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MENSTRual: Sustainable Period Products and the Future of Menstrual Cups

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Written by
Post-Grad Community
Published date
10 March 2020

By Joey McAleese, MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures at London College of Communication.

On March 3rd I presented my research on Sustainable Period Products and the Future of Menstrual Cups. I came across this festival MENSTRual via a call out in a UAL Post-Grad Community newsletter and was interested in getting involved in any way I could. After a brief meeting with Manager Rachael Lakhan and student Ambassador Kate Asquith from the Post-Grad Community team, I helped design the icons and the logo. We also discussed possible sponsors, such as Modibodi, ohne and Bloody Good Period, which I had found through my research and gave the details to the Post-Grad Community.

Since my Undergraduate Degree, I have been interested in female equality. One element I was interested in looking further at, was the lack of conversation around menstruation and poor education in feminine health that can be seen to encourage this gender gap.

In my Master's, Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futureso at London College of Communication, one of the teaching units looked at sustainable businesses and I felt this was a great time to have a critical look at menstrual cups and the pioneers of the first silicone menstrual cup, Mooncup. As my interest grew, I was able to reach out to the Post-Grad Community and present my findings at UAL’s MENSTRual festival demonstrating the research I had found and what might be the future to menstrual cups.

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Currently there are 1.6 billion menstruaters in the world and 60% of UK menstruaters use sanitary towels which can contain up to 90% plastic.

Menstrual cups can reduce a women’s use of menstrual products from 11,000 tampons or sanitary pads to just 5 cups in a lifetime. However, there are several issues that should be tackled to develop the sustainability of menstrual cups. Some examples are that silicone is not currently recycled in the UK, there is a low uptake in menstrual cups and menstrual cups are being used in developing countries to combat period poverty but they aren’t used in the UK for this purpose. This research around recycling led to looking into how menstrual cups could become the first zero waste circular period product as they are 100% silicone which could easily be recycled with the right infrastructure in place.

woman holding a menstrual cup

My research appeared to show that the biggest issue with menstrual cup uptake was the myths that are being made about menstrual cups. For example, they cannot handle heavy flows when in fact they can contain 3 times more menstrual blood compared to a tampon. To add to this people still believe that young people should not insert things into their vagina which is due to the stigma that breaking a hymen means you are no longer seen as a virgin.

Finally, period poverty has been shown to be on the rise in the UK and many policies are coming out in Scotland and England providing free period products in schools. A critical thought of this is that this might encourage girls to choose free mainstream tampons and sanitary towels which they have been taught about. Even though sustainable period products are usually reusable and long term more cost effective, with a lack of education around sustainable products and the environmental impact of period products, people will choose what they are most comfortable with.

women drinking coffee and smiling together

From my essay and the presentation around menstrual products, I am trying to develop this into my final major project for my Master’s study. From my research I kept coming across social barriers preventing people having good knowledge of period products. Women most probably will encounter period pains, PMS and heavy flows throughout their lifetime but many will feel they cannot tell others about these issues due to embarrassment or the stigma that surrounds periods.

In my final project, I would like to find a way to change behavior towards menstruation from embarrassment to open honest conversations with all. This will be through improving education and communication around feminine health. Action Aid found that 25% of girls say they were not prepared for their first period and 20% said they would not want to talk about their period with anyone.

This project aims to allow open conversation to begin to break the myths and enable confidence around menstruation and feminine health. Currently I am looking for a company or person interested in breaking the taboo around menstruation who might be able to collaborate together within this project.

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