• Saskia Scarce

Menstrual Cups: A Sustainable Option

Did you know that 25% of Canadian women under that age of 25 worry about not being able to afford menstrual hygiene products?


I didn’t know that. I was living oblivious to the impact of period poverty in North America. A box of tampons or pads range, in Oshawa, from $3-$12* and in isolated Indigenous communities, menstrual products can range from $16-$45*. In 2018, it was estimated that a Canadian woman will spend about $6,000 on feminine hygiene products in their lifetime. The question we must ask ourselves is, why are feminine hygiene products viewed as a luxury when menstruation is universal?


*Cost varies depending on the brand, quantity, and absorbency.


Period Poverty- “When a person cannot afford period products causing them to resort to alternate means to manage their periods”

I would like to note that not all menstruators are cisgender females. Many within the transgender community do experience the terror of menstruating.


In an ideal society, all menstruators would have access to an unlimited amount of free and environmentally conscious period products. Sadly, we live in a world where corporations deem profit more valuable than what is ethically, environmentally, and socially right. This means that we have to be the change we want to see in the world (I believe that is how the quote goes). I sat down with Leisa Hirtz to learn more about menstrual cups and their impact. Menstrual cups eliminate the constant need to spend money on period management as well as decrease the use of single-use plastics.


Leisa Hirtz is the founder and CEO of Women’s Global Health Innovations. Founded in 2013, Women’s Global Health Innovations focuses on women’s rights, supporting girls through education, and developing sustainable products like the bfree cup that improve the quality of life. After years in product development and advocating for women, Leisa began to fine-tune her focus towards improving the menstrual cup.


What are the benefits of a menstrual cup?


These answers are generated from Leisa’s response or they are direct quotes.


Economical


The initial cost of a menstrual cup can be quite pricey; equivalent to 3-4 months’ worth of tampons or pads. The bfree cup particularly is produced with an antibacterial material it can last up to 10 years. That’s 10 years without having to spend money on products related to period management.


Social


“It’s wonderful, everyone is talking about a menstrual cup. When I am in Kenya and I take out the bfree and ask anyone ‘Do you know what this is?’, I would say that 7 out of 10 of the entire population would say ‘Oh I know what that is, it’s a menstrual cup. There has been so much work around more environmental, sustainable, economical solutions to manage periods. So, from the psycho-social as well, I know the girls we were working within Uganda, they were missing 2 to 3 days of school because they were using a sort of makeshift [pad] out of mattress stuffing and socks. Some were sitting in sand for a couple of days or lying in bed. A small minority, we were able to afford pads each month, but sometimes not every month. They would have a pad for this month, but next month they would have to go to another solution. It is psychological in regards to dignity, empowerment and confidence that comes into play when you are looking at a menstrual cup that you know that if you put in before you go to school in the morning and you don’t need to take it out to empty until when you are back home from school. You can be active, hang out with your friends and there is this confidence that is in there. The positive social impact [is that] you sort of feel free and less concerned about leaking.”


Environmental


“Environmentally it speaks for itself, something that you are not disposing of every single month. 5 pads times by a year times that by a lifetime. Some people estimate that it is about 20, 000 tampons or pads a woman disposes of in her lifetime, times that by the 1.9 billion women in the world that are menstruating and of reproductive age. You have to think of tampons and pads as single-use plastics and just like the garbage bags you get at the grocery store, these go into landfills. You are not supposed to flush a tampon down.” Due to horrible design, women started to believe that tampons were flushable. Only the cardboard applicator is flushable but, these are not as mainstream anymore. “They are not meant to be flushed, and that’s why you see them floating in Lake Ontario when there is heavy rain. They go through the water treatment but if there is a major rainfall, it overflows and that’s why you will see used tampons floating around. Pad and tampons, they estimate that it takes about 200- 800 years for them to decompose in a landfill. They just don’t break down and they just break down into plastic anyway, so what does that mean? I truly believe that if women do not want to use a tampon or a cup, there should be new material science that provides products that are safe for women and biodegradable.”


Do you want to try a menstrual cup, but you are intimidated? Here are some tips from Leisa to remember!

  • You Are Not Alone

There are so many people out there that are experiencing the same and “there is so much information in regards to support” out there for you to utilize.


  • Do Your Research.

Learn about the different brands, what size works best for you, and hear various people’s experiences.


  • Remember it will take time.

“It may take a month, it may take two months, it may take five months for you to really [get comfortable]”


  • Relax and Explore

“Know your body first”, you need to learn how to relax your muscles.


  • Be Kind to Yourself

Your experiences will vary monthly depending on what your body wants. “It’s different from woman to woman. Women come in all different shapes and sizes. Cervix high and cervix low”.


  • It is Your Choice

“Do not feel the peer pressure or adopt a cup if you are not ready for it. There are other reusable products like reusable pads that are on the market that can ease into the reusable menstrual product world. ”


The Problem


Only in 2015 did our government ever so kindly decide to stop taxing period products as a “luxury” item. The only time I found my period luxurious was when I was young and naive. You might ask yourself, why doesn’t everyone just use a menstruation cup? A menstruation cup can range from $16 - $40. People that do live below the poverty line would have to choose between food, heat, housing, or hygiene.


How can we as youth take the steps to conquer period poverty globally and domestically?


According to Leisa, we are beginning to conquer period poverty by forming conversations, being open to learning, and sharing. Take the time to type “period poverty” in your browser, there are so many articles that discuss the issue in depth.


Keep advocating for access to free menstruation products in your schools, last year the TDSB started providing free products in their high schools and elementary schools. In British Columbia, all schools have to be equipped with pads and tampons.


As you can tell, major corporations that produce menstruation products only care about profit. Single-use period products further pollute our world and ensure that there will always be continuous demand, which will always benefit companies rather than the consumer. Menstruators should not have to worry about accessing products because of cost. When shopping for period products, we should not have to decide between affordability and sustainability.We should not have to worry about missing school because we have to ration our hygiene products. Periods already take a toll on the menstruator, whether it is physical, emotional or mental; dignity should not be up for debate.


To learn more about the bfree cup click the link below.


https://bfreecup.com/pages/story


Resources


https://www.cpha.ca/period-poverty-canada-and-around-globe


https://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2019/09/09/the-heartbreaking-realities-of-period-poverty.html


https://periodaisle.com/blogs/all/period-poverty-in-canada


https://globalnews.ca/news/4239800/canada-cost-of-menstrual-products/


https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/period-poverty-everything-you-need-to-know/


https://www1.shoppersdrugmart.ca/en/love- you/periodpoverty#:~:text=Period%20Poverty%20forces%20women%20to,an%20extended%20period%20of%20time.


https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/how-tampons-pads-became-unsustainable-story-of-plastic/


https://www.self.com/story/male-period-trans-model-kenny-jones

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