As I write this post, I wish more women were raised to know about these options from the start of their first period. This isn’t taboo, this isn’t something to be grossed out about, and this isn’t something to hide. In the following post, I am going to answer common questions about my transition to a zero waste period. Keep in mind that having a zero waste period is a beautiful way to learn more about your body and protect the earth, plus it’s cheaper! However, please remember that every body and period is different!
When did I transition to a zero waste period?
I transitioned to a zero waste period in 2017 during my senior year at Villanova University. I learned about the period cup from an influencer on Instagram. I couldn’t believe I had my period for 10 years and was 21 before I learned about the cup. I am motivated to write this post for all of you who are in the same place I was!
How do you have a zero waste period?
The following period care options are ways to have a zero/low waste period in order of increasing waste:
- Reusable menstrual cup – I use the Intimina Lily Cup
- Reusable cloth pads – I have a mix of handmade pads from Etsy and Amazon
- Period underwear – I have Thinx and Joyja brief, cheeky, and thong styles
- Period disc – I have never tried these but I know of Lumma and Ziggy
- Non-applicator organic cotton tampons – I use Natracare regular, super, and super plus
- Cardboard applicator organic cotton tampons – Natracare
- Reusable tampon applicator – Thinx
- Organic cotton pads – Natracare
I am thankful for the women who opened up about their transitions to a zero waste period. By sharing their honest experiences, I learned about different options and what works best for me! I want to pass that along to each of you! #womensupportingwomen
What cup did you start with? What was your first experience like?
I started my zero waste period transition with a menstrual cup. As an athlete, I used tampons my entire life, occasionally with a standard pad as a back up. I was comfortable with insertion so I thought a cup would be an easy transition for me. I originally bought the Lena Cup in size small without much research. I assumed all period cups were the same – wrong! They come in different sizes, different stem lengths, and different forms! This all makes a difference depending on your cervix, your flow, and what makes you comfortable. If you are a beginner, here is a quiz you can take to help you find out what is a good starting cup for you: Period Cup Quiz.
My first period cup experience was a nightmare. I inserted the cup at night. I thought the seal was suctioned and all was well! What I didn’t know was that when you sleep, the cup can shift up. This can make removal difficult in the morning. I also didn’t know how to check if the seal was actually suctioned.
As a first time user, not only did my cup leak overnight, but it shifted so far up that I couldn’t remove it! I spent the first hour of my morning thinking I would have to go to the emergency room to have the cup removed. Thankfully, after reading online testimonies from other women who had similar experiences, I learned that the best thing to do was to go about my morning and see if the cup would shift down. If that didn’t work, I could bear down like I was peeing. Thankfully, both of these worked and I was able to remove the cup.
After my terrible first cup experience, I decided the cup wasn’t the right choice for me. However, by my next cycle, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea that the cup could be used for 10 years and only had to be changed every 12 hours. This would make my life so much easier, there would be zero waste, and I would save money on period products for 10 years!
I did more research the second time around and took the quiz that I listed above. I learned that all cups are different! The first cup I bought was very firm and short in length. The firm nature of the cup made the insertion much more difficult for me which is why it leaked, and the short length of the cup is why I had difficulty reaching it for removal.
I purchased my second cup, the Intimina Lily cup in size A. It was one of the longest and most flexible cups I could find! I was nervous to try it after my first traumatic cup experience. After working up the courage, I finally inserted and removed the cup successfully during the day. The cup was comfortable, stayed in place, and inserted easier. The first few times, I had minor leakage, but nothing compared to the first cup!
Do you use a backup for the cup in case it leaks?
When I bought the Intimina Lily cup, I also purchased two styles of reusable pads from Etsy and from Amazon. I used these pads throughout my next few cycles as I got used to the cup, for lighter days, and for overnight protection. If the idea of cloth pads grosses you out, I hear you! I couldn’t imagine washing used pads by hand or putting them in my washing machine. However, for me, this was just a stigma that I had to overcome. I had been trained and learned from society that my period was something gross and that had to be “taken care of” as quickly as possible. Using reusable pads helped me unlearn this.
I also purchased period underwear as a backup. I wanted to test out all of my options to see what worked best for me! I have brief, cheeky, and thong styles from different companies. I use the brief underwear overnight with no cup or tampon, the cheeky underwear during the day when I have the cup or a tampon inserted, and the thong underwear before my period and on lighter days.
Period underwear is an amazing invention. No diaper feeling, no bulkiness, and no discomfort. It’s like wearing regular underwear! I wash my period underwear in the washing machine the same way I was my reusable pads!
Do you use the cup 100% of your cycle?
I do not use the cup every day of my cycle. I use it for the days that I am lounging around and when I am not active. Even after two years, I am still scarred from my first cup experience. I don’t fully trust the cup especially when I am at work, in public, or sleeping.
While I still hold tightly to the idea of one day using the cup 100% of the time, I’m not there yet. It’s just as important for me to feel confident and protected during my period as it is not to create waste (if possible). Every body is different. The cup works great for some women and doesn’t work for others! If the cup doesn’t work for you, give it a few cycles because there is a learning curve. If it still doesn’t work, consider a different cup or a different period care option! There’s no shame in not being able to use the cup.
That being said, I supplement my period care with reusable pads, period underwear, and non-applicator organic cotton tampons. When I am active, traveling, running, or swimming, I use tampons. The brand I buy is called Natracare and is made from organic cotton, does not have a plastic applicator, is compact, and compostable (minus the outer plastic wrapping). Once I learned how to insert the cup, inserting a tampon without an applicator was much easier! It’s a learning curve if you’ve used plastic applicators your whole life – be patient with yourself!
A big benefit of using non-applicator organic cotton tampons is that they are compact! I packed a year of tampons in my suitcase when I left for Ukraine and they hardly took up any space. They are also very discrete so you can fit them in your pocket or wallet (however, society should stop teaching women to be embarrassed and discrete about their periods in my opinion).
How much waste do you currently make with your period?
The only waste I make from my monthly cycle is the individual plastic wrappings from the non-applicator tampons. The tampons are biodegradable and the box is recyclable!
What did you learn from testing different zero/low waste period care options?
Using sustainable period care products taught me a lot:
- Standard pads and tampons create SO much waste – I never thought about it until I considered how much period waste I have created over the last 10 years
- There are plastic, chemicals, and fragrances in standard tampons and pads which should not be near the most sensitive area of our bodies
- Taking care of my reusable pads and period underwear diminished any shame I had about my period – I learned to take my feminine power back by connecting with my cycle
- Using a cup truly teaches you about your cycle and the ebbs of your flow (you don’t really know if your flow is being absorbed by a pad or tampon)
- There is never a one-size-fits-all for period care!
- There are many women in the world who don’t have access to period care – This is shocking to me and I hope to be part of a movement that provides education and sustainable period care to these women so they can work and have an education. I hope to volunteer with Days for Girls , an organization that provides women with reusable pads and period education.
What is the best zero waste period care?
The best zero waste period care option is the one that works best for YOUR body and YOUR cycle. I wanted the cup to work perfectly for me because it’s the one option that creates zero waste month to month. However, I don’t feel completely confident in it. The best care is the one that allows you to connect with your cycle, create less waste, and be confident in your body. This transition will take time, some experimentation coupled with trial and error, and the initial upfront cost of these products. Not everyone can afford that cost upfront, however this is room for a lot of savings over time.
To purchase any of the products I use, you can view the “Favorite Products” tab on my blog! If you have any questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!