Zero Waste Periods

Periods. Why has our society made them such a taboo subject? Half of the population has a period every month, and yet we still treat them as if they are a dirty thing that should be kept secret. Adverts for tampons and pads use blue liquid to demonstrate absorbency and boast that their products are the most discrete yet, and how many men do we know that are terrified by the mere mention of a period? (If you’re a man and you’re reading this, good for you! You can make it to the end, I believe in you.) So I’m gonna be totally frank and honest in this post, because periods are natural and normal, and not something dirty that we should be ashamed of.

On average, in the UK, a woman will use 11,000 disposable sanitary products in her lifetime. Tampons, pads and pantyliners all have plastic in them (pads are 90% plastic and the average pad contains as much plastic as four carrier bags), and create about 200,000 tonnes of waste each year.  1.4 million pads and 2.5 million tampons get flushed down the loo EVERY DAY. And, yes, this causes major problems with sewer blockages, and, you guessed it, a large amount of these pads and tampons end up in the ocean. In fact the Marine Conservation Society found an average of 20 sanitary items for every 100m of shoreline in their 2016 Great British Beach Clean.

And then there’s the cotton used in these products. As I previously wrote about in my post on make-up wipes, non-organic cotton is treated with toxic pesticides that have a significant impact on the health of cotton farmers and on the environment. We then put the by-product of this cotton that has been treated with poisonous chemicals up our vaginas! Most tampons are made either entirely from cotton, or cotton mixed with rayon, and can leave microscopic fibres in vaginal tissue that can cause tiny cuts. This creates a bacteria breeding ground, particularly for the bacteria that causes Toxic Shock Syndrome. The absorbency of tampons can also cause the vagina to dry out and upset the natural pH balance.


Pads on the other hand are bleached white, the process of which creates dioxin, a chemical that is linked to reproductive issues, immune system suppression and cancer. It is also a highly toxic environmental pollutant.

Source: Teen Vogue

Organic tampons and pads are available, and are a much better option, but as you know my purpose in writing this post is to advocate for a zero-waste period using a wonderful little invention called a menstrual cup. I know the idea of sticking a cup up your vagina to collect your blood sounds pretty weird. I was definitely in the no way, never-ever camp when I first heard about them. But after making a spur of the moment decision to buy one after reading some of the above statistics, I can honestly say I will never go back to tampons.

First off, getting a cup is going to save you SO MUCH MONEY. The average menstrual cup costs £20 and will last for years (normally estimated at 10 years). Now let’s say you get a 2 for £5 deal on boxes of tampons, I would normally go through 1.5 boxes per period, plus half a pack of pads (for safety) at about £3 each. So that’s just over a fiver per period (if you’ve got a good deal) – you’ve broken even in 4 months with a cup. Considering you have 13 periods a year with a 28-day cycle, your period will cost you at least £65 per year, even if you’re well prepared and shop around for a good deal, and you’re never caught short and have to buy an expensive box at a petrol station or Tesco Metro (another benefit of the cup if, like me, you find that 28 days goes so fast and regularly end up searching the pockets in all of your old handbags in the hope that you’ve left a tampon in there). Plus it’s a great way of sticking it to the patriarchy and avoiding the tampon tax. (The BBC have a great little app that works out exactly how much tampon tax you have and will pay in your lifetime if you’re interested -

Still, cups do sound weird, and most women have a lot of questions about them, so I asked a number of anonymous friends what their questions were and will answer them honestly below.

Does it leak?
I’ve had four periods with a cup now and the only time it’s leaked is when I’ve not been on top of changing it frequently enough on the heaviest day. In the same way as a tampon would, if it gets too full your cup will runneth over. I don’t know if it’s just me but I’ve always had small leaks on my heaviest days because I need to change every couple of hours and I’m busy/lazy. I’ve always worn either a pad or pantyliner alongside a tampon to counteract this, and now on my heaviest days I will just pop a reusable pad on (more about them later). The cup is held in place by tiny holes that create a seal between the cup and vaginal wall, and in my experience once the cup is too full these holes get filled with blood, breaking the seal. Don’t worry the cup won’t fall out (IMAGINE) or even reposition if the seal is broken, but I think that’s how leaks get through.
Other than that I have done yoga and run/crawled around a soft play area with my nieces whilst using the cup with no leaks whatsoever. I’ve also seen a youtube video where a girl lay upside down to test whether anything came out, it didn’t. In my experience the cup lasts a lot longer than a tampon would. A mooncup (the brand I use) can hold around 29ml of blood, while a tampon, depending on size, can hold between 6-18ml. I haven’t experienced any overnight leaks.

Is it uncomfortable to insert/take out?
At first it’s a bit uncomfortable but I got used to it very quickly and don’t feel any discomfort at all now. You just have to learn the best way to put it in/take it out for your body.

