About the Project
The ExtraVAGanza Project is an initiative at the Office of Sustainability that provides free, reusable menstrual products to students on campus. The Project received joint funding through generous grants from the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environmental and Social Justice ($20,000) and the UArizona Green Fund ($6,700), which enabled the purchase of medical-grade silicone menstrual cups from DivaCup and washable cloth menstrual pads from GladRags. Reusable menstrual products are an environmentally-friendly option that reduce plastic pollution and keep disposable pads, tampons, and pantiliners out of the landfill. The average menstruator uses between 12,000 - 16,0001 of these disposables in their lifetime. In 2018 alone, people in the U.S. bought 5.8 billion tampons2, most of them made from chemically bleached cotton, and potentially toxic rayon, plastics, and other compounds that may be harmful inside the body3. Reusables are also more economically friendly than disposables.
Reusable products save menstruators an average of $6,000 over their reproductive years1!
To learn more about menstrual cups, please check out the FAQ page on DivaCup's website. It is important to note that if you are an IUD (intrauterine device) or NuvaRing user, a menstrual cup may not be the right option for you, as it may increase your risk of accidentally dislodging the device. Always check with your healthcare provider to determine whether a menstrual cup is appropriate for you.
To learn more about washable, reusable cloth menstrual pads, please visit the Cloth Pads FAQ page on the GladRags website.
"Period poverty" occurs when menstruators do not have adequate resources to purchase the hygiene products needed each month, nor access to menstrual hygiene education, proper lavatories, hand washing facilities, and/or the waste management infrastructure required to ensure safe and healthy menstruation4. Additionally, in many cultures, menstruators are ostracized during their periods and forced to miss work or school.
The Global Citizen, a nonprofit organization focused on education, advocacy and the eradication of systemic poverty, writes:
"Poor menstrual hygiene can cause physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections, according to UNICEF. It also stops people from reaching their full potential when they miss out on opportunities crucial to their growth. Young girls who do not receive an education are more likely to enter child marriages and experience an early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications as a result...Period shame has negative mental effects as well. It disempowers menstruators, causing them to feel embarrassed about a normal biological process."
Period poverty is pervasive not only in the developing world, but also on U.S. soil and even occurs in the seemingly unlikely place of college campuses. The ExtraVAGanza Project aims to make reusables easily accessible to all University of Arizona students, regardless of income constraints and other factors. Beyond this, the ExtraVAGanza Project also recognizes that trans, non-binary and gender queer folks have traditionally been excluded from conversations about menstruation and have not been provided with equitable access to menstrual hygiene resources. In addition to offering the reusable products themselves, this project aims to reduce stigmas about menstruation and create welcoming spaces for all menstruators, regardless of gender identity.
To learn more about period poverty, check out this helpful resource that Yoppie.com recently published, entitled "Period Poverty: What Is It & How Can We Help?" The guide provides education, an exploration of myths and taboos surrounding menstruation, and offers potential solutions to the problem of period poverty.
Outreach and Virtual Art Exhibit
The Office of Sustainability had planned to host an outdoor, multimedia, gender-inclusive art exhibition in the University of Arizona Community Garden in 2020, honoring artworks related to women's health, menstruation and the feminine-identifying experience. However, due to safety concerns stemming from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, we made the determination not to move forward with offering such an interactive event at that time. Instead, the exhibition will now be hosted virtually on our website, starting in Spring 2022 (stay tuned to this webpage for more information). The aim of the exhibit is to embrace and showcase the extraordinary experience of what it means to be a menstruator, and to broadly honor women's health topics.
We asked University of Arizona students, faculty and staff artists of all gender identities and sexual orientations: how do you express and honor 'femininity'? The artists reflected on the following topics and provided their artistic contributions:
- Women's health - physical, emotional, mental, spiritual
- Power, gender equity, and social justice
- Fertility, infertility, menstruation and amenorrhea
- BIPOC experiences of womanhood
- LGBTQIA+ experiences of womanhood
- Women, sustainability and the Earth
- Body image, self-love, and relationships
- Other topics important to the artist in their experience.
Our team remains hopeful that it will still be possible to host an in-person, outdoor art exhibit for the ExtraVAGanza Project in the future.
Our first distribution event was held at the Campus Pantry from March 23 - 26, 2021. We had our next tabling presence at the Sunset Yoga on the Mall activity on Friday, April 23rd, which was hosted by Students for Sustainability. To date, we have been able to reach nearly 175 students. The response we have received from the campus community has been overwhelmingly positive.
Assuming that all students who received a reusable product from us used that product during their first menstrual cycle following the distribution events, in one month around 2,625 tampons and their wrappers and applicators were saved from entering the landfill (assuming an average of 15 tampons a cycle times 175 people) or 3,500 pads and their wrappers were diverted (assuming an average of 20 pads a cycle times 175 people). Financially speaking, in one month alone, around $1,575 dollars were saved across our program participants in the aggregate (assuming an average of 15 tampons a cycle, at $9 for a box of 20 tampons times 175 people). If students continue to use the reusable option for all four years of their college education, they can individually save around $200 from buying disposable tampons or pads.
