How to be eco-friendly with your vagina?

25 June 2023

by MJ Blancaflor

A young creative duo dares to establish a startup seeking to make sustainable period products more accessible in a conservative Malaysian society.

Tireless research, creativity, passion for sustainability, and COVID-19 lockdowns were all part of the recipe for the success of a young creative who found herself running a startup amidst the economic uncertainties brought about by the pandemic.

Catherine Lee, 30, was deeply concerned about the significant amount of waste unwittingly generated by those who depend on sanitary pads. Relying on pads, which are made from 90 percent plastic, means generating a massive amount of waste that takes hundreds of years to decompose. According to Plastic Atlas Asia, an average woman consumes some 12,675 pads throughout her life. That’s equivalent to 152 kilograms per person! 

And the fact that these vital single-use pads were inaccessible to most during the peak of the global crisis struck a chord with Catherine, who believed that more people should have the option to purchase a reusable product that is also safe, effective, comfortable, and affordable — like menstrual cups.

She took it upon herself to fill in that gap.

Catherine decided to jumpstart a business aimed at promoting the shift to menstrual cups and making these more accessible in Malaysia.

“We don’t realize how fortunate we are. Some people struggle and can’t afford sanitary pads which is a basic necessity. So I decided to start a small fundraising project on Instagram with some friends where we purchased sanitary pads for the communities that needed them,” she tells EcoCupid. 

“Then I started ButterCup. I do hope that one day, ButterCup can help end ‘period poverty’ in Malaysia by introducing reusable menstrual cups,” she adds.

Despite the economic uncertainties brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, a young creative has dared to establish a startup seeking to make menstrual cups more accessible in Malaysia. By bringing her creativity and perseverance into her business, she aims to help others break free from the limitations associated with menstrual hygiene and promote the adoption of sustainable period products. Photo courtesy of ButterCup.

Safe alternative

Even before the pandemic, Catherine had already been using menstrual cups. These small, flexible, funnel-shaped cups — usually made of rubber or medical-grade silicone — are inserted into the body to collect blood.

Menstrual cups are a safe option for managing periods and are being used by thousands of people across the globe. A 2019 study published in the medical journal The Lancet looked at 43 studies involving 3,319 participants from all over the world to assess the safety of menstrual cups. The researchers confirmed that these are indeed safe alternatives to pads and tampons.

The same study found no evidence suggesting that menstrual cups could pose a higher risk of infection when compared to other period products. In fact, some of the research surveyed even indicated that cups are less likely to cause infections than tampons or pads.

“Menstrual cups are good alternatives because these collect menstrual blood inside the body in a vacuum-sealed environment. On the other hand, an excessively damp pad constantly exposed to air encourages bacteria growth,” Catherine says.

Studies, however, cautioned users to keep their cups clean to avoid a small risk of infection. 

Additionally, due to variations in cup sizes and materials used, individuals may discover that some cups from different brands are more suitable and effective for their needs.

Building ButterCup

Catherine was working remotely as a social media specialist when the pandemic erupted. In her free time, she began contemplating the idea of establishing her own company that would promote the use of menstrual cups and create awareness about menstrual health.

An interior designer by profession, she lacked experience in managing a business. She did not even dream of becoming an entrepreneur, but Catherine’s desire to utilize her time, passion, and creativity to empower others propelled her forward.

So she shared her idea with her friend, Kelvin Yap, a graphic designer. Recognizing the potential of her idea, Kelvin enthusiastically supported Catherine’s vision and helped her launch the business. 

In 2021, ButterCup was established as a provider of reusable silicone cups, offering a sustainable approach to period care.

Clad in a vibrant pink shirt, Kelvin teaches ButterCup customers about the usage and advantages of menstrual cups. Photo courtesy of ButterCup.

ButterCup focuses on educating people about the health benefits of making the switch to using menstrual cups, while at the same time reminding them of the monthly waste they unintentionally generate when using pads,” Catherine shares. “Most of the time, we find that a lot of people are more concerned about whether they are able to use a cup rather than being environmentally conscious, but once they have successfully tried our products, they are usually proud that they are producing less waste.” 

Menstrual cups are eco-friendlier than pads. The former can be rinsed and reused for years, while the latter should be disposed of after use. Catherine says each ButterCup product is designed to last up to five years and is suitable for people of all ages.

Cups are also usually free from harmful chemicals like fragrances, bleaches, and dyes found in some sanitary pads. These chemicals often leach into the environment during disposal.

“I also did a lot of research on packaging,” Catherine says, “to make it tinier, eco-friendlier to have as little wastage as possible.”

Her dedication extended to utilizing interior design software, AutoCAD, which enabled her to meticulously create blueprints for the product boxes, ensuring maximum space usage for each box size.

Accessibility and sustainability

What makes ButterCup different from other brands?

