Updated: Nov 14
Up until two years ago, I didn’t consider myself as a sustainable or minimalist person. I liked stuff. I still do, actually. I like buying, the little rush of having a new product coming in the mail or in my bag while I walk out of a store. So when zero-waste period products started to trend, I was intrigued by a whole new shopping opportunity.
Like many other people, I felt comfortable in the way I had handled my periods all my life. I got my period when I was ten, in elementary school, the first person in my class, and eventually the only one until middle school. I’ve kept pads in my bag ever since, carried them around, and as a teenager I’ve helped many of my friends to learn how to use tampons as well. That was the way it had always been, so why would I change such an intimate part of my life? Moreover, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in touch that much with that part of my body. Sure enough, like many others, I have scrubbed my fair amount of underwear under the cold running water to wash the blood out, but handling zero-waste period products seemed like a whole other deal.
For a while I had a roommate who kept her menstrual cup in the cabinet of the bathroom, boiling it in the pot where we cooked pasta when she needed to use it. My part of the cabinet was full of night pads, day pads, liners, tampons of at least two sizes, a rainbow of plastic and carton boxes. Next to hers, it was a parade of consumerism. That made me think, why not try the menstrual cup myself? It seemed easy enough, and the cost would have saved me quite a lot of money in the long run. Plus, it was something that I could buy. That I could research, let the shiny marketing ads get to me, compare products, find the website that appealed to me the most, and then buy it.
And so, after a few months of thinking it over, I almost ran out of my personal arsenal of single-use period products and decided to try the switch. I found the one website with the color palette I liked the most, asked around to see if anyone I knew had tried that one before, and hit the purchase button. The cup came in the mail a few days later, right on time for me to try it. I boiled it, went to the bathroom, squatted… and eventually started crying.
Why would this not work for me? It was frustrating not hearing the suction noise I was supposed to hear, not knowing where to put my fingers exactly, seeing the blood around my fingernails, having my leg so far up that it ended up resting on the sink. I couldn’t do it. It was painful, uncomfortable, frustrating and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I took one of the few pads I had left and called it a day. The next morning, I tried again. It was still frustrating and uncomfortable at first, but I had done some research and watched a few videos, where people said it makes sense for the first use to feel that way. Many of us are not used to being that much in touch with our bodies, to enter them like that, to feel this connection to our menstrual blood. Eventually, I got over it and using the menstrual cup became the norm of my periods. The more I talked about it with my friends, the more they agreed; switching to the cup was the best decision any of us had taken. Apart from being free of plastic waste, it doesn’t require the constant checking up pads do, and it can wait up to twelve hours – depending on your flow – to be washed out and re-inserted, unlike tampons. The only inconvenience we all seemed to have, was that the cup should not be used when your period has not actually hit yet; so those days of waiting and checking on your underwear for red spots remain uncovered.
Back in Australia, a friend of mine used to model for period underwear. I had been intrigued by the product, underwear I can wear happily when on my period and it wouldn’t spill or stain my jeans? The prices seemed too high though, and I put it off for a while, until I realized I needed something else to make my period completely zero-waste. Sometimes I still wouldn’t put the cup in right, and the days before my period were stressful enough that I didn’t want to run to the bathroom every two minutes to check if it had hit yet. I bought three pairs of the reusable period underwear on their sale day, choosing the colors that looked the most fun, the little rush of a purchase hitting me again. When they came in the mail, I washed them in cold water in the washing machine and after I tried them the first time my period was completely zero-waste.
And because I wanted to try all the possible options, I also bought reusable pads and liners. They weren’t as easy to use as the underwear, since the reusable pads don’t have any glue that keeps them in place unlike the single-use ones. Nonetheless, once I learned how to maintain their position by folding them right, they were perfect for the job. They gave me a more familiar feeling, and are easier to change when out of our homes, since they fold back and come with a safe bag, where one can place them when they’ve been used and be sure they won’t leak. Most of the reusable pads and liners work best if they’re washed under running cold water after each use, and then run in the washing machine, always set on cold, just like the reusable underwear. I believe them to be a perfect alternative for those who feel the menstrual cup is too invasive.
What I liked the most about the period underwear websites, is that if you choose the right brand, they target to anyone with periods; not only cisgender, standard-bodied women. The period underwear can pass as daily underwear, as boxers, as thongs, as anything one prefers. This type of dialogue isn’t as much present on the reusable pads website, but I am sure the more popular these products become, the more options will come.
The investment I had made in those products paid me back in feeling the most secure I had ever been with my period; I know none of my clothes or sheets will be stained, I know I can walk, dance, run, go to the beach without thinking it twice, that the materials won’t create rashes on my skin, that it will properly breathe and not sweat, and of course, that I am not adding any waste to the planet. But most of all, they gave me the chance to be more in touch with my body. I do not feel gross or disgusted at all by my body anymore; this blood is part of me and part of most people in the world.
It’s a big change, but it can be made simple, and luckily we have so many options to fit any of us; all we have to do is set our minds to it and make a change for the better.
About the author: I am a lesbian intersectional feminist who loves to read books and write thoughts down; I mostly travel around in search of new adventures and cultures to learn from!