Are Menstrual Cups Environmentally Friendly?
Environmental concerns are one of the most common reasons for users of disposable period products to switch to a reusable alternative. And compared to products made from cotton, a menstrual cup made from silicone just might not stack up, right?
Well, not really. Apart from silicone's recyclability (it returns to its original components – sand, carbon dioxide and water vapour when broken down), it also leaves out most of the harmful and resource-heavy ingredients and processes involved in the creation and disposal of single-use alternatives:
Considered to be one of the world's ‘thirstiest' crops, cotton requires six pints of water to grow a single bud. And unless you specifically buy organic disposable pads (which can be expensive and difficult to source locally), you can be guaranteed the cotton in your product has been saturated with pesticides and insecticides in the growing stages.
The average tampon user discards 16,800 tampons and plastic applicators in a lifetime, the average disposable menstrual pad user 12,000 pads, plus the associated packaging. Single-use pads contain a strip of polyethylene plastic adhesive on the back for sticking them down, and they often make their way to landfill or the incineration plant wrapped in plastic, none of which is biodegradable or soil/ocean-friendly.
The number of processes involved in creating disposable menstrual pads and tampons is hard to pinpoint, but both finished products have been shown to contain dioxin, chlorine, rayon, viscose and other carcinogenic and reproductive toxins which, apart from being potentially harmful to the wearer, are also harmful for soil and oceans. And if I ever figure out the exact ingredients that make up the ‘super-absorbent' ‘blue gel' cores, I'll be sure to let you know. I'm pretty sure they belong in this paragraph.
Menstrual cups completely eliminate the monthly build-up of menstrual-related packaging such as tampon applicators and outer plastic and cardboard packaging (not to mention the individually wrapped ones), which makes things much easier for those who wish to minimise their household's waste output.
Each person who chooses a reusable menstrual product over a disposable alternative is potentially keeping up to 150kg of harmful and unhygienic waste out of our environment. The average beach-goer in Britain can expect to find up to 23 disposable menstrual pads and 9 tampon applicators washed up on every kilometre of beach they visit. This doesn't include the fact that menstrual pads, tampons and applicators (combined with cotton buds) make up 7.3% of items flushed down Britain's toilets each year, and require heavy resourcing and expense (about £14 billion) to remove.
Conversely, once purchased, menstrual cups merely require small amounts of water when it comes time to rinsing, with either the additional energy consumption required for their monthly sterilizing, or the use of sterilizing tablets. If you choose to recycle your cup, the process involved will involve your cup being ground up, mixed with binding agents and moulded into new household items.
Menstrual cups can also be used again before they are recycled. They can be chopped up and added to pebbles, glass or woodchip in your garden since silicone has no harmful effect on soil. They can also be used as tiny measures for plants which require particular amounts of feed or water. Or if you're feeling really creative they can be modified to create small, self-watering planters by cutting off the bottom, attaching some fabric over the new opening and sitting the cup inside a jar of the same size with some water in the bottom.
Silicone does still involve some industrial processes to make and then again to break down. But when compared to the disposable alternatives, it is considered to be the greener, healthier choice for both you and the environment, making menstrual cups a true eco-champion among menstrual products. Hooray!
Read Why are Menstrual Cups Better?