The 'menstrual cup' has been somewhat en vogue recently, but it's not a new concept. The first modern menstrual cup was invented in 1937 by American actress, Leona Chalmers, who patented her latex rubber menstrual cup design. The idea was slow to take off, and over the last few decades, we've grown to favour 'single-use and disposable' over 'reusable and recyclable'.
In every aspect of our lives, from coffee cups and food packaging to tampons and takeaway containers, it seems the need for quick and easy solutions trumps the concern for the long-term impacts of them. Convenience has its perks, but when scientists predict that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 - it's time to check in with our addiction to convenience.
Single-use tampons and disposable pads are made with plastic components that do not biodegrade naturally over time. They're also full of toxins and odour-neutralizing chemicals that are harmful to the skin, the body's largest organ, and they're in close proximity to our most intimate bits and pieces - the very last place they should be. The safe alternative is simple; a plastic-free and chemical-free menstrual cup.
Menstrual cups are more environmentally-friendly and they're safer to use too; rather than absorbing blood, they collect it, dramatically reducing the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a bacterial infection associated with tampon use. Menstrual cups are also more affordable than their disposable counterparts. The average Australian woman can spend $18,171 on disposable period products over her lifetime, so from a financial, environmental, and wellness perspective, menstrual cups are simply more sustainable.
JuJu Cups agrees, and when it comes to the environmental impact of periods, their main concern is decreasing disposable waste for women. JuJu Cups have taken on the challenge of reinventing the menstrual cup, offering modern-day women the diverse options they need to have a low-impact period in peace.
Brenda Tootell is leading the period revolution, and as the General Manager of JuJu Cups, she's a wealth of knowledge on the topic of 'sustainable periods'...
When did you first come across menstrual cups and why did you want to pursue a business in sustainable period products?
I first came across menstrual cups in 2008 when I was having a discussion with a friend from overseas about the cost of disposable menstrual products. She casually mentioned she hadn’t purchased menstrual products in years because she used a menstrual cup. I’d never heard of them prior to this and my first thought was, 'Do these things actually work and if they do, why aren’t they readily available to Australian consumers?' I was intrigued and purchased a few from different brands. After trialling a fair few brands, I found things I liked and other things I thought could be improved. I wanted to create a quality cup that was manufactured in Australia, where we were able to control the quality and support the local industry. 11 years later, we have four different JuJu menstrual cup models available and a range of other reusable period care products!
You're an advocate for open conversations around periods. Why do you think menstruating is still such a taboo subject outside of JuJu Cups' headquarters?
The taboos around menstruation have such deep roots and unfortunately, they’re still causing people with periods around the globe to suffer – even right here in Australia. Many people lack access to the period products they need and are subject to discrimination that prevents them from attending work or school. It has huge implications for their quality of life and ability to support themselves and their families.
The shame around periods also results in people delaying treatment for reproductive health problems. They may avoid seeing a doctor out of embarrassment, or they may be under the impression that they just have to ‘put up with’ heavy or painful periods – but in many cases, this just isn’t true.
We believe that it’s so important to approach periods for what they are: a totally normal and healthy bodily function that can allow us to reproduce if we choose to. They don’t make us dirty or unclean, they make us fertile.
A big part of breaking the taboo around periods is to keep talking about them openly. We continue to share information about periods online in hopes of helping to break this taboo, and we choose to support local educators who are doing the same.
Do JuJu Cups' menstrual cups completely and sustainably eliminate single-use period waste?
The average menstruating woman uses over 10,500 disposable period products in their lifetime – which is huge when you consider there are over two billion menstruating women on our planet! Our aim is to help women find reusable alternatives to lessen the number of tampons, pads and associated packaging they use, all of which ultimately end up in landfill and our waterways.
JuJu Menstrual Cups are made from medical grade silicone. It's not a biodegradable material, but the process of mining mineral sands to manufacture silicone have a much lower environmental impact than the production of cotton for tampons, which requires a huge amount of water, soil and pesticides. Silicone is also incredibly durable, so a JuJu Cup can be used for years before needing to be replaced. Switching to a menstrual cup means you avoid disposing of dozens of tampons and pads each cycle, and instead, you just clean and reuse the same cup, cycle after cycle.
We also take care to avoid plastic wherever possible in our products and packaging. Our menstrual cups, cloth pads and period underwear all come in recyclable and plastic-free cardboard packaging which is printed with plant-based inks.
Are most people sceptical about transitioning from tampons and single-use pads to reusable period products?
It’s always fascinating to see people’s reactions when they learn about menstrual cups and other reusable period products. Some people are excited by the concept of menstrual cups due to all the benefits, but others take a little more convincing. They’re definitely one of those things that you have to experience to really understand and comprehend just how great they can be.
There is a bit of initial scepticism about how comfortable a cup will be, how it will hold their flow, whether it will get ‘lost’ (don't worry, it won’t!) and whether or not reusables are safe (they totally are). It’s absolutely fair to have these questions – as with anything new or different to the norm, there is a bit of a learning curve involved. However, when people learn about how to fold their cup so that it’s a similar size to a tampon, and they get to know their body and their flow better by using a cup, they wonder why they didn’t switch earlier. Once switching to a cup, many people find that they don’t bleed as much as they thought and most discover that cups are actually more comfortable and convenient than disposable pads or tampons, and they save us a whole lot of money, too!
And of course, there are people who are initially grossed out by the concept of reusables; however, this usually stems from the false belief that periods are dirty or ‘unclean’. Keeping your menstrual cup clean is super easy, and there’s absolutely nothing gross about getting a little more up-close-and-personal with your period. We hope that by continuing to erode period stigma, more people will become comfortable with their bodies and be more open to trying reusable alternatives.
What are the best health benefits of making the switch to a JuJu Cup?
The benefits to your health when switching to a menstrual cup come down to what it’s made of. Because our menstrual cups are made from medical-grade silicone, they don’t contain the harmful chemicals that are in many tampons. Unfortunately, tampon manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in their products – which means many people are unknowingly exposing their most sensitive areas to dioxins, pesticides, bleach and synthetic fragrances. It’s pretty scary stuff! We also hear from a lot of people who are allergic to the chemicals in disposable pads; they've had huge relief from switching to our cups or cloth pads.
And because menstrual cups collect your flow rather than absorb it, they don’t dry you out like tampons do. If you’ve ever tried to remove a tampon too early, you know what I’m talking about. Keeping natural moisture in the vagina helps to keep the vaginal flora balanced, and it’s a whole lot more comfortable too.
If you could give all women one superpower, what would it be and why?
Self-duplication… Imagine how much more we could achieve if we had a few clones of ourselves running around!
Make the switch to a safer, more sustainable menstruation products today and shop online at JuJu Cups.
The Fashion Advocate x