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Greening Your Monthly Flow

Reusable menstrual products

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Greening Your Monthly Flow

Illustration by Alexandra Westrich

Reusable menstrual products

Menstrual product marketing has long centered on ideas of discretion and odor-suppression, of daintiness and secrecy. Tampons and pads have become necessities of femininity, as women are conditioned from a young age to accept the super-absorbent tampon or pink pad with wings as the best solution for their monthly flows—but there are alternatives. Products like the reusable menstrual cup have physical, environmental and economic benefits, and their popularity is growing.

Because of their absorbent nature, since the 1980s tampons have been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection caused by the build-up of Staphylococcus aureus, leading to the production of the toxin TSST-1. The lesser-known alternative menstrual device is a menstrual cup. Menstrual cups have no such links to TSS, as they do not absorb menstrual fluids so much as catch them, thus decreasing the generation of bacteria.

The environmental impact of tampons and sanitary pads is significant, in terms of both waste and pollution. Waste-wise, the consultants Franklin Associates claim that in 1998 6.5 billion tampons and 13.5 billion sanitary pads and packaging were dumped in landfills or sewage systems, and that was in the U.S. alone. The packaging of tampons and pads is considerable, as each product is wrapped individually, and many tampons include applicators, either cardboard or plastic, that are ultimately unnecessary.

The production of tampons and pads also has an environmental impact. Dioxins are chemical compounds that are formed from industrial processes such as incineration and bleaching. Most major tampon companies now use elemental chlorine-free bleaching for their cotton or rayon-based products, which nearly eliminates the production of dioxins, but not completely. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approves the process, admits it can “theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels.” These trace amounts, although deemed “negligible” by the FDA, can show up in the finished product as well as factory waste that seeps into the air or water.

Reusable menstrual cup products such as the Diva Cup, the Keeper and the Mooncup eliminate the problem of waste as well as the need for a bleaching process. These products can be used for years (the Keeper is usable for 10 years, while the Diva Cup and The Mooncup do not have caps on their use-life), which gives one the empowering knowledge she will no longer have to shell out money each month to the same mega-company. Women spend approximately $4 monthly on sanitary products, which works out to approximately $1700 in a lifetime. Menstrual cups, on the other hand, each cost roughly $35, as stated on their websites.

According to the Museum of Menstruation website—the background to which warrants a story of its own—commercial menstrual cups have existed since the 1930s, with the first being the Daintette. Leona W. Chalmers patented the Chalmers cup in 1937, but it failed to produce many sales. In 1959 she partnered with Tassette, Inc. to promote the Tassette, a product that carried the promise of “carefree daintiness… wherever you go, whatever you do.” In 1986 the Keeper, made of natural gum rubber (latex) and manufactured in Cincinnatti, was created.

The Mooncup was later patented in the United Kingdom (no relation to Keeper Inc.’s Moon Cup). The Mooncup is made of hypoallergenic medical-grade silicone. One of the major benefits of silicone is that it is produced from silica, an extremely abundant mineral, as opposed to gum rubber, which is derived from tree sap. More recent silicone menstrual cups are the Moon Cup and the Diva Cup.

According to the company’s press release, the Diva Cup was patented in 2003 by Carinne and Francine Chambers, a motherdaughter team based in Kitchener, Ontario. Their product can be found at Whole Foods stores across North America, and, as detailed by their publicist, they are currently in the intermediate stages of a print-advertisement campaign, which focuses on the environmental benefits of the Diva Cup. With increased magazine coverage, in addition to online blogging and word-of-mouth, menstrual cups should become less of an anomaly in the sanitary product arena.

Carinne Chambers writes in her company’s press release: “With all the state-of-the-art conveniences Western society has developed, it baffles us why outdated feminine products are still being used. We believe that reusable menstrual cups are the next generation of feminine hygiene because they are the most environmentally responsible choice. They are also the most convenient and reliable option available.”

The last point is somewhat subjective, but points to the main challenge for Chambers’ Diva Cup: how do you market a product that is so structurally different from the long-held norm of the ultra-absorbent tampon with applicator? Are menstrual cups really more convenient? I would have to argue yes, but it’s not easy to convince others of their comfort and reliability—they really do look far from inviting. However, as Tampax’s latest innovation is the “absorbent braid” and Playtex’s is the skirt-like “Gentle Glide” with “double-layer, cross-pad design,” the reusable menstrual cup really shouldn’t come across as being all that strange.

The Keeper and The Moon Cup

The Diva Cup


Museum of Menstruation

One Response to Greening Your Monthly Flow

  1. susan says:

    I live my Diva Cup and is the best purchase I’ve made! Got it a South Coast Shopping, and I think it was $16.99. They also had the the Keeper and Moon Cup (US).