstrual products.
Pro: Much cheaper in the long term
During my research, I’ve seen menstrual cups priced anywhere between £15 and £75. The menstrual cup I bought cost me £24.99.
Looking at the savings I will make over time by not buying disposable products, I can see that a reusable product is a cost-effective choice.
I calculated that based on the amount I would spend on disposable products (Lunex tampons and Always pads), a reusable menstrual cup at £24.99 would pay for itself within approximately 13 periods. The menstrual cup I bought has a lifespan of around ten years (more on that later).
Con: More expensive upfront
Although I did see cheaper options at around £15, my research suggested that in order to find a cup that was made from the medically-approved material and with a good lifespan, it’s better to go for one of the £20-£30 options if possible.
However, not everyone is in a position to set aside the money to pay this upfront cost, with some disposable tampons costing as little as 69p per box. Reusable pads are much the same, with mine costing £16.99 for a pack of ten, as opposed to much cheaper disposable options.
Pro: No leaks, no stains
In all my years of using disposable menstrual products, I’ve always used tampons but had to wear a pad as well because I would regularly experience leaks, even with the most absorbent tampon. That was the reason I got the reusable pads alongside the cup when I made the switch.
In fact, I found that using a menstrual cup has introduced my baffled self to a world of no leaks. Seriously. None. No more ruined clothes or waking up with blood-soaked bed-sheets!
Con: Extra steps
Where I’ve eliminated mess in some areas, in others, the mess has increased. When you remove a menstrual cup, unlike disposables that you can swiftly throw in the bin, you need to wash it out.
Getting the bloody cup out and into the sink is a skill in itself, then along with washing out the cup, it becomes necessary to wipe down the sink (unless you are okay with fellow housemates or visitors thinking you might be a serial killer).
Plus, all this assumes this you’re at home. Changing a menstrual cup in a public toilet is something that I haven’t yet had to do (see SAFETY below), but getting a bloody cup from the stall to the communal sink could be an incredibly messy task.
Pro: Safe for 12 hours
Ever since the very limited information I received as a pre-teen, I’ve been terrified of tampons, or more specifically, Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Constantly worrying about this, yet needing to use tampons overnight to avoid waking up in a mess throughout the night, led to a high level of anxiety.
Tampons should be changed every four to six hours. So, if I put in the tampon before bed, then slept for eight hours, I’d wake up in a panic and rush to take it out. Worse, I’d wake up frequently in the night, worrying that I’d overslept.
I was overjoyed when I read that menstrual cups can be used for 12 hours at a time. I may sleep a lot, but 12 hours in one stint would be good-going even for me. I could finally relax, knowing that even if I overslept by an hour or so, I would still be within the safe range of time.
Con: Nothing is risk-free
Early studies suggest that the number of TSS cases related to menstrual cups is very low – so much so that the medical consensus is that the cups, when used as directed, are safe. However, despite the low risk, it is still possible to develop TSS whilst using a menstrual cup.
Pro: Less in landfill
By switching to reusable menstrual products, I have been able to completely eliminate my use of disposable products, i.e. tampons and single-use pads. As such, I am no longer sending a huge bulk of waste products to landfill each month.
As I mentioned in COSTS, menstrual cups can last for around ten years, if maintained properly. When they are no longer usable, they can be chopped up and thrown on your garden (where it will biodegrade) or burnt (with no toxic fumes).
Reusable pads can often be deconstructed to recycle some parts. They also last much longer than disposable pads, so even if you do have to send some parts of them to general waste after multiple uses, this will still produce less waste than continuing to use disposable pads.
Honestly, I don’t think there are any environmental cons to reusable menstrual products!
In my opinion, if you have the ability to switch to reusable products, I would strongly recommend it. I truly believe that the benefits outweigh the downfalls, and I hope that reusable products will continue to be improved and made more easily available.
And finally, I think it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. If the expense is an issue for you, you could try buying one reusable pad and integrating it into your sanitary pad stock. Even if this helps you reduce your disposable product use by one or two items per period, that’s still a great result, and you can add to your reusable stock over time.
What are your thoughts on reusable menstrual products?
Can you think of anything that would make the switch easier or more accessible?
Feel free to share your ideas in the comments!
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