Environmental Impact of Tampons, Pads and Panty Liners

garbage

Tampons were introduced approximately seventy years ago, so it is a relatively new invention, but the environmental impact of tampons has been massive.  When you read a lot about the cotton processing and how long an applicator or a pad lasts in a land fill, it does make you think.  Then, when you read a historical fiction book like The Red Tent or The Other Boleyn Girl, and period management is either sitting on a pile of straw in a tent or reaching for a personal box of literal “rags,” you see why innovation was necessary.  But, in these modern times, have we swung the pendulum too far in the direction of disposable products?

Back to the tampon, the word tampon actually means “plug” in French.  Cotton requires huge amounts of pesticide to grow and then in production cotton is bleached with more chemicals to make it white.  A plug of cotton is mixed with rayon…blah, blah, blah…other scary sounding ingredients are added and then it’s plunged into the vagina without a second thought to manage period flows.

While the farming and production of cotton is troubling, a plastic applicator is actually the worst part of the tampon as it takes “virtually forever” to biodegrade.  Neither part of a tampon is supposed to be flushed down the toilet, but a lot of applicators and cotton parts end up in the flotsam of oceans.  And one statistic said that an average woman uses 10,000 tampons in her lifetime.

Pads and panty liners are made from materials that are pretty much indestructible and do not break down in landfills.  Plus, most brands individually wrap each tampon, pad and liner which adds to the trash in landfills.

For more reading on this topic, click here and here.  We wrote about reusable period management products here and wondered if American women were ready to embrace the “ick” factor of washing out menstrual cups and leak proof underwear. After learning a little bit about the environmental impact of disposable products, does that make you more interested to invest in a menstrual cup and a set of leak proof underwear to manage a cycle?

We’ll look at a cost/benefit analysis next!

Menstrual Hygiene around the World

girls in africa

Menstrual hygiene and ample choice of supplies are things we take for granted in the United States, like clean pads and tampons.  Another thing we don’t even think about is that if we get our period at school or at work, we have options for dealing with it.  We can discretely ask to borrow a tampon or find a bathroom with a machine to buy one.  The worst case scenario is that we make a homemade pad from rolled up toilet paper to get us through the next hour or so until we can find a real one.

All of these will work and even the worst case scenario is better than using mud, leaves, grasses or literal “rags.”  In some countries the worst case scenario is bleeding through clothes and embarrassment, followed by staying at home because of a lack of supplies.  NPR recently wrote about this topic and you can find their compelling article here.

Unless your symptoms are debilitating, you typically won’t miss school or work due to period bleeding.  That isn’t the case for women and girls in other parts of the world.  May 28th is menstrual hygiene day…yes, one day.  Many diseases get a month, but a normal bodily function that affects 50% of the global population on a monthly basis has one day.  There was a lot of information shared on social media on May 28th about these issues.

If you have a Twitter handle, do a little research using #menstrualhealth.  You will see some charts from many worthy NGO’s that are dealing with the lack menstruation supplies in unique ways.  The bottom line for most of these organizations is to empower women through jobs by manufacturing supplies in a local setting and keeping young girls in school by giving them sanitary pads.

Just something to think about next time you are bummed because you have to stash a tampon in a clutch for an evening out.  We are so lucky to have clean supplies!