How To Have A Zero Waste Period: Lunette menstrual cup review
In 2014, I learned of a little piece of rubber called a menstrual cup, and my relationship with my period changed forever. I haven't used a tampon in four years, in theory saving 700 tampons from landfill.
A menstrual cup is a medical-grade silicone cup you insert during your period to catch the blood. The cup is usually inserted for six to 24 hours at a time, depending on your choice of cup and the heaviness of your flow. Then it's simply emptied into a toilet or shower, rinsed, and re-inserted.
Menstrual cups are the eco-friendly and minimalist alternative to single-use period products. A cup minimises your period from an average of 20 tampons per period (estimate via Divacup) to one reusable product, avoiding the constant stream of waste we usually go through every month. And if cared for well, cups can last at least ten years. Yes, people I have spoken to really have kept the same cup up to 15 years!
This is my third menstrual cup. My first, a Lunette, was damaged after a few years of service and had to be replaced. My second, a Juju, was too soft and leaked during the heavier part of my period so I found myself having to use single-use pads as back-up (defeating the purpose) and ultimately I decided to replace it, too. My third is another Lunette thanks to the awesome team at Biome Eco Stores who sent me this replacement cup when I needed one. After trying another brand, I'm extremely happy to be back with Lunette and continue to recommend it as much as I did the first time around!
A cup can be daunting to look at and overwhelming the first time you bring one home. However, the perceived size is nothing to stress over. The cups are designed to be scrunched for insertion and then once inside, pop open to form an airtight seal that prevents the blood from leaking out. You’re then able to carry on with your life as if your period doesn’t exist without feeling it and after a bit of practice, without any fear of leaks. No dangling strings, no pervasive odours, and no unsightly trash to stash at the bottom of your friends' kitchen bins when you need to change a messy pad outside the home.
If you ever do have to change it away from home in a public bathroom, you only need to wipe the cup down with toilet paper in a toilet stall, and it can wait until you're home to rinse properly.
If you get a period like I do, we typically bleed for 2250 days of our lives. (Give or take for birth control and pregnancies.) We change our pad or tampon on average five times a day on our period, tapering off towards the end. This can add up to 11,250 single-use products in a lifetime. With the estimate that each sanitary pad is the equivalent of four plastic shopping bags, if pads are your product of choice then you'll contribute the equivalent of 45,000 plastic bags* to landfill. And you're just one person.
A menstrual cup comes with one initial box and then produces no more waste after your upfront purchase. The cup is plastic-free, doesn't require washing machines or extra products for cleaning it, and doesn't leach any toxic chemicals when it is ultimately disposed of. While silicone rubber can't biodegrade or decompose, it can be recycled if the right facilities are available in your region. At the very least when sent to landfill, its non-toxic and safer for our oceans if it accidentally finds it's way into the litter stream.
If we all started young and only needed to purchase about three or four cups in our lifetime, the world could look pretty different. As individuals we would save over ten thousand individually-wrapped single-use products per person from landfill.
The savings in non-renewable resources involved in the extraction, refinement, production and shipment of the raw materials used, including the pesticides, bleaches, petroleum-based plastics, and fragrances, would be huge. These single-use products consume huge amounts of resources to be created, packaged and transported all around the world for us to buy, just to be used for four hours and thrown into landfill. Purchasing one reusable product really is the answer.
Typical tampons, the ones we're given as primary schoolers and told to use, are bleached and generally come with added fragrances or absorbency gels. These are chemicals that when not coating a tampon, we intuitively know would be a really, really, really bad idea to put inside our vagina. (Bleach? In your vagina!?) Yet somehow, we accept them as a given when we start our periods. Made from non-organic cotton and a whole host of undisclosed chemicals, tampons typically can lead to itching, weird smells, discomfort as it dries, thrush as a reaction to those chemicals and even less directly, symptoms like migraines or worsened endometriosis pain.
Tampons cannot distinguish between what they should and should not absorb, and often take your vaginal wall lining with them. This leads to pain, infection, and increased permeability of the synthetic chemicals found in the bleach.
