Saying goodbye to single-use plastic, part 6: Plastic Free Periods

You may have seen me mention cloth sanitary pads/liners in a previous blog post, which I made the very comfortable transition to a while ago and have since expanded my collection. But how about menstrual cups?

Firstly, what is a menstrual cup?

There are several different types/brands, likely the one you’ve heard most about is Mooncup® but I have no idea if they were the first?! Essentially, menstrual cups are made from medical grade silicone and are designed to capture your flow during that dreaded week of the month, as a tampon would, except it sits lower down and is zero waste/low impact.

They’re very hygienic if cared for correctly (they need to be boiled to disinfect, but we’ll come back to that later) and being completely reusable, they are much more eco-friendly than ‘normal’ sanitary products which the average woman will use more than 11,000 of during her lifespan, amounting to a serious amount of waste – not to mention financial cost! Shocking, right?! Think about just how full your bathroom bin has gotten in the past… grim.

I must admit, when I first heard of them during my uni days, I thought it sounded gross too. Boiling a menstrual cup?! In the kitchen?! Obviously, you do this in a pan solely designated to your cup but the idea just did not appeal to me. Here I’ll try to outline the potential reasons against, for, and where you can find them. Any questions not answered below, please do leave a comment or message me directly!

Reasons why you may not like it

  • Habit
  • *Convenience* (I put this in asterisk because I hope to prove to you that it is, in fact, quite convenient after all)
  • Initial cost
  • Sounds gross
  • Never heard of it before…

Habit is a funny thing to break and convenience has driven us to the wasteful world we find ourselves in now; however, these things can be altered. What may initially seem inconvenient eventually just becomes normality. So, what changed my mind?

Reasons why you may LOVE it

  • Super easy to use
  • Very convenient
  • Much more cost effective over time
  • Kind to the planet
  • Easy to clean
  • No rushing to the shops to stock up on tampons when you feel the pain coming…

When I decided to take the plunge I still wasn’t totally sure if I’d like it or not. What if it hurt? What if I didn’t do it right and it leaked? Would it be messy? But since using it I can honestly say I’ll never go back, it’s one of my favourite sustainable swaps I’ve made so far! I love it! I’ll answer all these questions in the practicalities section…

Which cup did I choose and why?

TOTM, a Cardiff-based company, because these guys are recommended by one of my favourite Instagram ‘influencers’ Oenone (@uhnonee) and because I decided it was time to add periods to my single-use-plastic-free tick list. Plus, it’s pink. And local. What’s not to love? (Side note: If you haven’t listened to her Adulting podcast yet, I really recommend giving it a try. I’ve probably mentioned it before but it has opened my eyes to so many really important issues.)

My TOTM cup arrived super quickly, maybe even next day delivery, and their customer service on Instagram is fantastic; they’re very helpful, friendly and always seem genuinely happy to answer any questions you may have. I really recommend them myself, I don’t have a referral code I just love my cup and can’t fault their service! Plus, their size 2 cup is now available in Tesco stores! As well as a lot of their organic sanitary range.

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Screenshot from my Less Plastic insta-story

So, what about the practicalities…

Is it safe? Yes. Medical grade silicone, as long as you clean it properly in between periods (boil in a pan, dedicated to this purpose alone, for 4-5 mins) is completely safe. Also very important: don’t tug on the bottom when removing, the seal has to be broken for the cup to come out properly and safely so to do this you have to squeeze the bottom first – more on this later*.

How often do you have to clean it? Rinse it every time you change/empty it during your period, then once finished boil it as stated above and it’ll be sterilised ready for next time. They come with a handy little drawstring bag to keep them safe and clean too ☺

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Bubbling away peacefully in its special pot 🙂

How long do you keep it in for? General recommendation is max 8-10 hours as far as I’m aware and I’ve had absolutely no worries with leaving it in this long, however it does depend on your flow as well. For the first few days you may want to check it more regularly to get used to taking it out and putting back in, but also so you get to know your own flow a bit better; more often than not it’s nowhere near as much blood as you think. Honest!

