Updated: Mar 12, 2021
Why should women (or even babies) consider switching away from DiMPs (disposable menstrual [sanitary for babies] products)? There are already many good articles that summarises the reasons with good statistics [eg here]. So here's a brief summary with some additional practical points. Did you know the following?
Reasons to use RUMPs:
It reduces the amount of trash that needs to be landfilled or incinerated (and subsequently still has ash that needs to be landfilled)
DiMPs often uses plastic and adhesives (made from fossil fuels) that contain chemicals that can be absorbed via the thin and absorbent mucosal skin. Studies [1, 2] have found these chemicals to be hydrocarbon solvents and phthalates that are linked to carcinogenicity and endocrine-disrupting properties. Hence reduced DiMPs is not only good for the environment, it is good for health of the consumer. Disposable organic cotton pads still uses adhesives that has to contain solvents in order to work. High absorbency polymers and the plastic backing often makes the product unbreathable and leads to stronger odours as plastics are good matrix for bacteria growth.
It is good on the wallet (in some cases)! After checking the recent prices of DiMPs, I am really surprised at how much the prices have plummeted over the years! When I made the switch to menstrual cup, a pack of DiMP would have each disposable pad to be around $1. I had worked it out for me back then to be about 2-3 months for the investment to be recouped. But now, each pad is now ranging from 15cents to 50cents! So if you run through many DiMPs per cycle, then there is a good chance that there's good financial incentive in using RUMPs.
There are generally 3 types of ReUsable Menstrual Products (RUMPs)
I. Reusable menstrual pads
These are absorbent cloth pads that are secured by means of buttoning the wings of the cloth pad around the crotch area. It is advisable to wear it with close-fitting underwear to reduce pads from sliding. Some material such as flannel is able to have better contact with cotton underwear and reduce the sliding. Some pads come with extra snap buttons to provide alternate fitting. Some pads come with waterproofing (normally TPU or PUL which is polyurethane) for pads for heavier flow.
The use of polyurethane however precludes the ability to use bleach/stain oxidisers for stain removal as the polyurethane can be damaged by the strong oxidiser, compromising over time, the ability to waterproof/water-resist. Depending on the type of fabric; the way it is cleaned; the lifespan of the pad may last from 6 months to 2 or 3 years. My twill-weave organic cotton flannel reusable pads from GladRags are still going strong with no significant signs of thinning after 5 years of strong washing and oxygen-bleaching! (These pads are available for sale at Eco.Le!) As DiMPs prices plummet as crude oil demands drop as well as greater competition from RUMPs, the margin of financial savings for a reusable pad reduces. But you can still $ave with reusable menstrual pad by sewing your own cloth pad by upcycling any unwanted clothes with suitable fabrics.
The cloth used in making reusable pads range from synthetic polyester (eg minky fabric), to bamboo viscose fleece/terry, cotton flannel to organic cotton or organic natural fibres. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, minkies and fleece contributes unfortunately to microfiber pollution which is a problem in containing it.
Bamboo viscose or any plant derived viscose though renewable should preferably be made without carbon disulfide solvent as the latter has its own problem of persistence and toxicity in the environment and living organisms.
Synthetic materials (e.g. polyester, spandex) are known to have greater propensity to smell [3, 4] besides contributing to microfiber pollution though, they are noted to generally have greater ease of rinsing and laundering off stains. Stubborn blood stains on cotton fabric and synthetics can actually be easily removed using oxygen bleach (does not contain chlorine) known in the market in the names of OxiClean or Vanish or by its ingredient - sodium percarbonate.
Cotton reusable menstrual pads and sodium percarbonate (oxygen bleach) are both available at Eco.Le. Bring your containers!
II. Reusable menstrual/period underwear
These are underwear with integrated pads and waterproofing layer. Choose the capacity to match your flow volume.
The Pros: A good companion for menstrual cup users without the concern of pad shifting. The type of material used often have cotton or bamboo viscose used for the layer in contact with the skin to provide comfort and breathability.
The Cons: Due to materials used eg spandex, polyester, viscose or wool, the use of strong stain remover/ bleach is not recommended. Soaking is also not recommended as antimicrobials (where applicable) may lose effect and bacteria can degrade the urethane bond (in elastane/spandex) over time.
The integrated absorbent layers and waterproofing means drying may be a challenge. A fan or dehumidifier may be required to achieve thorough drying if drying under the sun is not available eg during rainy days. Period underwear are available at The Green Collective SG.
III. Reusable menstrual cup
Probably the best reusable option, whereby the menstrual cup can be thoroughly sanitized; require minimal water (compared to options I or II) for cleaning and with proper handling is able to last 5 to 10 years.
You probably need only one cup for your adult life.
There's no fear of any smell when it is in use.
Easy cleaning, drying and sanitisation.
Best return of investment!
Almost guaranteed no leaks when used with period underwear or reusable menstrual pad.
You can even go swimming during your period!
It can be very uncomfortable for new users.
It requires dexterity especially when it has to be emptied in public toilets.
Access to clean water is important - a real concern when even babies have difficulty accessing clean potable water for milk formulation powders. Rinsing the reusable cup with non-potable water can potentially be a threat to reproductive health since the cup has to be worn for hours. Luckily tap water in Singapore are potable. Fill up 1L of potable or boiled (not boiling!) water to rinse your cup when emptying it in public toilets. Sanitising wipes like alcohol swabs can be used when in a pinch as the alcohol evaporates readily and will have less risk of harming our cell linings or upset the microbiome necessary for good vaginal health.
Removal of the menstrual cup may be messy and it is necessary to ensure that the vacuum seal is properly released before sliding the cup out of the vagina so as to not risk pelvic organ prolapse in the long run or accidental dislodgement of IUDs.
Material of cup
Majority of reusable menstrual cup are made of medical grade silicone making it easily sanitized with boiling water. Some menstrual cups in the market are made of medical grade TPE (thermoplastic elastomers) of different variation of copolymers making TPE more price competitive than medical grade silicone.
For sure medical grade silicone is rather over-engineered for menstruation needs. Medical grade silicone has superb chemical resistance against strong acids, alkali, heat resistant up to 230degC - conditions that we hardly encounter in our reproductive organs. A menstrual cup with resistance to bacterial growth/ degradation (not biodegradable), heat resistance up to 150degC for heat sanitization by boiling water is more than enough.
Alternative elastomers than silicone are possible but I have yet to see a TPE menstrual cup being explicit about the composition of its TPE. Some claim that their TPE is recyclable which begs the question - how to recycle without knowing what is its composition? Many medical TPE are made from plastic monomers such as olefins, polyesters, urethanes. They can be biologically inert even when derived from fossil fuels. The polymerisation process may also be totally adequate but it will be assuring if they can claim to be EDC-free (free of endocrine disrupting chemicals) instead of just BPA-free, phthalate-free. The menstrual cups available at Eco.Le are Lunette and Merula, made in Finland and Germany respectively using medical grade silicone. It's a long read... thank you for getting thus far to this point and hope the info is helpful to assist in your decision making. Please join us in the revolution to make less trash in this world and well done if you have already switched!