Using menstrual cups instead of tampons can significantly reduce plastic waste

29 Jul 2019

Image: © Victoria M/

Preliminary evidence suggests that using menstrual cups could cut down on plastic and water waste, while being more cost-effective than alternatives such as tampons.

A scientific review of the international use of menstrual cups suggests they are safe and may be as effective as other sanitary products. The findings indicate they result in similar or lower leakage than disposable sanitary towels (pads) or tampons.

Globally, people who menstruate have reported that it affects their school and experience of work. It can also increase their disposition to infections if they use poor-quality sanitary products.

Researchers say it can even make some people a target of sexual violence or coercion when they do not have the funds to buy sanitary products.

‘For consumers purchasing menstrual products, the results highlight cups as a safe and cost-effective option’

With an increasing number of initiatives in both high- and low-income countries to combat period poverty, it is essential that policymakers know what products to include in menstrual health programmes, scientists say.

Senior author Prof Penelope Phillips-Howard, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “Despite the fact that 1.9bn individuals globally are of menstruating age – spending on average 65 days a year dealing with menstrual blood flow – few good-quality studies exist that compare sanitary products.

“We aimed to address this by summarising current knowledge about leakage, safety and acceptability of menstrual cups, comparing them to other products where possible.”

Scientists combined data from medical studies and grey literature in which participants reported their experiences of menstrual cups or their willingness to use them.

They selected 43 studies involving 3,319 participants, with 15 studies in low- and middle-income countries and 28 studies in high-income countries. Four studies within the review, which included 293 participants, compared leakage between different sanitary products.

The study, published in The Lancet Public Health journal, found levels were similar between menstrual cups and pads and tampons, while one found that leakage was significantly less. Across Europe, North America and Africa, there was no increased risk of infection associated with using menstrual cups.

Results from 13 of the studies suggest around 70pc of the participants wanted to continue using menstrual cups once they were familiar with them.

Among 69 websites containing educational materials on puberty in 27 countries, 77pc mentioned disposable pads, 65pc mentioned tampons, only 30pc mentioned menstrual cups and 22pc mentioned reusable pads, the study found.

Cost and environment

Preliminary evidence on the cost and waste savings associated with using menstrual cups suggests that over 10 years, a single menstrual cup could cost much less than pads or tampons.

A cup could cost roughly 5pc or 7pc the cost of using 12 pads (on average $0.31 each) or tampons (on average $0.21 each) per period.

Plastic waste might also be reduced, as over a decade a cup is estimated to create 0.4pc of the plastic waste generated by single-use pads or 6pc of that produced by using tampons.

The authors note the cost and waste estimates are only illustrative, and do not account for the combined use of menstrual products, inflation or production costs. Given the limited number of reports on the use of menstrual cups, the authors also caution that other potential issues cannot be excluded, including use of menstrual cups in combination with IUDs.

Commenting on the study, Dr Julie Hennegan from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said: “For consumers purchasing menstrual products, the results highlight cups as a safe and cost-effective option.

“Critically, findings indicate that menstrual education resources are not providing a comprehensive overview of products to support informed choices.”

The researchers believe this was the first systematic review and meta-analysis examining people’s experiences of menstrual cups. However, they note the quality of the studies included was low, and call for more, quality research in this area.

Menstrual cups collect blood flow, rather than absorbing it as with pads and tampons. Like tampons, they are inserted into the vagina, before being emptied every four to 12 hours.

There are currently two types: a vaginal cup which is generally bell-shaped, and a cervical cup. They are made from medical-grade silicone, rubber, latex or elastomer and can last up to 10 years.

– PA Media