Once you’ve gotten used to this then you’ll feel a lot more comfortable leaving it in for the full working day and not worrying about leakage or discomfort. And generally that’s what I do; put it in/clean it when I first get up and then again when I get home from work. So far I’ve had no issues with this but as I said, it does depend on flow; mine is pretty light after the first two days and I think that’s also due to the combined pill I take as contraception (risk of too much info there but I thought it might be relevant to some of you to know).

How about overnight? Yep, no problems there either in my experience. You have to consider that some people only sleep a few hours a night (how they live I do not know) but even if you’re a seriously heavy sleeper like myself, don’t worry, you’re covered. The seal makes sure of this. I always used to find that when I slept with a pad during the night it was generally lighter than during the day anyway so assumed it was to do with being horizontal but I have no scientific justification for this, just an observation.

How easy is it to put in and take out? It does take some getting used to and I think it also depends on how comfortable with yourself you are down there. In my opinion, the more comfortable you can bear to get with that area the better, so as to avoid feeling unnecessarily awkward in situations where exposure is required, such as during a wax, smear or medical exam. It drives me nuts that so many people are afraid of getting a smear test for this very reason – please remember that these are professionals. They don’t care what you look like down there so neither should you. I digress.

There are several different types of fold you can do to insert the cup effectively (here’s a useful YouTube video) and different folds will be more suited to different people/shapes & sizes. You also need to make sure you’re relaxed down there otherwise it’s not going to be comfortable. Some people do find them uncomfortable to insert and wear and if this is the case for you I would recommend seeking professional advice just to be sure; remember that babies are meant to come out of there ladies… there should be plenty of room if you can relax. If need be, it’s generally recommended to get graceful and cock a leg up on the bath or assume a squat position to ensure easy insertion (those last two words sound gross, I know). The cup should sit comfortably just inside, so that the chord is right at the edge but not protruding, you just need to be able to access it easily for removal. Do not go putting it up as far as a tampon.

Screenshot 2018-11-19 at 5.31.51 PMIn terms of removing* and cleaning it you need to make sure to break the seal before bringing the cup out, otherwise you’ll risk serious discomfort and possibly even some injury in severe cases. Simply squeeze the base of the actual cup, above the cord at the end, and it kind of folds back a little as you remove (you may even hear a gross noise as the suction breaks). Do this over the toilet or in the shower to avoid extra mess, rinse in the nearest sink/in the shower if at home, then reinsert and crack on. In a public toilet be sure to take a water bottle into the cubicle and rinse in the loo, or worst case scenario wipe down with loo roll and rinse when you get home. It’s worth nothing that you should wash your hands before and after you empty your cup to make sure everything stays clean.

You can also practise putting it in and taking back out again a few days before your period actually begins just to get used to it – there’s no rule that says you have to be on your period!

Does it hurt? No, most people I’ve spoken to agree with me that you can’t really feel it to be honest because it sits lower than a tampon, quite close to the edge (close enough so that you can feel the cord to remove it). You may feel it at first but it’s very quickly forgotten about!

Can you exercise with them in? Yes, they’re perfectly safe to exercise in due to the seal it creates which prevents leakage and means it’ll work in all positions! Just rinse and clean it as normal and crack on!

How do I know which cup size is right for me? This varies depending on the brand, some have more options and some less, but TOTM’s guidance is that if you’re below 18 years old and do not have sex regularly then go for size 1. Size 2 if you’re under 25 and/or haven’t given birth vaginally. If you’re over 25 or have given birth naturally opt for the size 3, although I recently had a friend ask me about this as she wasn’t sure which category she fit in and when referred to the TOTM online team she told me they were a great help, so don’t be afraid to ask them for specific advice.

Where can I buy a menstrual cup?

As previously mentioned, TOTM now have availability in some Tesco stores, whereas Mooncups can be purchased from my friends at Natural Weigh. Also, Ripple once open on Albany Road will be stocking Hey Girls! cups, where one is donated for every purchase to help end period poverty, as well as reusable pads. Some brands are even available at Superdrug stores. There are all manner of different ones to choose from and this post isn’t sponsored by TOTM, it’s just that this is the brand I went for and am very happy with.

