By: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate
There are a variety of menstrual products and brands to choose from, but the majority of what’s sold in stores are single-use. These disposable products, such as tampon applicators and menstrual pads, are made up of 90% plastic. If we were to transition to eco-friendly menstrual products, we would reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce by about 12 billion pads yearly.
The average menstruating person uses approximately 11,000 tampons in their life, and the accumulating waste from menstrual products poses a concern for ocean health.
Sustainable use of menstrual products goes beyond ingredient lists and packaging, as customers must also responsibly dispose of their products. Despite the fact that tampons should not be flushed, consumers continue to do so. According to the London Assembly, “1.5–2 billion menstrual items are flushed down Britain’s toilets each year,” which leads to blocked pipes and pollution. In Canada, between 3,000–3,500 tampon applicators end up on Canadian beaches annually. In addition to menstrual pads and tampon applicators polluting oceans and prompting beach closures, they can take up to 800 years to decompose.
When creating eco-friendly menstrual products, manufacturers should consider all stages of the product’s lifespan, from manufacturing to disposal. Alternatives like the DivaCup offer customers in Canada and the United States the opportunity to recycle their cups through their Diva Recycling Program. Through this program, DivaCups’ materials are turned into playgrounds, flooring tiles, field covers and athletic tracks.
Reusable menstrual products may save consumers money in the long term. In contrast to boxes of tampons, which can range anywhere from $3 to $11, reusable silicone menstrual cups may cost $38 and are replaced yearly.
The transition to eco-friendly menstrual products does not require consumers to compromise health standards. Due to health concerns, some period products like plastic tampon applicators are single-use only, but there is a wide range of product alternatives that are durable, eco-friendly, and sanitary.
When taken care of, menstrual cups can last for years. However, consumers should also be aware that menstrual cups have a low risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), similar to tampons. For those with sanitary or TSS concerns, there are also biodegradable pads that only take 18-24 months to decompose.
I realize each person has their own budget, preference, and comfort level for period products. Given how consumers “[menstruate] for about 7 years during their lifetime,” people should be aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases. My hope is, after reading this article, you will think more critically about what period products you use and the environmental impacts they have.