Plastic pervades modern life, and menstruation is no exception. Since the middle of the 20th century, many tampons and menstrual pads have contained somewhere between a little and a lot of plastic in their basic design—sometimes for reasons that “improve” the design, but often for reasons less crucial.
Getting a handle on how much plastic waste comes from menstrual products is tough, in part because it’s labeled as medical waste and does not need to be tracked, and in part because so little research has even looked at the scope of the problem. But rough estimates for the likely output are staggering: In 2018 alone, people in the U.S. bought 5.8 billion tampons, and over the course of a lifetime, a single menstruator will use somewhere between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons, the vast majority of which will wind up in landfills as plastic waste.
Plastic pollution is a serious problem and not one that should be treated lightly. Pads and tampons are made mostly from cotton, but do contain plastic components. Some tampons use plastic applicators; even OB tampons which don’t use applicators are wrapped in a plastic packaging. Pads use plastic for the waterproof backing, as well as for the part that goes next to your skin.
Non-organic pads and tampons are hard on the environment. A big part of the problem is that nobody (except for the manufacturers) really knows what’s in them. In the USA, pads and tampons are classified as “medical devices” by the FDA, and are therefore not required to disclose this information.
According to the New York Times, here are a few of the things that are suspected to be in these products.
Cotton is not a food product, and as a result, pesticides are used heavily on it. Some residue from these products can often be found in pads and tampons. Some of it also ends up in our groundwater supplies, causing contamination.
One of the big concerns about non-organic pads and tampons is whether or not they contain potentially toxic dioxins. They can result from bleaching, or purifying cotton and rayon with chlorine. There has been some research into primates which links these compounds to endometriosis. These dioxins also end up in our soil and water supplies, which ends up hurting the entire ecosystem.
Other Added Ingredients
The last area of concern are the fragrances, gels, and other additives in pads or tampons. They aid in absorption, prevent odours, or provide adhesion. It’s unclear what these things are exactly, and if they are harmful to the environment, or our bodies.
What can you do?
Use organic pads and tampons. They’re a bit more expensive, but much better for your health, as well as the environment.
Is there a Solution?
Disposable pads and tampons create a lot of waste that goes to the landfill. Much of it is non-biodegradable. They also create pollution of the land and water from the cotton growing process, as well as the manufacturing process. Organics are slightly better, in that they don’t pollute the environment. However, there is still the waste problem to consider.
Is there a better solution than just going organic? The good news is that there is—consider making the switch to reusable feminine hygiene products. Some examples of reusables are menstrual cup, reusable cloth menstrual pad, or a pair of period panties.
One single menstrual cup can replace up to 10 years worth of pads and tampons. Depending on where you live, they can also be recycled.
It’s a chemical free period experience.
Cloth Menstrual Pads-
The best ones are made from organic cotton, and can last for up to 10 years.
Most of them are made from all-natural materials so will biodegrade once thrown into the landfill.
They are like regular underwear, but contain extra, absorbent padding.
Although they’re not as absorbent as a regular pad, they offer some extra protection when wearing a tampon or menstrual cup.
They last as long as a regular pair of panties would, and can replace hundreds of disposable pads.
Here’s to an eco-friendly, healthier, cheaper period experience!
Content by: Niyati Arun
Graphics by: Ananya