Things found in supermarket brand pads and tampons that are not safe to be against your skin include:
- Chlorine bleach
- Polyethylene plastic
- Synthetic fragrances
- Absorbency gels
- Synthetic fibre rayon
- Dioxins (in the bleach and rayon)
The cup is made of medical-grade silicone, avoiding all these health issues and eliminating the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Because it's so comfortable it is very common to forget you have your period and to leave your cup in for more than a day. Yet it's so safe that the worst-case scenario is your cup overfills, the suction seal is broken and you have leakage. That's a great way to remind you that you have your period!
There are some great, organic, alternatives to conventional tampons like TOM Organic and Natracare. But to me, never using one again is a form of self-love and self-care where I no longer subject myself to putting anything absorbent into an area that is designed to maintain a steady level of moisture at all times. This keeps my pH level perfect, and never messes with the natural order of things down there.
NB: Most of the toxic ingredients mentioned above are tested on animals, and many pads and tampons aren't vegan. The cup is a vegan alternative to the regular supermarket and petrol station brands.
A product can be as sustainable as possible, but if it doesn't work then what's the point? So the good news is, the cup works. It's ingenious, really. Perfect for backpackers, shift workers and athletes, it's the most practical way of managing your period we have.
First, because the cup has the ability to hold much more volume than tampons or pads, it can on average be left 12 hours at a time. This means you don't have to handle your period while you are outside of the home, which is amazing for travellers who'd be forced to find public bathrooms during the day. Similarly ideal for people that have fast-paced jobs (I think of ER nurses) that might not be able to nip into the bathroom whenever they want to change a tampon. There's no more issue of having to find a toilet that has a bin, and that awkward moment where everyone hears your packaging crinkle and you know that they know what you're doing in there. Plus, because it's so safe, the cup can be put in as soon as you're expecting your period so you don't have to keep an eye out for it or wait for spotting to happen before inserting a tampon.
Secondly, having one small product is amazing for travel and minimalists. It's one small object that comes in a matching drawstring bag. It can fit easily in your carry-on bag or purse and you never have to be without it and it's much more difficult to be detected if you're in an awkward situation where you don't want everyone to see your box of jumbo tampons. This is amazing when you travel to countries that don't have easy access to tampons, so you don't have to fill half your bag with individually wrapped products! You never have to worry about running out of products and having to do the mad dash to the supermarket with toilet paper stuffed in your underwear.
And my third point about convenience is the fact the cup is completely internal. This means it's the best option for physical sports like swimming, dancing and yoga. Any activity where you might be worried about a string or a pad being visible so you can dress however you like at any time of the month. They're even recommended for scuba divers!
The Lunette cup comes in two different sizes. One for people who have not given birth, and one for people that have given birth or who have extra heavy flows. I'd recommend going into the link and having a read of the product descriptions to see which is right for you. For people with different lengths and sizes, you are able to trim the stem if it's not needed so it doesn't protrude. If you already know you definitely have a small vagina or a particularly light flow because you're on birth control, you might want to consider the JuJu cup for yourself which is the same price because the Lunette does hold quite a lot and you may not need something as big. A friend mentioned to me she had the exact same experience as me of finding the JuJu worked while on birth control, and once she came off her periods got heavier and the JuJu started leaking.
While menstrual cups are almost one-size-fits-all and can certainly work to a degree for everyone, we are all different and you may need to research or experiment to find the perfect fit for you.
I'm a total cup convert, and I think this product can be absolutely life-changing as long as you're willing to troubleshoot any issues that come up and go into the learning curve of insertion with an open mind. The environmental impact alone is every reason to make a sustainable change, but without even knowing the benefits before I made the swap, the cup also changed my relationship with my own body and took away any feelings of resentment towards my period.
If you're willing to give the cup a try for the first time, my inbox is open to questions about insertion or what to do if you experience any pain or leaks.
*Not an official statistic, this could vary by 10,000 based off whose estimates you use.