• Sustainable menstrual products
    Chris Polinsky 2020

Frequently recognized for its commitment to green initiatives, Southwestern University is again working to implement environmentally conscious practices on campus—this time by teaming up with OrganiCup, the Danish company that since 2012 has been manufacturing menstrual cups, a reusable and therefore more ecofriendly alternative to single-use pads and tampons. SU has become a CampusCup 2020 partner, joining universities across the U.S. in an effort to make periods on campus more sustainable.

OrganicupAs part of this new partnership, from now until Saturday, October 10, 2020, which is National Period Day, Southwestern University students can sign up using their SU email address to receive a free menstrual cup here. Alumni and those who do not sign up in time can use the discount code SOUTHWESTERN for 30% off their OrganiCup purchase. At the end of the sign-up period, the Office of Sustainability will host a webinar titled “Sustainable Periods” with the student leaders of the Reproductive Justice Alliance to raise awareness about the impacts of traditional single-use menstrual products. 

“To address the social and environmental impacts of period products, we need to tear down the stigma around talking about menstruation,” says SU EcoRep Ceanna Cooksey ’23. “Over the course of a lifetime, a single menstruator will spend on average $4,800 (not accounting for inflation) on 11,000 pads and tampons, the majority of which will end in landfills as plastic waste.” 

“To address the social and environmental impacts of period products, we need to tear down the stigma around talking about menstruation.”

Sustainability Coordinator Veronica Johnson agrees. “Switching to a reusable menstrual product, such as a cup or period underwear, can save a menstruator a lot of money in the long run,” she says. “However, these products tend to have a higher upfront cost, which deters individuals from making the investment. That’s what’s great about this OrganiCup giveaway: we’re able to provide a relatively expensive product at no cost to students.” 

The OrganiCup giveaway and educational webinar are part of the Office of Sustainability’s “Period Project,” designed and led by EcoReps Kathryn Caudell ’19 and Cooksey last academic year. In fall 2019, Caudell and Cooksey received a $1,000 Green Sustainable Advancements Funding Endeavor (S.A.F.E.) grant to provide free access to 100% organic tampons and pads as well as to give away menstrual cups. Thanks to the student-supported funding, pads and tampons from Aunt Flow, which are manufactured without synthetics, rayons, or dyes, are currently being piloted in the first-floor and third-floor restrooms of McCombs Campus Center.

According to their grant application, Caudell and Cooksey wanted to address social sustainability by alleviating the costs of period products. Such costs can become a serious burden to students with financial barriers, so the provision of easily accessible and free products can help relieve stress and anxiety. In addition, because unexpected periods have also caused people to leave work or school, providing easier access to sanitary products on campus can improve attendance in class and at cocurricular events. Ultimately, then, the OrganiCup giveaway and new availability of more sustainable menstrual products on campus are just another step toward improving the lives of students on campus while advancing the cause of environmentalism. As Caudell and Cooksey wrote eloquently in their application, “A period should end a sentence, not someone’s education.”