“The plastic portions of your tampons and pads have the same dire consequences on the environment as every other piece of plastic”
As a woman, what’s one thing we can’t live without? Feminine hygiene products. Or more specifically pads and tampons. Every month we have our ‘cheery’ little visitor. It’s a chore to entertain her and in most cases, it’s unavoidable.
WHAT’S IN YOUR SANITARY PADS AND TAMPONS
Tampons are generally made from a combination of cotton and rayon unless you purchase an organic brand which will use just cotton. If your tampon comes with an applicator, it will generally be made from plastic (some ‘green’ brands will provide a cardboard applicator).
Pads are made from a combination of a plastic underside with the ‘pad’ being made from cotton, rayon, viscose and sometimes a blend of all three. Disposable pads also contain a chemical called sodium polyacrylate which makes them super absorbant but is also a major skin irritant.
In commercial brands, you will also find plastic chemicals such as BPA, BPS and Phthalates (endocrine disruptors) as well as fragrances and odour neutralisers. You’ll also find polyesters and thermoplastic polymers such as polypropylene and polyethylene used in the pad liners, coatings of tampons, wrappers and packaging.
THE FINANCIAL IMPACT OF PADS AND TAMPONS
On average, we will menstruate for around 35 – 40 years and use 4 tampons per day for approximately 3 – 7 days per month (or pads depending on your preference). This equates to around 9000 – 10,000 tampons in a lifetime.
Eek! That’s around 300 tampons per year for just one individual and in the United States alone, an estimated 7 billion tampons are disposed of annually. On top of that, it’s estimated that 12 billion pads are disposed of also.
Let’s just take a moment to think about how much money we spend on pads and tampons per month, per year and in our lifetime. I’ve estimated I used to spend around $100 per year (not including any other products related to my monthly period). If I continue to use pads and tampons, I would estimate that I would end up spending between $3800 – $4000.
THE HEALTH IMPACTS ASSOCIATED WITH PADS AND TAMPONS
There are several health risks associated with using tampons and even pads.
– Tampons can increase the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. TSS is a rare but life-threatening illness that is caused by infection from certain types of bacteria, namely Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes.
TSS can be caused by leaving a tampon in for too long, encouraging the bacteria to grow. It can also be caused by a tampon which has stuck to the vaginal wall and causes an abrasion when being removed.
– Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal infection which results from using tampons regularly as they can change the normal balance of the bacteria in your vagina.
– Did you know that your tampons contain harmful chemicals which can leach into your system?? Neither did I! It turns out, most brands of tampons and pads chemically treat and bleach their tampons and pads to give them their crisp whiteness and to purify the synthetic portions of the product.
Chlorine is generally used as the bleaching agent and can create by-products such as dioxin and trihalomethane. Dioxin exposure has been linked to cancer and immune dysfunction. In women, it can increase the risk of endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Both of these conditions are painful and can cause serious reproductive issues.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS ASSOCIATED WITH PADS AND TAMPONS
As I’ve written about in a previous post, cotton production is very water intensive and if not organic, very chemical intensive. It takes almost 4 litres of water to make one cotton bud, imagine how much it takes to make a tampon. All in all, it’s a very wasteful process
The cotton part of tampons and pads will take approximately 6 months to break down naturally in the environment. I’m struggling to find correct information about the rayon portion. Since it is semi-synthetic, it will probably break down into micro fibres and never really disappear. If your tampon has a cardboard applicator, it will take approximately 2 months to break down.
The plastic portions of your tampons (applicator) and pads have the same dire consequences on the environment as every other piece of plastic. They will take approximately 500 years to break down. However, they will never really dissolve into nothing. They will breakdown into tiny microplastics that will never disappear. They will inevitably end up in the ocean where they will be ingested by marine life causing huge health problems and even death.
So, just to recap… Pads and tampons are expensive and sometimes uncomfortable. They are associated with several health problems and they are seriously harmful to the environment.
Both of these products are single use, completely disposable and non-recyclable. Apparently, tampon applicators wash up on the shores of beaches so often, they have been nicknamed Beach Whistles!!
A SAFER, HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVE TO PADS AND TAMPONS
The situation seems hopeless but never fear, a safer alternative is here!!!
THE JUJU CUP
Also known as a reusable menstrual cup. The Juju cup is exactly as its name suggests; a pliable cup which is inserted just like a tampon but rather than absorb the fluid, it collects it.
The Juju cup can be worn for up to 12 hours (much longer than a tampon) and worn overnight and is suitable for most women (check with your doctor if you feel a medical condition may stop you from using a Juju cup). It’s comfortable to wear and if inserted correctly, you can rely on it not to leak even if you have a heavy flow. You can wear it swimming and during rigorous exercise with no worries at all.
It is made from 100% medical grade silicone which has been independantly evaluated for biosafety. This material does not contain any harmful substances like BPA, chlorine, fragrances and dyes. It’s hypo-allergenic, easy to keep clean and odour free. There is no risk of TSS or any other harmful infections.
One Juju cup costs $42 AUD (online) and if cared for correctly can last up to 10 years, there is an obvious financial advantage here. Unfortunately silicone is not recyclable, however I believe the environmental impact you are creating by using 4 Juju cups in your lifetime compared to 10,000 santitary products is obviously miniscule.
This excerpt has been taken from the Juju cup FAQ’s page –
‘If you compare the low-impact mining of mineral sands which are used in the manufacture of silicone, to the production of cotton, which requires copious amounts of water, soil and pesticides, it is clear that using silicone based products substantially reduces our carbon footprint.
A study commissioned by the Global Silicones Council examined the sustainability of silicone based products and the findings indicated using silicone products, generated less greenhouse-gas emissions by enabling energy saving technologies and a more efficient use of energy and materials. Silicone based products are more efficient, perform better and last longer than non-silicone based products, resulting in a reduction of the carbon footprint for silicone products.
This study was commissioned by the Global Silicones Council and independently reviewed by a Professor at University of Manchester in the UK who is considered to be an expert in sustainable chemical engineering.’
WHAT ABOUT OTHER ALTERNATIVES?
I personally prefer to use the Juju cup. However not everyone will like wearing a Juju cup or may have medical reasons preventing them from wearing one also. So, there are a couple of other options –
– Reusable pads – This is the same concept as a cloth nappy. You use it and once you are finished with it, you wash it and use it again. There are no harsh chemicals, no synthetic fibres and no waste going to landfill or the oceans. You can even have a go at making some yourself if you like to sew.
– Period Panties – I have never used period panties but from what I can gather, they are great for avoiding mishaps at the beginning of your cycle, overflows and women who experience a light flow. They don’t smell, are easy to keep clean and help to greatly reduce the amount of waste produced from feminine hygiene products.
As a traveller, my number one choice is to use the Juju cup. It’s a fantastic product as it is easy to pack and carry. It’s easy to keep clean and it means I don’t have to carry a whole heap of bulky sanitary products. My favourite thing about it though, is that I am creating no waste by using it. I am no longer contributing to the billions upon billions of sanitary products that end up in landfill, waterways and the ocean every year. And that is a comforting thought.
Here’s where you can find what you need –
Love Kat xx
P.s. If anyone needs any extra information about using the Juju cup, especially things like insertion or withdrawal, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to impart any tips that may be a little too graphic to write about here.