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Periods Are Not a Choice, But Hygiene Products Are

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Isha Shah discusses the use of plastic tampon applicators – to ban or not to ban? With so many other options becoming available and gaining popularity, is it time to ditch environmentally damaging plastic applicators for good?


Reusable menstrual hygiene products would save billions of tampons polluting our ecosystems

Did you know that the personal hygiene choices we make as women can harm the Earth? For instance, each woman on average uses 11,000 tampons in a lifetime, and therefore one of us alone generates up to 150kg of waste over our lives due to tampon use. Thanks to period equity campaigns and education, 100 million women have now started using tampons, but this has its consequences; there are around 11 billion tampons on the shores, in bodies of water, and in landfills around the world. This mass of tampon waste will not biodegrade until our great granddaughters finish having their final periods. Shouldn’t we feel responsible for the waste dumped on the Earth, merely by a choice of the hygiene products we use?

Now that you realise the scope of the problem here is the worst part: more than 88% of tampons sold have virtually non-biodegradable plastic applicators. In fact, one UK beach clean-up  found 9 tampon applicators per kilometre of the British coastline. These facts should drive us to find alternatives, but these are often considered either expensive or not yet readily available. Furthermore, manufacturers use the notion of  ‘providing women with a free choice’ as a shield to protect their billions invested in the product and spend their funds on marketing plastic applicators rather than developing or accepting more environmentally responsible products.

To further explain this issue, let me shed light on the brand that controls the world tampon market, especially the plastic applicator tampon: Tampax. Tampax is a tampon product under Procter & Gamble. Procter & Gamble is one of the most ‘sustainable’ companies in terms of plastic pollution because the company has various plastic recycling initiatives across the continents, they have sustainability goals for zero waste and they recently launched an organic tampon line. All things considered, their tampon line, Pearl, is still one of the significant perpetuates of plastic pollution. In this era of transparency, consumers are able to figure when the corporations do not align their walk and talk. Sustainability is not a gesture, it is a full-on act! Corporations cannot keep ‘greenwashing’, while their product is clearly polluting this earth.


Which choice would you make?

Although the advertisement department of Tampax has a big role to play in its popularity and making it almost, a monopoly in the tampon market, women’s choices and demands also play a role in it. According to the Telegraph, 60% of women prefer using plastic tampon applicators. Simply because other products are not as well advertised as Tampax, it does not mean that women don’t have a choice because they do, for example, menstrual cups. These silicone cups are slowly gaining popularity perhaps, because women are realising that compared to 11,000 tampons in a lifetime, one would only need 8 cups as they last for 5 years. However, I understand that it can be terrifying to insert an entire cup inside the vagina, and this is also one of the arguments for women who want to keep using the plastic applicator tampon. To fix that problem, Dame, a recyclable tampon company, started producing tampons with plastic applicators that we can wash and reuse. One person switching to these applicators would stop 12,000 single-use plastic from ending up in the ocean.

The tampon manufacturers blame environmentally damaging plastic applicators on the consumers’ presumed insistence on ‘comfort and choice’. Help ban plastic applicators and encourage manufacturers to develop true choices that reflect our concern for Mother Earth. Perhaps, it is not entirely our fault that our periods are causing harm to the Earth. The solution is therefore, not to decide whether we should ditch the applicators, because a few of us stopping will not hinder the production and the waste. The solution is to make a better choice with a bigger impact.

If you’re yet to try the menstrual cup and want to have a more sustainable period, check out these moon cups and diva cups online.

The choice is yours – to ban or not to ban?

About the author: Isha Shah is a student at Bennington College, Vermont, USA

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