Updated: May 13, 2021
I remember before having children, my husband asked me if I would be interested in a menstrual cup. I recoiled in horror. Was he serious? He expected me to insert a cup into my vagina, during my period and wear it, to then have to empty it out, clean and do it all again? What an awful idea. It would obviously leak and be uncomfortable. How do you even get them in? It's no from me, Mr Husband.
Then, my first child came along in 2018 and by this point, we'd already started making the odd Eco-change here and there and I had started to feel really passionate about the environment. With baby number one came one of my favorite swaps - THE CLOTH NAPPY. What a glorious thing. I love them. We love them, actually. I see a lot of women talking about how their husbands can't come round to the idea, but my husband didn't take persuading at all.
We would still use disposable nappies (and still do with baby number 2) because as much as I wish they didn't, they do have a place in our lives for various reasons. I was maybe about 4 months or so into my new parenting life, when I started to realise that disposable nappies and disposable period products were made from very similar materials, which got me thinking about what happens to them after you put them in the bin.
As this all unfolded in my mind, and I coupled it with the fact that I actually really hate using disposable pads (tampons you say? No thank you!) For one, they're really uncomfortable. If they shift and go sticky side up, that's going to really hurt. They make you feel sweaty. And they have scents added to them!! Why do they have scents added to them? Have you walked past someone and thought "They smell like they're on their period?" No? Didn't think so. I would love to know who sat up at 3am and scribbled that idea down, only for it to be accepted and then added into every single disposable pad on the planet. It's awful.
Anyway... let's just have a little look at some stats about disposable period products.
According to Natracare conventional sanitary products contain up to 90% plastic, making them horrendous for the environment. Over 45 billion plastic sanitary products are sent to landfills, or are disposed of in various other harmful ways. Those that don’t make it this far either end up in the oceans or on the beach, or in other places they don’t belong endangering and harming wildlife, and the environment they live in.
Not only do these products not break down once disposed of, but they are also non-flushable, and despite this information being readily available to anyone and everyone, they still get flushed, clogging drainage systems, and again meaning they end up in the ocean.
Wen states that on average, an individual person will use around 11, 000 sanitary products in their life time. That’s not taking into account those that need to use extra due to heavy or irregular periods, and other number of issues surrounding menstrual health. Wen actually has some brilliant facts surround periods and period products, so it's worth checking them out for more information.
A lot of these products that are used are not only bad for the environment, but they contain chemicals that are harmful to those of us that use them, and in some cases these chemicals aren’t even disclosed. Some of them are found in weed killers and are suspected carcinogens!
They can also be pretty pricey, period poverty is a real issue and it shouldn't be. There are people not just in this country, but across the world who don't have access to affordable period products, and there are reports in the UK of school children rolling up socks to make their own sanitary towels, or using toilet paper.
I've done some interesting maths below to work out a few figures just based on my own cycle and experiences, but first just so you have an understanding of my figures, here's a little bit of information about myself -
On average, most people start their periods at age 12. I started mine at age 10
Generally, my periods have been like clockwork, with the exception of random double period one month in my mid teens
They were very heavy once upon a time, but have leveled out as I've gotten older, and I have a couple of days of spotting, then heavy flow for two or three days, then a few more days of spotting, so my period will usually last 5-7 days
I've never successfully used any hormonal contraceptives to stop my periods, but when I have used them, I have had break through bleeds and spotting on and off, so have found that I've had to use extra products
I am currently 30, meaning that I've had 20 years of periods now, which seems insane as I write it
I've had two children, so between them I've had around 24 ish months since I was 10 without a period (that's two pregnancies with post birth bleeding, but then no bleeding for a few months during the earlier months of breast feeding)
So, there are some facts about myself, that you didn't know you needed to know.
Thinking about a time in my life when I used disposable period products, I would say I used around 29 individual products for one cycle, meaning I've used around 6003 disposable products up until the point of changing to reusable products.
If I were to continue using these products up until I started menopause, which on average is 55 years of age, I would use around 14,985 disposable period products.
In terms of money, they estimate that a single person spends around £128 per year on disposable period products. Based on me menstruating for approximately 47 years (45 on average plus the two extra years for me starting mine a little earlier than average) I would spend around £6016 in my life time.
