College introduces free menstrual cups to reduce environmental waste, continue conversation about periods
Genevieve Coleman | Friday, August 27, 2021
This semester, Saint Mary’s is encouraging students to consider an alternative to traditional menstrual products by giving away free menstrual cups between Sept. 1 through Sept. 15 in coordination with the Campus Cup project.
According to its website, the initiative desires to “make sure menstrual cups are at every student’s disposal.” The menstrual cups are branded as OrganiCups because of their use of sustainable material and packaging.
When professor and EcoBelles advisor Melissa Bialko learned about Campus Cup through her membership with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), she was amazed by the organization’s commitment to both people and the environment.
“I was thrilled. What a beautiful campaign supporting both those that require hygiene products and the environment simultaneously,” she said. “Part of this campaign which I am especially excited about is to track usage and impact data from the those whom receive the free cups. This data is collected via quick surveys, could lead to nationwide change and will be published via AASHE.”
Explaining the impact of the initiative on the environment, Bialko compared the waste created by menstrual cups as opposed to traditional single-use products.
“A person can significantly reduce their hygiene product waste by swapping out pads or tampons for a menstrual cup,” she said. “In two years —the expected longevity of a menstrual cup — the average American utilizes 528 pads or tampons.”
Bialko noted her dedication to helping students learn how to reduce their waste in a part of their lives that they might have never considered before.
“I believe it is of utmost importance to educate our students about the waste that the feminine hygiene product industry creates,” she said. “I think we often fail to remember that hygiene products are single-use, pre-packaged and mass-produced; they place a strain on our planet and our pocketbooks.”
Describing the other societal issues that accompany the creation of single-use products, Bialko explained the problems of the fast fashion industry.
“[The feminine hygiene industry] may also strain our ethics once we understand the implications of their manufacture,” she said. “Almost all mass-produced items are made overseas. We have all heard of fast fashion and the documented dangers to workers, sometimes whom are slaves, associated with that form of large-scale production.”
While menstrual cups are beneficial for some reasons, Bialko acknowledged that menstrual cups do not fit into every lifestyle.
“Many persons who menstruate are reluctant to use menstrual cups as there may be notions that cups are messy, painful, smelly, or too hard or embarrassing to deal with in public restrooms,” she said. “I think we need to very clearly recognize that no hygiene product, just like any other product, is going to work well for, or be appealing to, everyone. I also want to make sure that we all understand that there are religions, cultures or family dynamics that do not allow the use of products like cups, tampons or other hygiene products inserted into the body.”
For those individuals who still want to reduce their waste, Bialko made suggestions.
“All said, if the cup is not appealing to or permissible for an individual, there are other ways for the environmentally motivated to cut down on waste,” she said. “The largest and easiest way to create an impact is to swap out one-time use products for those that can be reused … Even swapping out a single-use for a reusable one day of each menstrual cycle can eliminate a full package of tampons or pads a year.”
Bialko also offered advice for those who have concerns about introducing menstrual cups into their lives.
“For those that do feel good about trying a cup, I would attempt to dissuade fears,” she said. “One can be very discreet in emptying and cleaning a cup in a public stall, and there are even ways to sanitize the cups without breaking down the silicone, so there is no need to worry about infection or odor. Some cups do stain, so that is something to be prepared for. In terms of pain, every person’s body is different. While the cups are surprisingly easy to insert, there are some instances when users have reported pain or discomfort. In this case, inserting the cup at a different angle or while standing or sitting in a different position typically solves the problem.”
Bialko expressed her wish that with the introduction of this program at Saint Mary’s and other campuses, people will be able to have honest conversations about menstruation and other taboo topics.
“I hope the next generation that menstruates can experience open conversation with friends, families, partners [and] physicians,” she said. “I hope the stigma around being quiet or shy about certain topics evaporates.”
Bialko spoke about the harm that not speaking about menstruation has caused certain groups, especially the trans community.
“I think many people have suffered physically or emotionally for not being able to talk about these things openly and I believe every person has the right to comfort,” she said. “I also very [hopeful] that there is more acceptance and support for transgender men who are still menstruating. Menstruation, for some trans men and especially trans boys, may feel like an obstacle to the transitioning process or even an embarrassment. I want every trans person to feel loved and supported and confident to broach the subject with their partners, families and physicians.”