When I read that Scotland might soon become the first country to make sanitary pads and tampons free, I found myself wishing we had moved on from these female hygiene products in favour of more eco-friendly ones.
Women’s pads are a huge cause of pollution. It is estimated that these products, made of around 90 per cent plastic, generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year.
Mindful of this, I have started praising the revolutionary advantages of a zero-waste menstrual cup. But when I talk about it, I receive a lot of questioning looks, some men even show a slight disgust. It turns out many people actually are not aware of its existence – let alone how it works.
For those who are still unfamiliar with it, I am talking about a bendy silicone eggcup that, when inserted into the vagina, collects menstrual blood. It has three times the capacity of a regular tampon, allowing you to forget about your period for up to eight hours. It is reusable – when it is full, you just empty it, wash it, and replace – and it can last up to 10 years.
For me it was a revolutionary discovery. Not only did the menstrual cup cut down on my waste and the stress caused by leaky tampons, but it also saved me money. It costs between £12 and £40, so after six month it pays for itself by saving on other sanitary products.
This makes it a longer-term solution for people who cannot afford sanitary products – one in ten girls, according to a UK survey. The cup offers many benefits to homeless women too: it is a one-time purchase, takes up a small amount of space and does not require frequent access to the toilet.
There are multiple reasons. As a relatively recent product, it first appeared on the market in 2002, the cup is often excluded from menstruation education resources and not put forward by general practitioners. What little published research exists is of poor quality, so much that we still do not know exactly how extensively it is used.
Also, many myths surround it. The alleged toxicity of its material, the same medical-grade silicone used in operating rooms, has been disproved; whereas pads’ synthetic fibers often include dioxin, latex or other dangerous substances. Used correctly, the cup is free from risks of infection and you cannot even feel it.
Finally, allow me to break a taboo: many women do not try it because they are frightened by the idea of emptying it in a public toilet. In the majority of these, cubicles do not have access to running water which means it can be messy, unpleasant and potentially unhygienic when using a menstrual cup. But, as such facilities are mostly designed by men, it comes as no surprise that women’s menstrual needs get overlooked in public spaces.
For all these reasons, I think it is time to really start recognising the benefits of a reusable sanitary product and promoting it accordingly. Forget free tampons, the menstrual cup is the future, but there is still lot of work to do to mainstream it. We need to improve period education, redesign women’s toilets and, eradicating a long history of menstrual taboos, start talking about it.