Period power provided by NAU’s Green Fund

Illustration by Kiana Gibson

Menstruation poses an assortment of challenges to people throughout the world. Not only do disposable period products cost menstruating individuals substantial sums of money, they also produce massive amounts of waste on a global scale. In many parts of the world, menstruating individuals don’t have access to disposable products and are often forced to stay at home or improvise crude absorption devices during their times of the month.

NAU’s Green Fund, in partnership with the company Dot Cup, recently took action against worldwide struggles surrounding menstruation.

On the morning of April 8, hundreds of students gathered in the Health and Learning Center (HLC) for a special tabling event where they were given free, reusable menstrual cups, courtesy of the Green Fund.

Green Fund Vice Chair Janice Baldwin-Rowe said the event was nothing short of a success. Of the 1,200 menstrual cups purchased by the Green Fund, Rowe said 300 were given away at the event. She said she was surprised to see such a sizable crowd of eager students waiting in line to receive free cups.

“It was just great,” Rowe said. “I was so overwhelmed, actually, because I showed up and there were all these people in the HLC. I had not expected that turnout.”

Cups were distributed in handcrafted satchels that were sown for profit by foreign refugees. Pamphlets with directions on how to use the cups, as well as information about their benefits were also offered.

Rowe said the fund’s primary objective in distributing Dot Cups is to further campus sustainability efforts. She estimated that if all 1,200 were taken and utilized for the rest of students’ lives, it could save nearly 36,000 pounds of waste from being disposed in landfills.

Betsy Drach, the founder and creative director for Dot Cup, was present at the tabling event and explained the financial savings offered through the use of her product. She said that menstruating individuals can save roughly $1,500 in their lifetimes by making the switch from disposable to reusable.

“That’s a lot of money,” Drach said. “Every menstruating person can benefit from using a menstrual cup, whether they have the means to purchase them or not.”

Drach is not only working to benefit menstruating people in privileged communities. Her company, in collaboration with the nonprofit organization World Vision, donates one menstrual cup to someone who does not have access to disposable hygiene products for every Dot Cup purchased. That means, thanks to the Green Fund’s purchase, 1,200 people worldwide will receive the care they need from one of Drach’s cups.

“On the other side of the world or even here in the United States, for people who are living in poverty, the impact is probably greater because they’re often staying home from school or work when they’re on their period,” Drach said. “Products like a menstrual cup really allow them the freedom and flexibility to do and pursue what matters most to them during all times of the month.”

For many people, menstrual cups offer a sense of empowerment and freedom. The company’s founder said Dot Cups can be worn for up to 12 hours, eliminating the need for frequent reapplication.

Despite taking time to get used to the product, junior Spiryt McMahon said her cup has kept her out of the restroom and focused on her life.

“It’s a lot more comfortable to not have to worry about it all day,” McMahon said. “If I’m out at a clinical site, I don’t really get a break for six hours or have time to go to the bathroom and change my tampon. Whereas with the cup, I have a lot more time to just live my life.”

McMahon is a nursing student at NAU and expressed concern for some of the possible health risks associated with using disposable period products.

“They put some weird things in tampons like bleach and rayon,” McMahon said. “Stuff that you shouldn’t necessarily put in your body.”

Claims that the bleaching process and use of rayon in tampon production are harmful were disputed by Tampax — the No.1 producers of tampons in America — in an informational page on the company’s website. However, Rowe emphasized another possible health perk of menstrual cups.

“Virtually, there’s no risk of toxic shock syndrome [TSS] with menstrual cups,” Rowe said. “What causes TSS is bacteria that grows in warm, moist environments, and the cotton in tampons provides a really nice medium for bacterial growth. So, that’s a risk that’s significantly reduced with the menstrual cup because it’s made out of silicone.”

Articles in Today and the Chicago Tribune, which are based on microbiology research conducted by medical doctors at Claude Bernard University in France, suggest it is unclear whether or not menstrual cups pose less risk of TSS than tampons. It appears that the physical design and prolonged use of menstrual cups could lend itself to the growth of harmful bacteria, just like with tampons.

The articles conclude that TSS is a rare condition and there are very few reports of the illness tied to the use of cups. With cautious washing routines and mindful use, it is highly unlikely to contract TSS from using a cup.

Drach said she’s thrilled to see people of a younger generation get excited about Dot Cups. The entrepreneur said she hopes the lives of menstruators everywhere will be touched by the freedoms that come with using her product.

“It is such an honor when I hear from people that the Dot Cup has completely transformed their period and the way that they view it,” Drach said. “It really excites me to get college students involved in the menstrual cup movement, because I truly believe that menstrual cups are the future of period care.”

Rowe said the Dot Cup distribution program will continue while supplies last. Students interested in give the cup a try can pick one up in the Health Promotion office, located inside the HLC.