In terms of data and metrics, we asked students to take a short “pre-survey” before they were able to receive a free menstrual product, with questions regarding their menstrual hygiene choices, level of access to products, any difficulties faced in the past and/or on a continuing basis, and relationship with menstruation. The survey was available in both print and digital formats to maximize ease of use. We then sent a follow-up “post-survey” six weeks after participants received the reusable menstrual products in order to gauge people’s reactions, experiences, and any shifts in attitude or access that might have occurred.
We had 172 students take the pre-survey. The average age of pre-survey respondents was 22. The majority of students who took our pre-survey indicated that they were currently using tampons and/or disposable plastic pads for menstrual care, with 63.7% of respondents indicating tampons as either their sole method of menstrual hygiene, or in combination with other methods (most frequently disposable pads, at 59.1%). Only 17% of respondents had used or tried to use either a reusable menstrual cup or pad before, with 83% reporting that they had never tried one.
About 40% of participants said that they sometimes or always experienced difficulty accessing menstrual products each month. Financial difficulties and transportation challenges were the primary barriers respondents faced in obtaining menstrual products, with 28% of respondents reporting difficulty in affording the cost of menstrual products and 26% of respondents indicating additional trouble with getting or affording transportation to the store.
The pre-survey also asked about the social implications surrounding menstruation and being a menstruator. We found that 8.5% of respondents had experienced outright discrimination due to their menstrual cycle. Participants were able to provide details about their experiences if they chose to do so, and the most common experiences reported included enduring teasing and public humiliation by both peers and adults, not being allowed to leave class or work to tend to menstrual needs/periods starting, being reprimanded for missing school or work while experiencing severe menstrual symptoms such as cramps, vomiting, headache, etc., and/or having mood or personality traits called into question (“You’re so emotional, you must be on your period.”) Many of these respondents also indicated general feelings of shame, repression and cultural stigmas surrounding the topic of menstruation. Additionally, gender non-binary and trans respondents indicated that they had experienced discrimination when asking for or purchasing menstrual products, or just not being socially accepted for having a period.
Ten percent of our pre-survey respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that they felt comfortable talking about menstruation.
We sent the post-survey out to participants in early summer 2021, but unfortunately received only a handful of responses. It came to our attention that due to a glitch in the email system, our message was not received by the bulk of participants . We therefore sent the survey out again, in the hope of garnering more participation. We received 29 responses in total, but due to this small sample size, we did not receive enough responses from the reusable cloth pad users to derive much concrete data about the pads for this report or our greater storytelling efforts for this program. We plan to continue surveying new cloth pad program participants to enrich this data. Fortunately, we did glean a bit more data from the menstrual cup users.
From our post survey results, 83% of respondents said that they had had a chance to try out their free product, and 88% of menstrual cup recipients would recommend the cups to a friend. Users reported that they found the cups convenient and easy to use, long-wearing, comfortable, and clean/dry feeling. They also reported that the financial savings and eco-friendly aspects were appealing. The primary challenges reported from cup users were the learning curve, discomfort upon insertion and removal, leaks, sizing confusion, and difficulty cleaning the cup when traveling or away from home. Almost all respondents who indicated that the learning curve was a bit of a challenge also stated that once they got the hang of the cup, they liked it. Cups were not for everyone, however - one cup recipient reported feeling as though the cup was simply too invasive, while another reported actually being too intimidated by the cup to try it at the time of the survey.
As mentioned above, the data from the cloth pad recipients was sparse and it is difficult to draw any real conclusions about the experience of cloth pad users. Eleven cloth pad users took the post-survey, but only a few answered all of the questions. They generally reported mixed feelings. Perceived positive aspects of the pads included high absorbency, washability and the environmental benefits. Negative aspects reported included the pads being too thick, too hot, uncomfortable, not staying in place, and it being difficult to have only one pad (therefore having to continuously wash and reuse a single pad for the duration of one’s cycle). Given the feedback received, the ExtraVAGanza Project will be offering a second pad to existing pad recipients so that users are able to rotate between a minimum of two pads. That way, one pad is always clean and available while the other is being laundered. In our future outreach, we’ll also provide two cloth pads per person to maximize the ease and benefit.
It is worth noting that while our total sample size for the post-survey was very small compared to the pre-survey, all post-survey respondents indicated that they now felt comfortable talking about menstruation.
How to Receive a Reusable Menstrual Product
Follow us on Instagram @uarizona_sustainability (links at bottom of page) to learn about our distribution points for the menstrual cups and cloth pads on campus. We plan to give out more items at various tabling and outreach events in 2022. We are also working with University campus partners including the Campus Pantry and Campus Health to ensure that any interested student is able to pick up one free cup or pad, while supplies last. We hope to offer more information about these distribution points soon, so stay tuned! Please note that a valid CatCard will be required in order to redeem, and a short survey will be requested. Only one item will be available per person. Please bring your own bag if you are able.
Please email Office of Sustainability Program Manager Lauren White at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the ExtraVAGanza Project or if you'd like to partner with us.
1 GladRags. Learn About Cloth Pads and Menstrual Cups.
2 Borunda, Alejandra. (2019, September 6). How Tampons and Pads Became Unsustainable and Filled With Plastic. National Geographic.
3 Leithe, Rune. (2018, March). Why the Toxic Tampon Issue Isn’t Going Away: A Briefing Paper. Ecology and Pioneering.
4 Sanchez, Erica and Rodriguez, Leah. (2019, February 5). Period Poverty: Everything You Need To Know. The Global Citizen.