Menstrual cups babbyyy! This is one of my favourite swaps and one I'm certain will go mainstream, beyond the eco community.
Menstrual cups are a small cup made from medical grade silicone that replaces a tampon. They are therefore reusable, which cuts down the environmental impact of feminine hygiene products massively. There are loads of statistics about the waste created by feminine hygiene products but I thought I'd estimate my statistics to show you just how much one menstruating person can create. Assuming, in one menstruation cycle, I would use around 8 tampons, 6 pads, and 3 panty liners, that would leave me with just over 500 items of waste a year (including their packaging and tampon applicators). That means in my life so far I've created at least 2000 waste items solely due to my period (not including the past two years in which I've created 8; the packaging of my menstrual cup, thinx, and gladrags). Now say I continued using these disposable products, that would be an estimate of just under 19,000 in my entire life as a menstruating human. And that is without taking a whole load of other factors into account. My point is, it is a TON of waste, not to mention their general carbon footprint. So, why make this amount of waste when it is avoidable? Tampons and pads won't get eradicated anytime soon, and I don't think that's important either as many people don't have access to these reusable options, but for those of us for whom do, give it a go!
The benefits of menstrual cups go beyond sustainability. They can be inserted for up to 12 hours which is one of my favourite things about them, one because I always left my tampon in for an unhealthy amount of time (yes I was dumb) and two because it means you can sleep in them! (no more waking up in the middle of the night and staining your white sheets people!). I also love that it's more accommodating to long working hours, which in theatre during performance days is super helpful because it's simply one less thing to think about.
It's also a huge money saver, although of course you have to pay more upfront, in the long run you end up saving a ton of money, and energy seeing as you don't need to buy them every month. I hope this part of it makes it more accessible to people who otherwise have difficulty paying for sanitary products. They are said to last around 5 years with proper sanitary practices.
A slightly random effect, that to me has been positive but for others may not be, is how it's connected me to my period. Women are shamed for this perfectly normal and healthy bodily function, and having to interact with my period the way I have as a result of the cup has really made me feel much more comfortable, confident, and accepting of it. Seeing that my body is healthy and functioning well has been fascinating and an unexpected effect of using the menstrual cup.
That being said, there are the downsides. First of all it's messy, get ready to get a whole ton more personal with your parts. To take it out you have to be okay with getting some blood on your fingers. You also have to clean it before putting it back in, and making sure your hands are always washed and sanitised before inserting or removing. The trouble of the mess in removing it means that in public either you time when you insert it accordingly so you don't have to take it out till you are home, or use a bathroom in which the stall has a sink (like disabled toilets). When the second option isn't available I've also just bought my water bottle into the stall and washed it over the toilet. To me the element of dealing with the cup in public is the largest nuisance but now I'm used to it so it doesn't bother me. Another thing is that it may take a couple times to figure out how to insert it, but to be fair for me that was the same with a tampon (and before anyone asks, no you don't feel it). Removing it is also something one has to get used to, you have to interact with your blood for one thing which for many of us is something we aren't used to, and paired with all the shame surrounding periods something many people don't want to even acknowledge, but it's honestly not that bad. I do have a tip though, I currently use the diva cup which doesn't have a long tail which means removal can be a little painful so I recommend a brand with a longer tail like the one pictured which is the organicup.
Overall we are all at different stages with our periods and vaginas, so whether you are ready for this swap is ultimately incredibly personal, but I do think it is an incredible product and the positive effect it can have on the environment is profound. There are so many ways to have a low waste period, this is just one that happens to be my favourite, so be ready for more posts to come!