Please remember that these figures are all averages, and for some the amount that periods cost might not seem like much, but to others that is a lot of money. A few things we should all be aware of when we think of period poverty are -
Not everyone has access to affordable products. The likes of Aldi sell them for below £1, but what if you can't get to an Aldi? Your local pharmacy might be your nearest store, and if you don't drive it's not as straight forward as shopping about
For some even the cheaper products can be out of their price range, but they are a necessity and in some cases people may have to choose between food and basic sanitary products
If you are parent with multiple teens of menstruating age, and you are also in that age bracket, you may be buying for multiple people, which mounts up. That yearly figure increases for every person in the house hold who gets a period, and if you are the parent you will likely be adding this products into a monthly or weekly shop
Every single person is different, meaning the products that suit me might not work for my sister, for example. That means that some people might want to buy cheaper products but they may not be as efficient for that person
People can be very quick to judge others, and period poverty is a serious issue, we should always consider that there are many reasons why someone may not have access to the correct products. Period poverty doesn't just apply to the products we use, but the facilities in which we can use them. Are they safe? Are they hygienic? Is there a place to dispose of used products correctly? It's also not just an issue in the UK, but globally. For more information about period poverty in the UK, this is a great article and to find out more about this issue globally, look here.
Did you know there are around 15 million people of menstrual age in the UK? That's just the UK. If every single person who menstruates uses disposable products, that's A LOT going to landfills or down the toilet to block our sewerage systems.
Okay, I've rambled on a lot there, I've thrown out a lot of figures. So I'm going to just add a few more onto that, but now it's about how we may be able to tackle some of the issues I've talked about above, primarily plastic pollution but there are some solutions here to some aspects of period poverty.
I stopped using disposable products in 2019. I invested in some CSPs (Cloth Sanitary Pads) and a Diva Cup and now I want to talk you through those items, and how they have completely changed my life!
As I've said, I started out with cloth sanitary pads after my first child was born, a few months after my periods had returned and I realized how much I hated disposable products. I made my first purchase from Babi Pur where I bought 3 long EarthWise pads and a Bloom and Nora Trial Kit. Since then I've added Some small Earthwise pads and a few of the Bloom and Nora mini pads, as well as a combination of Honour Your Flow pads and some Baba and Boo nighttime pads, which I bought for post birth bleeding after having my second baby.
These are all brilliant products. My favorite are either the EarthWise or the Honour Your Flow, for both comfort and absorbency. The Baba and Boo weren't comfortable for post birth, I had stitches in two places, and I just found disposable maternity pads more comfortable, but I now use them over night.
Overall, they are more comfortable, more absorbent, and I find I can wear them for a bit longer than I could disposable products.
I made the jump to a cup when we went for our first family holiday abroad. I was due on my period while we were away but I really wanted to be able to go swimming and wearing my swimming costume without any issues. I used an online quiz, Put A Cup In It to help me determine which one suits me. Out of the few options it gave me, I picked the Diva Cup as it got really good reviews.
I felt like I got used it in no time, in fact I only used it once before we went away. It's surprising how much it holds, I can wear it all day and it's just about full. I think it makes you realise that pads have given us a false idea about how much blood we loose. It can take a few attempts to get in, especially if I feel rushed or flustered, and on two occasions its opened in the wrong place, and suctioned to the wrong area, meaning that when I tried to remove it, it felt like I was trying to pull my bowel out with it. I've learned to make sure it's in the right place before getting up and going about my day. I don't sleep with it in, but I find it's great especially if I am out for the day!
There is also the option to make them, which I've not tried myself yet, but here is a great post about doing so!
How much has all of this cost me? I've totted them up as best as I could, and it's around £134. I haven't paid for them all in one chunk, it has been little by little. These products may or may not need replacing at some point, but they do me a full period. I have been using this full range of products for just over a year, so going forward, they've paid for themselves. I love them, and would never go back. When I'm on my period, I feel healthier, cleaner, and like I'm helping the environment.
I am considering adding some period pants to my collection, as I feel they may be more suitable once I'm working back in the office, or for overnight, as while I have the thicker ones for over night, I only really feel like I need them for one of my cycle, and could do with something else the rest of the time, so I'll update if I do do that at some point!
These reusable products fantastic, but there are two final things I would like to add before I finish.
First of all, there are lots of options for reusable period products now. There are different brands for a start. There are also reusable tampons, You can get disposable products made out of more environmental materials, as well reusable tampon applicators. You can get period pants, and labia pads. There are lots of options, and different things will suit different people.
Secondly, and lastly, these products are a great solution to period poverty, to aiding in period related illnesses and symptoms, and to reducing plastic pollution. They aren't for everyone though. For whatever reason, they might not be suitable, affordable or accessible. And that's okay. We are all trying to do our bit, and if this way isn't part of that journey, don't judge someone for that.