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Cup and Cloth: A sustainable menstrual product event

PERIOD at OSU, Students for a Sustainable Campus, and Student Advocates for Sexual Health Awareness host “Cup and Cloth”, an event to discuss and provide reusable menstrual products to students in the Ohio Union, April 4, 2019. Credit: Deborah Eshun | Lantern Reporter

The average menstruator will use 9,000 to 11,000 disposable products in their lifetime. Cup and Cloth, a Time for Change Week event, hoped to provide the awareness and education Ohio State students need to green their periods.

Campus organizations PERIOD at Ohio State, Students for a Sustainable Campus and Student Advocates for Sexual Health Awareness hosted the Cup and Cloth event Thursday to increase awareness of reusable menstrual products that serve as a sustainable alternative to pads and tampons.

Mallory Johnston, a second-year in pre-nursing and co-president of Students for a Sustainable Campus, spoke about the importance of addressing the often taboo topic of menstruation in sustainability conversations.

“Menstruation is something that has always had this culture of ‘keep it in the dark,’” Johnston said. “The stigma around periods has allowed it to create a lot of waste.”  

Panelists discussed the stigma and alternatives to disposable products, as well as the benefits and barriers of switching to reusables. An interactive workshop ended in a giveaway of two menstrual cups and three pairs of Thinx period underwear at the end of the event.

“We’re trying to reduce those barriers for the people that attend today because reducing barriers helps people make changes,” panelist Elaine Louden, incoming SASHA vice president and third-year in public health and Spanish, said.

Menstrual cups and cloth pads were two alternatives discussed during the workshop.

A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped cup made of medical-grade silicone considered a comparable alternative to tampons. Menstrual cups can be used for up to 12 hours at a time and provide peace of mind to users, Louden said during the panel. Prices range from $15 to $30 and can be used for several years if properly cared for.

Cloth pads serve the same function as their disposable counterparts; however, they can be hand or machine washed after use, providing long-term savings for the user.

While reusable products cost less in the long run, the panelists said that popular options have a hefty initial cost that can deter those otherwise interested.

Period poverty is the lack of access to clean menstrual products due to money, and getting the proper menstrual products is a challenge that low-income women face monthly. This impacts how they live their lives during their “time of the month,” said panelist and Ohio State alum Ameer Abdulrahman, the student advisor for PERIOD at Ohio State.

The 2018 Always Confidence and Puberty Survey, conducted by Always brand tampons manufacturer Procter & Gamble, found “…nearly one in five American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.”

In addition to buying reusable items, maintenance is also a concern. Menstrual cups are not an option for homeless populations or those outside the United States who may not have consistent access to a kitchen, which is needed to boil the cup to sterilize it.

Still, panelists encouraged those with the financial means and access to switch for health benefits as well.

“Tampons have been known to be grown with cotton sprayed with pesticides to keep the bugs off of it,” Louden said.“So when you think about it, you can’t really wash those pesticides out of the cotton. The tampons that you’re putting into your body have been grown with all of these chemicals, and there aren’t really known studies about what they can do to you.”

On top of the savings and health benefits, when compared with the amount of energy and water needed to produce tampons and pads, reusable products reduce waste. Many disposable products are made of plastics and cotton, “a notoriously thirsty crop,” Johnston said.

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