Menstrual Cupping and Saving the Earth

By Gretchen Fox Schempp, Wellness Manager

I was working at Luther College at Marty’s Cyber Café about 10 years ago. I still thought I was a pretty hip chick when one of my student employees told me about the Diva Cup. Being the hip chick I thought I was, I was shocked I hadn’t heard of this new approach to dealing with my monthly menses (or messes, as many women come to think of them!). I grew up using tampons from the get go…thank you big sister for that introduction. I never thought too deeply about the cost involved in being a woman back then. Whether that cost be monetary or environmental. Mom seemed to stock the bathroom cupboard with whatever a girl could need. Later on, out on my own, I began counting the dollars and cents when I would purchase all these items on my own. Regular tampons for lighter days, supers for the not so light and 3 different sizes and thicknesses of pads….ugh. This doesn’t include the pain relievers for those God awful cramps I was blessed with.

So, let’s look at some statistics here. How much does the average woman spend in her life on her monthly menstrual products? Studies roll in at an average of about $4 a month. More health conscious women’s costs will go up significantly because likely she will opt for organic and unbleached (BLEACH? YIKES!) cotton tampons and pads as opposed to those made with cheaper synthetic materials such as rayon. Tampons have been around since the 1930’s, though it wasn’t until the addition of synthetic chemicals and the discovery of TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) that anyone questioned their safety. Dr. Ilya Sandra Perlingieri, retired professor from San Diego State University and author of “The Uterine Crisis” has research linking uterine problems and bleached tampons.

Conventional tampons are not just made of cotton, they are often made with a variety of dyes, fragrances, and super-absorbent chemicals. Chlorine from bleach eventually turns to dioxin. Virtually all commercial tampons are bleached. (The Natracare tampons we sell at the Co-op are not bleached.) Tampon companies underestimate the effects of dioxin. “Tampon manufacturers say that tampons are safe and the levels of dioxin are so low that they are almost undetectable,” Perlingieri says. “That may be true, but we only need a small trace amount for dioxin to do damage. It accumulates in our bodies over our lifetime and it’s not something the body can ever get rid of.” With that in mind, think of women who use tampons for 30 or 40 years. Totaling anywhere between 7,000 and 12,000 tampons in a woman’s lifetime!

Really the fact of the matter is that it’s expensive econonmically, can have serious health effects, and produces a heck of a lot of waste. According to the book “Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation,” the average woman throws away a staggering 300 lbs of feminine hygiene products in a lifetime. In the US alone, an estimated 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are disposed of each year. Each one of those items has an environmental impact of the waste – including the product itself AND the packaging, plastic or cardboard applicators. In addition, there is also the cost of transportation and production.

There is good news though. There are alternatives. Really GREEN alternatives. The Diva Cup and The Keeper are the two different brands of menstrual cups that we handle at the Co-op. We also handle Party in My Pants reusable cloth pads, made regionally in Wisconsin! These cottage-industry made pads are lined on the back with a leak proof nylon shield and nickel free snaps. They are available in many sizes and shapes to fit your body and your needs.

The Diva Cup and The Keeper Moon cup are made from medical grade silicone. They are 100% hypoallergenic and odorless. They are also available in sizes, one for before vaginal childbirth and another for after. Menstrual cups are reusable for many years and can be worn overnight. They are FDA approved. They provide the convenience of tampons without the waste and the dangers of dioxins. They are inserted like a tampon and emptied out as needed and cleaned with soapy water.

If you have questions regarding any of our reusable, green options for your menstrual needs, please don’t hesitate to contact Gretchen in the Wellness department at the Co-op.