Every Trickle Helps: Periods, Paper Cups and Personal Environmental Changes

It started with a painting.
My friend Katie and I had been working at a summer school in northern Italy, teaching kids English for a week. We’d finished early one afternoon to visit a beautiful city, not far from Milan, and were now sat on a backless wooden bench in an art gallery in Turin. A vast white canvas smeared with red and brown paint glared down at us and I joked that it looked like my pants during a heavy period. This sparked a probably-quite-accurately-stereotyped ‘girl conversation’ about our periods, and my friend mentioned that she was interested in trying a menstrual cup. My eyebrows crumpled and I must have looked visibly repulsed because Katie said, “I would have thought that you of all people would love it.” I had grimaced at the thought of a cup being sat in my vagina, slowly filling up with lady juices. I’m a feminist through and through but, once again, society’s outlook on period blood being a completely different kettle of fish to ‘regular’ blood had fogged my vision and I’d turned my nose up at it.
I’d never before thought about the level of waste produced as a byproduct of periods. How many tampons, wrappers, applicators, panty-liners and pads were thrown in the bin or flushed down the toilet during that one week every month? I got through maybe one box of Tampax every cycle. 12 boxes per year. I’d started my period when I was 14, and the average British woman’s monthly gift ends around her 51st birthday. So, let’s do some maths:
51 – 14 = 37 (years I will have my period for, according to average)
37 x 12 = 444 (menstrual cycles I’d have in my lifetime, again according to the laws of average)
444 x 20 = 8880 (tampons used in my lifetime, if I did in fact use the exact 20 tampons to a box each cycle)
8880 x 3 = 26,640 (I’m now including into the sum, along with the tampons themselves, the plastic applicators and the yellow plastic wrappers)
Twenty-six thousand, six-hundred and fourty non-recyclable items sent directly to landfill, from myself alone… and that’s not all. I haven’t even factored in the occasional panty-liners for lighter days, or pads for those cripplingly heavy days and paranoid “just incase” nights. The amount of landfill produced for each woman is horrifying, but we don’t think about it because we don’t see where it goes. Oh shit, my crotch feels damp. Where’s that emergency tampon? *Rummage rummage* Wrapper off, bin it, cram it in, bin the applicator, have a little wipe and go. Never to be seen again.
It was only when I started to think about it that I felt a ripple of panic rush over me at the thought of it piled up and out of sight (for those fortunate enough to never have to see it again). It’s not our fault. We don’t choose to have a river of blood and guts falling out of our lady gardens for days at a time. We endure it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to lessen the blow on Mother Nature just because it feels like she’s twisting our ovaries through a mangle every month.
After months of pondering and the odd bit of research, I ordered my MoonCup. 3-5 days later, it arrived and in perfect time. I won’t lie to you – it felt odd. I wore a pad for the whole first day as a kind of precautionary nappy. I tossed and turned trying to go to sleep, dreading waking up in my own red sea. I worried about whether it was in far enough, but eventually fell asleep with my thighs clamped together in fear of it pinging out when I got too comfortable.
You know what? Buying that menstrual cup was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. MoonCup? More like SwoonCup! Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it’s also incredibly comfortable, ridiculously cost-effective and insanely easy to maintain. Yes, it took a few days to adjust to it – but who didn’t use to run to the toilet every twenty minutes to check that their tampon hadn’t been swallowed up into their uterus when they first started using them?
One thing I hadn’t accounted for was how satisfying it would be to see it all there – no frills, no sugarcoating, just good old blood and its uninvited, clotted friends. Call me Germain, but I’ve grown to love taking the time to really acknowledge what actually happens below the belt every month. It’s also an oddly comforting and satisfying ritual, soaking it in a cup of boiling water once it’s done its job – I feel like I’m rewarding it with a hot bath for treating me so well before putting it back into its little pouch to hibernate for another few weeks. It really is a very therapeutic thing, this whole period business.
So, that’s how it started but since then I’ve started to notice a few other things. It’s like a curtain has been lifted and now I can’t shut my eyes to just how much is being wasted needlessly.
My latest purchase (another bamboo beauty) is an eCoffee Cup. One-hundred billion takeaway coffee cups end up on landfill each year, and this wonderful little gem is hoping to change that, one latte at a time. The sleeve and lid are made of silicone, and the cup itself is both lightweight and easy to wash… I promise I’m not paid to advertise these products. Not one barista has turned me away yet and maybe I’ve been brainwashed but I swear the coffee stays hotter in the reusable cup than it ever did in the paper/plastic equivalent. (I think that probably is just my imagination.)
I’m not trying to make myself out to be some kind of eco-guru, although that would be a pretty jazzy title to have. Yes, there are some people who are completely self-sufficient and make their own shampoo and never throw anything away – and bloody hell, do I take my hat off to them – but just a few simple adjustments here and there can make more of a difference than you might think.
It started with a painting, and now my waste-awareness has shot up through the roof. My next goal is a bamboo toothbrush, and I don’t plan to stop making these little lifestyle changes until I’ve knitted myself a house out of hemp and my shower gel is made from mashed up old leaves and apple cores.
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