Catherine emphasizes that ButterCup products are available in three sizes — mini, medium, and large — for a comfortable and personalized fit for every user.

The softer edges and ring design of ButterCup products also make these beginner-friendly, facilitating easy insertion without hassle. 

She also emphasizes that menstrual cups are also considered more cost-effective than disposable pads. Cups may have a higher upfront cost than the latter, but these have longer lifespans, making these a more economical choice in the long run. A one-time cup purchase allows users to save money that would have otherwise been spent on monthly pad expenses.

Its suitability for long-term use has been proven and became a crucial factor amid the pandemic, especially since disposable pads were largely inaccessible during lockdowns. Researchers have attributed this inaccessibility to the loss of income, supply chain disruptions, and limited physical mobility. In the United States alone, 3 out of 10 women have said it was burdensome to access sanitary products at the height of COVID-19 lockdowns.

A menstrual cup is reusable, making it a sustainable alternative to disposable hygiene products. Photo courtesy of ButterCup.

Also among the primary advantages of using menstrual cups, according to Catherine, is that it reduces the possibility of leakage, which is only likely to occur if the cup is full or does not fit well. A menstrual cup that fits well will create a “seal” around the vaginal wall, and it will not move much throughout the day.

“This is what I tell friends, even before I started my business: As long as your cup fits, you don’t have to worry about exercising or sitting down because there will be no leak,” she says.

Confronting challenges

Starting a business is no easy feat, especially during a pandemic.

Catherine says she had a hard time finding a company willing to print product boxes due to the high minimum order quantity, or MOQ, required by suppliers. 

Still, the entrepreneur persevered, and it paid off. After persistent negotiations, she found a company that agreed to produce the packaging in a smaller quantity for ButterCup.

But for Catherine, the most significant hurdle in introducing menstrual cups to the Malaysian market is the country’s cultural and religious beliefs. Asian women, influenced by societal notions of virginity and the hymen’s importance, often hesitate to embrace cups as an alternative to more popular pads.

“Growing up as a girl, I was constantly told that our virginity and hymen are very important. The idea of inserting a menstrual cup inside our bodies is uncomfortable and intimidating. This hinders us from understanding our bodies better,” Catherine points out.

Catherine and Kelvin formed a dynamic duo dedicated to promoting menstrual cups as an eco-friendlier alternative to traditional menstrual products. Photo courtesy of ButterCup.

Mainstreaming menstrual health

The mission of ButterCup goes beyond selling menstrual supplies. Catherine says she wants to promote menstrual cups and other sustainable products that will help people break free from the limitations and restrictions associated with their hygiene, thus making them empowered and more confident.

By engaging in pop-up events and bazaars, ButterCup actively educates prospective customers on the usage of menstrual cups. 

Catherine and Kelvin wear vibrant outfits and ring-shaped headbands that resemble the cup’s ring design to attract passersby.

They also give free stickers that highlight the need for accessible hygiene products.

Since its launch in 2021, ButterCup has been nurturing a community of confident and empowered women promoting sustainable menstrual care. Photo courtesy of ButterCup.

She says: “We want to help women feel more comfortable touching and exploring their bodies. Does understanding our own [bodies] have to be so taboo?”

To entice customers, Catherine has been using bold colors in packaging ButterCup products. Their social media accounts also embody a playful and engaging persona, as she hopes to spark conversations and break taboos surrounding menstrual health and personal hygiene. 

The success of ButterCup is evident in its growing following on Instagram and positive reviews on platforms like Shopee.

Looking ahead, Catherine seeks partnerships with organizations like Noble Dr+ to further promote menstrual cups as a sustainable alternative to disposable pads and help build an empowered community committed to eco-friendly period care.

Indeed, Catherine’s journey serves as an inspiration for aspiring Eco-Heroes and entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia. 

She says: “If you’ve been having an idea for a while, just take the leap of faith and go for it. It doesn’t matter how small you think the idea is. And age is just a number — you’re never too old to make a change.”

(Edited by Amanda Tolentino & Bryan Yong)


Wen. (n.d.). Environmenstrual Fact Sheet. 

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Our featured Eco-Hero

ButterCup is is a menstrual hygiene startup with a talent for creative design. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, ButterCup focuses on producing and promoting menstrual cups as a sustainable alternative to disposable pads and tampons. You can reach out to them at

This article was produced with support from YSEALI SEEDS for the Future grant 2023.

MJ Blancaflor

MJ Blancaflor is a Filipino storyteller who loves creating content about marine resource protection, waste reduction, and collective action. Leveraging her expertise and experience in public relations and multimedia journalism, MJ works as an information officer at the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. Outside of work, she volunteers as a writer at media startup EcoCupid and enjoys jogging with her carefree canine companion, Parky.

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