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Source: TOTM Organic

So, how do you feel about them now? Convinced to give it a go yet?

If there are any questions I haven’t answered here, please do leave them in a comment or send me a direct message and I’d be happy to help or point you in the right direction. There’s also a good amount of advice online (I was inspired by my friend Hannah’s blog post on her site The Feral Lady) and in plastic-free/eco forums on Facebook etc. One I use regularly for tips and advice is Zanna Van Dijk‘s ‘Living Consciously Crew’.

Here’s to more plastic-free periods! I honestly wouldn’t be without my TOTM cup now.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

 

*Acknowledgement: some of the images used are from TOTM’s website because I’m not really artsy enough! 

Saying goodbye to single-use plastic: Part 1

The plastic problem is all over the news at the moment. It’s been a problem for some time now, but thanks to our pal Sir Davey A and Blue Planet 2 it’s now being far more widely discussed and gaining some much-needed momentum. About bloody time. The problem is, it’s hard. There’s plastic in almost everything we use on a regular basis, it seems; so picking a time and place to start reducing your own plastic use can be tricky. Another thing is, a lot of people ask: why? What can one person do? (Same as the recycling argument which we have tried and still do try so hard to convey).

There was an article in The Guardian recently disclosing that a significant proportion of ocean plastic and waste (90%!) actually originates from just 10 river systems, all flowing through densely-populated areas of developing countries. This is a problem that unfortunately, we can’t fix alone. And without getting into complicated politics I don’t fully understand, I don’t honestly have the answers or solutions for that. But what we can change little by little is the pressure put on corporations and manufacturers by us, the consumer, to reduce over-packaging and invest in more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives where possible.

This can be done in a number of ways such as making the effort to buy only loose produce rather than packaged, even if it means biting the bullet and paying a little more – although shopping locally is a great and often very reasonably priced way to do this. This goes too for buying fresh bread from a local bakery in a paper bag, which can be kept for storing your broccoli in the fridge (helps it last longer) or putting yourIMG_6702 sandwiches in for work – I’ve begun getting mine from Nata & Co. Butchers and fishmongers can be a little tricky as most of their packaging is plastic and/or non-recyclable, but if you’re supermarket shopping then making the effort to go to the fresh counter rather than buying it in air-sealed packaging is a positive step.

Critically, making sure to use your own reusable coffee cup instead of buying fresh non-recyclable ones every time (especially if you’re posting some sickening selfie or insta-story with it, just don’t), or stealing 10 minutes for yourself by sitting-in instead, is one small change that can have a big impact (as you may have seen in today’s news). Mine featured right is mostly bamboo from dotcomgiftshop but there are all kinds of options, such as those in this article.

As well as all this, I decided to kick-start my lifestyle changes by ordering a lovely little eco-package from UK-based Save Some Green which contained the following: 3 vegan, handmade castile soaps; 4 bamboo toothbrushes (which were on offer); 4 biodegradable scourers (made from coconut hair and non-stick pan friendly) and a set of 5 reusable bamboo straws.

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My eco-friendly purchases from Save Some Green. Also packaged all in recyclable brown paper!

Firstly, I’ll explain the straws. You may have already seen people talking about this online but straws are actually a huge offender for plastic waste and have been found to not only substantially litter beaches and oceans within a matter of hours, but can also become lodged in the nostrils of endangered sea turtles and pierce the stomachs of penguins. So, I took it upon myself to seek out reusable ones instead and these bamboo straws naturally came in a variety of sizes which has turned out to be pretty useful. I’ll be honest: I’ve loved them when I’ve used them and it has been nice to discuss them when people ask, however I’ll admit it’s been harder than I thought to make it a proper habit so far. Remembering to ask a bartender specifically not to give you a straw is one thing (weirdly, harder than I anticipated) but when someone else buys you a drink it can get trickier still. Maybe I’m over-trivialising this, but my point is that the straws haven’t been as easy to phase-in as I expected. Nonetheless, we persevere.

