Words | Ella Scott
In modern society, it often comes to question how environmentally friendly your choices are. Plastic straws are a BIG no go, and if you rock up to a café ordering takeaway coffee without a keep cup, there is a high chance of being publicly shunned. However, when discussing the code of ethics in being environmentally sustainable there is often a blurred area, where it becomes more difficult to answer, “Am I being environmentally responsible?” This confusing and complex area is called menstruation.
Menstruation is an unavoidable occurrence that has dawned on women around once a month since the beginning of time. However, it occurred to me the other day just how much plastic each period involves. Whether you choose to use tampons, pads, or more environmentally friendly options like menstrual cups or period underwear, the fact remains that waste is unavoidable. Statistics show that the average Australian female will use around 10 000 to 12 000 menstrual products in their lifetime.
A Brief History of Menstruation
In ancient Greece, menstrual blood was a symbol of negativity. The closest modern interpretation would probably be female baggage. The blood itself was deemed bad, sometimes even poisonous. It was something that needed to be gotten rid of, to maintain balance and health.
Later in history, periods became more commonly recognised, however, the negative connotation stuck. Historian Susan Strasser explains that women in the pre-20th century US were subject to a “waste not, want not” mentality. They would use leftover scraps to form a pad-like absorbent during their time of the month.
It was in 1921 when the first packet of Kotex was made available over the counter, marketed as a “sanitary napkin.” Kotex was made with leftover Cellucotton, which was used during World War I for medical bandages. Tampons were produced around the same time and became highly popularised by women in sport. These sanitary products are the earliest forms of what we all still use today.
It’s amazing how far we have come in terms of the design and invention of sanitary products. We now have the luxury of choosing by style, size, and brand. Personally, when it comes to choosing my sanitary product of choice, I tend to go for ease and comfort. For many years I was terrified of tampons. The very concept of them freaked me out. I attempted and failed to figure them out numerous times until the day I discovered applicators. The holy grail of menstruation. Since that day I have continued to use them. I have always been conscious of the environmental impact of using that extra bit of plastic, however, after years of using pads and feeling once again like a child in a nappy, I decided to push those thoughts aside and live in ignorant bliss to the environmental impacts.
However, reflecting now as an ‘adult,’ I feel as though it is my responsibility to research and explore my other options. So, I decided to test them out.
A Diva Cup
Contrary to its name, a diva cup, also known as a menstrual cup, is not a glamourous device that emits Beyoncé songs when opened. It is a bell-shaped cup that sits in the vaginal canal and collects blood. It is often chosen as an environmentally preferred option as it can be washed with boiling water and then reused.
When thinking about inserting this device into my most sacred delicate area, I must admit the fears of my 13-year-old self looking at a tampon for the first time came flooding back.
After watching a few YouTube tutorials, and ultimately hyping myself up, it was time. Inserting the cup was not as challenging as I had first thought. It was a little uncomfortable but not painful. Once in place, I could not feel the cup at all. The diva cup can stay in place for up to 12 hours, significantly longer than a tampon or pad. This aspect, along with its environmentally friendly factors, is one of the bigger selling points.
Verdict: I believe this is a great option for women who want to take that next step in being environmentally responsible. Personally, I cannot see myself using this regularly at this current time, however, I am interested in trying it out a few more times. One downside I noticed, is the process of changing it hygienically in a public space, aka work or uni.
Overall rating 8/10
Designed like a pad, period underwear has a built-in absorbent layer that collects blood and protects against leakage. It varies per individuals’ period and flow; however, it is suggested they are changed around every 2 hours. The perks of this option are that you can wash them whenever and however many times you want, as they are completely and easily reusable.
Verdict: When watching ads on television for period underwear I always thought they were a joke and couldn’t possibly work. However, after trying them, and getting used to them (which I admit took a while) I understood the choice. They are quite a simple and easy choice, just like wearing a normal pair of underwear. The only cons that came to mind are the fact that again like a pad, you can’t help but feel like an infant learning basic toilet needs. The short time in which you must change them was also a factor that I personally did not like. I also found myself constantly checking if they had leaked, however in those first few hours I can confirm they did not.
Overall rating 6.5/10
After my experiments, I must admit that I feel more aware of my options. It’s easy enough to say that you want to change or are going to change to a more environmentally safe option, however, when it comes to actually doing it, the process of changing can be quite daunting.
I must admit in full honesty that I will be sticking to my applicator tampons for the time being, however, I urge everyone to experiment and test out their options because you can’t possibly make an informed judgment until you’ve tried them.
In the future, I would like to fully commit to changing over to a diva cup, but for the time being, I do not feel as though I am ready to make the complete switch. That does not necessarily make me a bad person. As a millennial it is hard to live up to the environmental standard that is constantly pushed upon us. Whilst I am a conscious consumer, it is impossible to be the perfect consumer and truly live up to these expectations. It is all about doing as much as you can where you can. I believe things like menstruation should be your choice.
Ultimately, you should not feel bad or judged about which sanitary product you use. Periods are a necessary evil. You should choose whatever you are comfortable with in this uncomfortable time, because at the end of the day, girls bleed, boys don’t. And it sucks.