Big Environmental Reasons to Change From Sanitary Pads to Menstrual Discs
On average, each woman uses more than 11,000 tampons in their lifetime.
You could say women the world over make their mark for centuries long after their footprints have left planet earth…
In fact, Harvard reports that the most significant impact on global warming is from LDPE (low-density polyethylene) processing of tampon applicators plus the plastic sticky strip behind a sanitary pad.
Now that’s an introduction. Are you ready for the real grizzlies? Let’s get in-depth…
Impact of sanitary pads and tampons on the environment
The big problem with sanitary pads and tampons, is that our sanitation systems were designed for urine and feces in mind, not menstruation products, and our systems are unable to cope with the materials used in menstrual absorption products.
If they have not been made to be environmentally friendly, pads, tampons and the products that come with them, (from packaging to sticky strips) damage not only the environment but human and animal health.
The journey of sanitary pads and tampons
The journey of a sanitary pads and tampon begins with either the growth of cotton to make pads and tampons: here we have dioxins (causes cancer), chlorines, rayon, and the herbicides and pesticides in the cotton growing process, or turning wood into soft cotton-like fibers which is resource and chemical laden.
Then comes raw material extraction; a water-intense process. The wrappings and stick-on strips are made from low-density polyethylene (oil) which take a long time to degrade and leach chemicals into the soil from which we grow our food.
Once the completed product is made, it travels by truck to distribution points – this means air pollution, harming the health of animals and humans alike.
When sanitary pads and tampons get flushed, they land up in sewers and waterways and, polluting the water, are often consumed by the marine life that live in the water, causing many problems for them, and oftentimes, death.
To give you an idea of the impact, in 2015, The Ocean Conservancy picked up 27,938 used tampons and applicators on beaches all around the world.
When pads and tampons get trashed, they go to a landfill, and while they sit there waiting to decompose, the chemicals (dioxin, chlorine and rayon) in the products are soaked up by the earth and released as pollution into the ground’s water and the air, creating loss of soil fertility and health hazards to both humans and animals.
One tampon takes about 6 months to decompose (excluding the applicator and wrapping). Now, cardboard applicators are better than plastic; in fact, it’s the plastic applicators that present the biggest challenge because they take up to 450 years to decompose.
As for sanitary pads – most of the materials used, and especially their packaging, are plastics that can’t be recycled. The Guardian reported that the environmental impact of one pad is the same as four plastic bags. Sanitary pads take about a year to decompose.
When pads and tampons are flushed down the toilet, they get saturated with liquid and swell up, resulting in sewage backflow, which presents serious health hazards.
If you’re thinking organic pads, although they might be a healthier alternative to sensitive women, their linings are not biodegradable.
Menstruation blood is actually good for the earth’s soil and therefore the food we eat that grows from the soil; it’s the products that are reaping havoc on our environment.
Having said that, if menstrual blood contains hepatitis and HIV viruses, that of course is a health issue because it lives up to six months in the soil.
As women, we have to take responsibility for the part we are playing in the damage to our environment; if we’re mothers, we take such care to raise our children to be healthy adults who can handle what life throws at them, but what about their environment?
We have to protect the earth for the sake of those we love, and those who come after us. So what can we do?
The great news is that there are good alternatives to sanitary pads and tampons, and we don’t have to suffer for them either:
A menstrual disc is inserted into the vagina to collect blood. Unlike sanitary pads and tampons, the disc (like a little cup) collects blood instead of absorbing it.
Softcup disc is designed with non-toxic, hypo-allergenic, medical grade silicone and is completely safe when used as intended.
Cloth pads are made from cotton, free from irritating chemicals and are reusable.
Period panties are made from layered fabric and for best results, used with cloth pads on heavy days. The first layer absorbs liquid. The second is waterproof and the last is cotton.
On average, each woman discards an astonishing 125 to 150 kg of tampons, pads and applicators over a lifetime.
When you consider the implications of how the materials are grown and how the products are made, and what they’re made from, and all that is impacted, women must start taking the environmental consequences more seriously. For the future of our children and their children’s children.