Secondly, the soap. When I was reading up on how to replace some of my household products with more eco-friendly, homemade alternatives, castile soap came up as a key constituent in homemade washing up liquid. Hence, ordering it serves a dual purpose for washing both hands and dishes. I am yet to make my own washing up liquid as I’ve not finished my pre-existing bottle (also one of the hardest parts about phasing-in ‘sustainable swaps’, you have to wait to bloody finish everything you currently have so as not to waste them unnecessarily) but I’ve purchased a glass container with pump and will be doing so very soon.

On a similar note, the scourers have proved themselves useful in getting greasy spots or burnt-on leftovers from baking trays and pans without affecting the precious non-stick. They are, however, quite sharp to the touch to begin with until softened with water and don’t work as a universal washing up tool as I’d originally intended. In place of a sponge, therefore, (now I’ve successfully knackered-out my pre-existing standard, plastic-based, non-recyclable one) I’ve begun to use a microfiber cloth I already had plenty of which not only does a stellar job but also dries quickly and can be washed & reused again and again. Brill.

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Discarded plastic toothbrushes as permanent litter. Source: Huffington Post.

The benefits of bamboo toothbrushes to the environment are significant in comparison to the plastic toothbrushes we’ve been brought up on which have a large carbon footprint to produce only to end up in landfill, in the oceans, or sometimes even in the stomachs of birds (follow this link for a great infographic). The ones I purchased from Save Some Green are fully biodegradable, vegan-friendly and can be ordered with varying bristle strengths depending on personal preference. The counter-argument is that huge companies like Oral B spend millions on complicated research to exact the science of brushing and dental hygiene, yet my question is how necessary is this really?

I personally don’t know the answer. But Noel Abdayem, a qualified dentist himself, asked the same question and thus founded the Humble Brush which also boasts a handle made from 100% biodegradable, sustainably-grown bamboo and puts a portion of all purchases towards funding oral health projects for children in need. It’s worth noting though that the bristles of these are not biodegradable like mine claims to be, only the handle. All I know is that my teeth are healthy as they are and besides a little gum soreness in the first few days of getting used to the new bristles (possibly bought the wrong strength), I’ve so far not had any significant issues so feel comfortable with this decision. I even gifted some of my other Save Some Green toothbrushes to family for Christmas to get them on-board, which they did so gladly ☺

Key lessons learned in this first leg of my journey:

  • There’s a plethora of eco-info available on the web and it’s been an absolute saviour. A Google search is all you need but some I’ve found really useful are Save Some Green, The Homemade Homemaker series on The Guardian’s website and several Zero Plastic blogs like this one and My Plastic Free Life.
  • Waiting for everything you currently use to run out is a pain in the arse, but worth itIt’s got to the point where every time we finish a shampoo or shower gel bottle in our house, we cheer with excitement because it’s one step closer! (Side note: we finally finished shampoo this week so I bought a LUSH shampoo bar; absolutely no regrets. I’m never going back.)
  • Discussing it with others is the best way to spread the word and get more people involved. Don’t be afraid to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and gently encourage close friends or family to do the same. (Gently. No-one likes a pusher.)
  • You can’t do everything. This is probably one of the hardest/most frustrating things, but going cold turkey with these things will just never work. In order to be sustainable, (any) lifestyle changes need to be brought into habit, so take it a step at a time. There’s no point throwing away all your perfectly decent tupperware, for example, just because it’s plastic when actually it’s not single-use (and is therefore less environmentally damaging) and serves a good purpose.

 

IMG_6187I do believe and hope that consumer pressure can be the kick that’s needed to implement changes on a much larger scale. The more people that deliberately reduce by buying loose veg and fresh bread over packaged, complain on twitter when they find something ridiculous (like this single aubergine I found in Aldi, for example. No need…), remember to reuse their own cups, containers etc. and recycle correctly – a topic I’ll talk more about another day – then companies will have to start listening to consumer behaviour and change accordingly.

That’s all for now folks. As I said, I’ll keep you posted on my plastic-reduction journey so will be making this into an intermittent series among the food stuff. Stay tuned for more! And if you’d like to share your own tips and sustainable swaps please do!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx*

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Source: Blue Planet 2.

*This post was not sponsored by Save Some Green or any other links in this article.