How Tampons are Hurting the Environment

...and what you can do to help.

Image Credit: HelloFlo

Image Credit: HelloFlo

Disposable tampons and pads are something that almost every woman uses on a monthly basis without realizing the negative effect these products have on the environment. This is partly due to the cultural taboos surrounding menstruation that allow manufacturers to proffit and prevent the topic from becoming a global conversation. It seems counterintuitive that despite sustainable options in other everyday products, this necessary part of a woman’s life has gone unchanged for the past fifty years.

How are tampons hurting the environment?

The average woman will use between 11,000 and 16,000 tampons in her lifetime. Those tampons add up to about 250 to 300 pounds of waste, not including the resources used to produce and ship the tampons. And that is only the beginning: once the tampon is disposed of it will take six months to decompose (this doesn’t include the applicator or wrapper).

Also, tampons are partly made out of plastic and usually include a plastic applicator which contributes to plastic pollution worldwide. Plastic is unable to biodegrade, meaning that it continues to break down into smaller pieces which contaminate groundwater, hurt wildlife, and attract and carry toxins. Because only 8% of plastic is ever recycled, the rest piles up in landfills, becomes litter, and often ends up in the ocean. In the past ten years volunteers have collected over 20,000 tampons and applicators from British beaches alone.

Tampons and pads are also made from cotton that is heavily treated by pesticides, meaning that those toxins will seep into groundwater when the tampon is discarded. Also, because tampons are registered with the FDA as medical devices, manufacturers are not required to list ingredients meaning that there are likely many undisclosed toxins in tampons and pads.

What Can I Use Instead?

Fortunately there are many options for a more sustainable period. A popular alternative to the tampon is the menstrual cup, a medical grade silicone cup that catches menstrual fluid. Unlike a tampon, the menstrual cup can be worn for up to 12 hours and is completely re-usable, saving you the money spent monthly on tampons. Menstrual cups are also chemical free, allowing you to know exactly what you are putting in your body.

Another sustainable option is period panties. These are basically regular underwear with extremely absorbent padding that can take the place of a pad or tampon. Most retailers list the amount of menstrual fluid the underwear is able to absorb, allowing you to supplement with a menstrual cup as needed.

Cloth menstrual pads are also available. These pads will last you up to ten years and are made from natural material so that they will biodegrade once you need to throw them away.

It’s time to move past tampons to a more sustainable alternative that is better for you and your world.



EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. She has worked as a volunteer in Guatemala City and is passionate about travel and social justice. She plans to continue traveling wherever life may take her.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 11.28.33 PM.png