There’s just so much to talk about — admittedly, this article just scratches the surface, focusing in on green alternatives, but you can also scroll for workshop details.
The Problem with the Disposable Stuff
The Environment: The average woman uses about 12,000-16,000 disposable products in her lifetime. According to Zero Waste Shanghai, this means 350 grams of garbage from disposable sanitary products per month, 3kg per year, 30kg per 10 years for each individual. On a global scale that’s like — billions of tampons and pads annually and a pad takes 500 to 800 years to decompose, while plastic applicators decompose in 20 years to several centuries. The Clean Coast Campaign named pads, tampons, and applicators 3 of 12 most harmful products.
Your Money: Clementine Triballeau, Co-Founder of Zero Waste Shanghai has been here for three years, talking to women and researching this topic. She found the average cost of tampons and pads per month here are 35rmb-60rmb, which adds up to 420rmb-720rmb per year and 4,000rmb-7,000rmb in 10 years. To compare, the menstrual cup costs about 240rmb in Shanghai; in 5 months you make back your investment.
Your Body: There’s little-to-no research on 'cups as the healthier option', but they don’t carry bleach, fragrances, and pesticides, which tampons can harbor. On the psychological front, spreading broadly, according to advocates of the cup, disposable options run the risk of alienating us from our own bodies and make it easy to think of menstruation as dirty.
The Menstrual Cup
The Menstrual Cup is a bell shaped silicone cup (a concept created in 1937!) that’s meant to be a reusable alternative to tampons… and yes, it’s safe for virgins (a real question, asked by real people). The idea is to catch blood instead of absorbing like a tampon, and to be sustainable, with one menstrual cup lasting between 5-10 years. There’s also reusable pads, made of cotton and lined with a plastic on the inside; you can use, wash, dry and repeat.
The Cup Tested
Change is hard — and having used tampons for over 10 years, I had toyed around with trying the cup but never committed. In the end I found the start to be the most intimidating part. It should be noted that before you start each cycle you need to boil the cup in water for five minutes (careful here, if longer it can melt). During your cycle it does not need to be sterilized just rinsed off with water (and soap if you’d like), also make sure you are washing your hands before and after. Clementine suggests if it’s your first time to have a low-stakes practice round before your cycle begins.
I did not practice before, but it all seemed pretty intuitive; fold up the cup, put it in, and it unfolds inside to form a seal. On the first day I was afraid I would have a middle-school-sweater-tied-around-my-waist situation, but alas there was no leakage. On the third day I hung upside down on a bungee cord and it was fine. A big perk for women with average flows is that after day 1-2 you can keep the cup in all day, changing two times per 24 hours. Revolutionary. And yeah, I would say after just one go at it, I prefer this alternative, it felt more comfortable and more… informative.
When your cycle’s all done, sanitize again before your next use.
Frequently Asked Questions
There's lots of anxiety around the cup (even among non-virgins!) so Clementine gave the low-down on the most common questions she comes across:
How do you put it in?
You fold it, it’s flexible, called a C or U fold.
Is there leakage?
The cup forms a seal, so if there is leakage it is not positioned properly.
Can you use it when swimming, or running?
How can I change it in a public space?
You don’t need to sterilize it every time. It’s okay to use water or toilet paper, but in the first couple times you change it, it's best to get used to it at home. It gets easier.
What’s Available in Shanghai
Here in Shanghai, the cup is only available online; you can order on Taobao, or get started through a brand's official site. There's Lunette, which is the brand I tested (comes in two sizes) and Zero Waste Shanghai can help to order them in bulk to make it easier (contact via WeChat: zerowasteshanghai). Intimina is another brand with a few different cup designs, as well as Mooncup and Diva Cup (can also be delivered via iHerb to China). These options range from 240rmb-300rmb.
For reusable pads, the brand Eco Bibi is available IRL at Sprout Lifestyle, it's a local brand created by Canadians and sold off last year, uses organic cotton. More options online include the French brand Charlie Banana which is pretty well imported (iHerb or Taobao) and local Chinese brand, Buzhidao. These prices range more from 30rmb-139rmb for one pad-dependent on brand and design; in bulk you can get 6 pads for 70rmb (Echo Bibi), or 3 for 117rmb (Charlie Banana).
Workshops and Support
Zero Waste Shanghai is an organization working to make Shanghai a little greener by consuming less, founded by Clementine Triballeau and Alizee Buysschaert. They recently started a semi-regular workshop called 'Ladies Talk' facilitated by Clementine and Estel Vilar of Shanghai Qigong Research Institute. They cover the basics of menstruation, TCM and your cycle, and information on reusable options, as well as figures on the damage of disposable products (as mentioned above).
The next workshop is Thursday April 19 from 7pm-9.30pm, costs 150rmb per person. The class caps at 10 people, RSVP by following the link above. If you miss this one, they plan on doing it about every two months due to high demand. Check out all workshops on their website.
“Put a Cup in It” is a WeChat group, a safe space to ask questions, you can get in on the action through searching it or via ZeroWasteShanghai.
LUNA is an organization that makes cotton tampons and also works to educate women on their menstrual cycle. LUNA holds monthly educational events, April’s bringing a Body Talk Brunch, details are still being hammered out, stay tuned. WeChat: LUNAwomen.