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Bleeding Money

This is the first in what will hopefully be a long line of guest posts. In case y’all didn’t know, I’ve been helping Aunt Toby (well, she’s just Mom to me) with the back-end of the blog since its inception, and I’m super excited to be able to contribute to the content now! So hello from me! xo Carolyn

If you aren’t already, you may want to sit down to read this, because the things I’m about to discuss are considered unpleasant by a lot of people. Physical discomfort and even sickness, throwing money away, and contributing to larger landfills – all of these things can and do happen when you use… disposable tampons and pads.

Betcha weren’t expecting that!

Let’s talk money. I just did a little quick and dirty math. I can buy a box of 30 non-branded tampons from my local Tesco (UK supermarket) for about £1.20 (roughly equivalent to $2US); I can generally go through one of those boxes in 1 month, since my cycle is short and heavy (a lot like me, in fact, and in case you didn’t already know, having a 28 day cycle is fairly atypical, not the norm). That’s £14.40 a year, and I’ve been menstruating for about 15 years now; I’ve spent £216 ($354US) on tampons alone. Factoring in pads and pantiliners to deal with the inevitable leaks, spots, very heavy days and accidents over the course of a month, and I’m up to £1116 ($1829US), spent in the last 15 years. Assuming that I’ve got another 20+ years of this ahead of me, I could potentially spend more than $3000US to bleed on some cotton and then throw it away. And those are conservative numbers; there are some who estimate that the average woman spends around $6000US in her lifetime on disposable menstrual products. Call me crazy, but there are probably a million other things worth saving $6000 for.

To add injury to financial insult, tampons are actually kind of bad for you. TSS (toxic shock syndrome) is now firmly associated with tampons in the mind of the public, but is there more to be aware of? Most tampons are made from bleached cotton and rayon. The chemical process used to bleach the fibers in tampons has been shown to produce dioxins, which the US EPA consider as probable carcinogens. (Remember Victor Yuschenko, the President of Ukraine? Yeah, dioxins.) While the amount of dioxins found within tampons is incredibly low, dioxins bioaccumulate (build up in fatty tissues over time), and some researchers argue that any amount is unacceptable. In addition, reports that “conventionally-grown cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops in commercial agriculture. About 10% of the world’s pesticides and 22.5% of all insecticides are used on cotton.” So what exactly are we putting inside ourselves on a monthly basis? (As a personal sidenote, I know I’m not the only woman who finds tampons to be uncomfortable; I don’t need to feel like I’m getting a pap smear every time I take it out with the fibers scraping up my vag.)

The cherry on the cake (as if we need one)? Where are all those used pads and tampons going? Your local landfill. 14 billion tampons, applicators, and pads end up in landfills each year. If we don’t want the earth to look like WALL-E-World, surely we have an obligation to stop with this.

Ok, scaremongering over. There’s hope, y’all. After thinking about all of these things for awhile last year and doing some simple internet research, I found out that we have options!

Reusable Cloth Pads

Guess what – ladies back in the day weren’t out growing and bleaching cotton so they could make disposable pads to stick in their underoos; they were using rags and washing them out after use. We’ve upgraded a bit since then, but honestly, there’s no point reinventing the wheel, right? Most modern reusable pads have two parts: a “case” and a towel insert. They can be made out of a variety of fabrics, but the basic premise stays the same: you bleed on them and then wash them out. Simple, honest, easy. If the thought of handwashing your bloody pad sends a cold tingle down your spine, just throw it into your washing machine (on the cold setting to prevent stains setting). Or, some people, who I would consider especially granola, like to soak their used pads in a jar of water and then use that water in their gardens. You can buy reusable pads in a variety of online shops (seriously, just google search “reusable cloth pads” or “reusable menstrual pads”), or you can sew your own! (This site has excellent guides and patterns to work from, and a good section on reusable pads on a budget.)

Menstrual Cups

Forgive me while I gush (har-de-har-har, no pun intended) for a minute. Buying a menstrual cup has changed my life. I don’t have to worry if I’ve got a tampon with me while I’m out. I don’t have to worry about pesticides leaching into my uterus. I don’t have to spend money on something that I end up throwing away after 8 hours of use. It’s heavenly.

Menstrual cups are what they say they are – cups that collect menstrual fluid. I’m not going to talk about the disposable kind that sits right over your cervix (much like a diaphragm) because they’re wasteful and often leak; their only redeeming benefit is that they can be worn during sexual intercourse, but it’s not redeeming enough in my eyes. The other, more wondrous kind is bell-shaped and flexible, and either made out of latex or silicone. Menstrual cups have holes around the rim to create suction against the walls of the vagina so that the cup doesn’t fall out; unlike tampons or the disposable cup, these cups sit much further down, right at the entrance of the vagina. There is a stem that sits at the closed end to aid with removal if needed. Generally, cup brands have a smaller and larger size, and the volume of each cup varies by brand. Menstrual cups are made to last 10-15 years. I could potentially never have to replace mine! My cup cost £20 ($33US) – assuming that the average woman would have to buy, at most, 3 cups in her lifetime, that’s still only 3.3% the cost of what I predicted I’d spend with a lifetime of tampons and pads! – This is an incredible resource, with extensive FAQs on cleaning, insertion, and cup brands, and a whackload of reviews. Highly recommended.

Please stop using conventional, disposable menstrual products. They’re not good for your body, they’re not good for the environment, and they’re really not good for your wallet. Do your research and find some better alternatives.

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  1. Aunt Toby says:

    Carolyn — YAY!!! My first guest blogger!!
    a) could not have done the blog without you and
    b) thanks for the guest blog. Different topic but definitely in line with KCE’s philosophy of ‘do it yourself’ and ‘don’t waste money!’
    Looking forward to more ‘economical’ adventures from the UK-branch of KCE!

  2. Karen says:

    Bravo, Carolyn, for shedding some light on a subject that is usually classed as “icky girl stuff” that can’t be talked about. If we can discuss disposable diaper alternatives, why not alternatives to disposable feminine products? I started using a cup about a year and a half ago, and I wish I’d known about it sooner. I wasted 20 years of money and landfill space and this is a product I would use if there were no issues at all with disposable products.

    I enjoy the blog on a regular basis anyway, but thanks for a voice on a different topic. Guest blogging welcome from this reader.


  3. theunmarrieddaughter says:

    Well, call me crunchy granola Earth mamma, but here’s my take on the icky girl stuff:

    Women bleed, get over it.

    For what it’s worth, I discuss all sorts of menustration issues in mixed gender company, I refuse to be shamed about my body After all, I have been around men who have talked openly about their penile/sex issues with no shame, why should it I have shame about something my body does?

    Okay, off my radfem soapbox, I do rent it out you know!

    cloth pads, oh my gosh, they are awesome. I hate how expensive they are, and I am of the variety of buy enough cloth pads to get me through the week of bleed, and then wash them all at once.

    Also, I soak my cloth pads in a covered glass bowl, and then use the water as fertilizer. It is one of the best fertilizers I have ever used. Change the water in the bowl through out your bleed time though. It can get a little rancid.

    I never like Menstrual cups, they never fit right, (yes, I did do everything correctly even had a gyney nurse practitioner help me) and were uncomfortable.

    Oh, and best source for reusable pads? Ebay.

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