Is it hard to get used to?
Ok so, full disclosure, the first time I took my cup out it looked like I had butchered a small animal in my bathroom. It’s gonna be messy the first few times you change it, but it does get better! I would recommend actually that when you first try the cup wait ‘til day 3 of your period so you can get used to it when things are a bit lighter. It would also be easier for you if you can do it at home. Obviously your period never waits for a convenient moment for you, but you don’t have to go mooncup or bust straight away. Every time you use the cup instead of a tampon, you’re reducing your waste, so take it a step at a time until you feel comfortable and confident!
One tip from me is when taking the cup out, try to keep it upright to avoid spillage. It will naturally come out kind of at an angle, but again once you get used to taking it out you’ll find the best way for you.

What’s it like in public?
I would say changing in public is the most difficult part of the menstrual cup experience, but still totally doable. The best bet is to find a toilet with a sink in the cubicle, eg. your typical coffee shop toilet, then you can rinse the cup out easily. However if this isn’t possible it’s fine to wipe your cup with toilet paper, or you can bring a bottle of water into the cubicle with you to rinse it with. The good thing with the cup is you’ll need to change it less frequently, so only once, maybe twice if you’re out for the whole day. Maybe if you’re new to the cup stick to what you’re used to if you’re going to be out for a long time on your heaviest day, work up to it and wait until you’re confident with changing it. You’re still reducing your waste that way.

Does it feel sharp or scratchy?
No. I have a mooncup in right now and can confirm that I can’t feel it at all. The only problem you may find is you can sometimes feel the stem if it’s positioned weirdly. You’ll know as soon as you stand up if this is the case, and it’s easy to adjust without taking the cup out. You can also trim the stem once you’re used to taking the cup out.

Do you feel clean? Does it make you smell?
I’ve had zero problem with smell and have never heard of anyone having this problem (if there is a smell it’s likely a gynaecological problem that should get checked out). It also feels so much cleaner than using a tampon or pad, basically because you don’t even know it’s there most of the time and there’s no string hanging down to get dirty.

Can you go to the toilet with the cup in?
Yes, a great part about the cup is that you can have a wee and not need to worry about a tampon string getting in the way. A poo is obviously a bit different because of the muscle movement…

What’s it like on lighter days?
Lighter days are where the cup really proves its worth! Because you can just put it in in the morning and forget about it ‘til the end of the day. They say to change it every 4-8 hours, but you know if you’re in bed having a leisurely lie in it can’t hurt to push it a bit (am I bad? This is not proper medical advice). Also you know when you’re right at the end of your period and you’re not sure if you’re completely finished and feel like you should wear a tampon just in case, so you do but when you take it out it feels so horrible because it’s dry… not a problem with a cup. I’ve even used it when I was staying away from home and convinced I was going to come on overnight, I didn’t, but it wasn’t a problem because unlike a tampon the cup doesn’t need extra lubrication to come out smoothly.

How do you clean it?
When using it you simply empty it in the loo then rinse it under running water. Use a mild, unperfumed soap if available. Just make sure the soap is completely washed off before re-inserting. Your cup will come with thorough instructions anyway, and the mooncup website is very useful.

How far up does it go?
They say the cup should sit as low in the vagina as is comfortable. When you put it in it seems to naturally sit in the right place, and you don’t need to put it up as far as a tampon. Basically wherever feels comfortable.

Can the cup give you thrush/other infections?
No, and you’re actually much less likely to get thrush with a cup than with a tampon as it doesn’t absorb the vagina’s protective secretions like a tampon does. Obviously hygiene is important, and you can never say that you won’t get an infection if you use a cup, but it is much better for your vagina.

Can I use it at my life stage?
You can use a cup from your first to last period. There are 2 sizes of mooncup, one for if you’re under 30 and haven’t given birth vaginally, and vice versa. From your first period - it doesn’t matter if you’re a virgin. Obviously it can be a culturally sensitive issue, particularly regarding the hymen. That, however, is more of a product of the patriarchy than a reality (see this TED talk Every vagina is different so no one can tell you what your experience will be like, the cup may be uncomfortable to insert and remove at first (as would a tampon), but you will get used to it. Then to your last period – a menstrual cup can be very helpful for menopausal women whose flow becomes unpredictable as it works for both heavier and lighter flows. And as I said before, you break even financially pretty quickly so it may be worth it even if you are coming to the end of your menstruating years.

Do you prefer it to a tampon?
100%, yes.

The mooncup website ( has a very comprehensive list of questions and answers if you need any more help. And for those who prefer pads, reusable pads exist! Some may find this gross, but I really don’t think we should be freaked out by our period blood, it’s natural! Plus how many times have you had to sort out blood stains in your knickers? If it really bothers you, you don’t need to look at it before you put it in the washing machine! Personally, I’ve only tried light reusable pads to use with my mooncup on heavy days. My experience is that they’re comfier than a regular sanitary towel and more breathable. Plus I got organic cotton ones so no nasty chemicals or bleaching agents coming in contact with my vagina! There are loads of different sellers online, I got mine on Etsy (

I hope this post has been helpful and has answered any questions you have. Feel free to message me if you have any more – I’m a nurse so no intimate questions faze me anymore! I also hope it has convinced you to switching to a zero waste period, even if, like me, you were on the fence before.



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