Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Sustainable Cycles

October 31st, 2011 by Chris Bobel

Sarah Konner and Toni Craigie Bicycle Down the West Coast, Live on $4 a Day, and Talk to People about Sustainable Menstrual Products.

Hear, in their own words, what they did and why it matters.

These gals are our menstrual sheroes!

Our Project

Over a lifetime, the average woman spends about 2,000 dollars on single-use pads and tampons, creating an enormous truckload of trash. There are more affordable and sustainable options that very few people seem to know about. We left Seattle on bikes on August 18th and arrived in LA on October 10th, and we will be continuing this work off-bicycle in the coming months. Along the way, we are meeting women, community organizers, health professionals, business owners, and people of all stripes, and having conversations about the benefits of reusable menstrual products.

For this project, we have been focusing on reusable menstrual cups—made of natural gum rubber latex or medical-grade silicon; they catch, rather than absorb menstrual flow. One cup costs $35 and can last up to 10 years—quite a deal. There are three companies that sell menstrual cups in the US, all approved as safe by the FDA. Each company has donated cups, totaling over 200, for us to give as gifts along the way. We also have a small number of reusable pads to give away.

There are powerful environmental impacts from this lifestyle switch and also important health benefits. For every woman who leaves behind single-use disposable pads and tampons, you can imagine a truckload of trash not going into the landfills, the decreased carbon footprint from production and shipping of these products, the trees saved, and all of the environmental toxins not going into our air, water, and bodies.

The Trouble with Disposables (Pads and Tampons)

Conventional pads and tampons are made of chlorine-bleached wood pulp, with some cotton (generally grown with tons of pesticides), rayon, plastic, and glue mixed in. They also contain bleach and dioxins, carcinogenic chemicals that are harmful to your body and to the environment. The vagina – wet, warm, and porous – seems like the last place you’d want those chemicals. Tampons, especially the super absorbent kinds, can create a perfect breeding ground for Toxic Shock Syndrome, caused by the deadly bacteria known as Staph (Staphylococcus aureus). These disposable products are not easily biodegradable, which is why they often clog septic systems and long outstay their welcome in our oceans and landfills.

The most immediate concern for many women is the cost of single-use products, every month, until menopause. Pads and tampons are an economic burden on all women BUT prove especially difficult for low-income women since they are not covered by food stamps.

The Scoop on Reusables

Using a menstrual cup puts a woman in more intimate contact with her body: she needs to figure out the mechanics of inserting and removing the cup and sees the color and consistency of her menstrual fluid each time she empties the cup.  Once you get over the learning curve, cups seems easier, more hygienic, and believe it or not, less gross than pads and tampons.  Many users come to value the increased knowledge of their body and cycle that they get from their cup.

Contact lenses make a great analogy: at first people are worried about touching their eye or may experience some irritation as they figure out the best way to put the lenses in.  Quickly, however, most people develop an easy routine around their contacts, and it’s no big deal.

Once thoroughly explained, most people see this switch as a “no-brainer.” Many eco-friendly lifestyle changes are cost-prohibitive (organic food) or time-intensive (hang-drying clothing instead of using the dryer). Menstrual cups have a huge ecological and health benefit, while also saving money and simplifying a woman’s life: you never have to buy pads and tampons again, you never have to remember to put them in your purse. We are all constantly bombarded with little things to do to help the environment. It’s confusing, and you can’t do them all. This is one simple thing that saves time and money and makes a big difference.

Some women love the other reusable options. Cloth pads are reusable and can also last many years. To clean, soak them in cold water then put them in with your laundry. You can make your own or buy them from any of several companies. Sea sponges are worn internally, and function like a tampon. You can wash them and reuse for several months. 
Reusables are sold in some health food stores and are easy to order online.

We believe that person-to-person relationships are the way that people make this lifestyle change. Thirty-five dollars is a lot to spend on a product you are not sure about. A magazine ad can’t answer your questions. It often takes the one-on-one testimonial of a friend to really understand how the cups work and why you’d want to use one.  We have found it rewarding to be that “friend” to many, many women as we travel.  Each cup we give away saves that person a lot of money (a 25 year old will save about 1,500 dollars!), and saves the environment from a truck-load of trash.  We hope that the cups we give as gifts are invitations for people to keep up the work of spreading this grassroots movement.

Toni Craige (acraige@wesleyan.edu) & Sarah Konner (sskonner@gmail.com)

  

One Response to “Sustainable Cycles”

  1. [...] Join the Sustainable Cycles Spring 2015 tour! Want to know more about previous tours?  Sarah Konner and Toni Craigie rode the west coast (U.S.) in 2011, and Rachel Horn and her friend Owen rode 4624 miles across the country in 2013, distributing [...]

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