Environmental Impact of Reusable & Disposable Menstrual Products
Tuesday, 2 March 2021
It is estimated that an average 500 million sanitary products end up in landfill every month. That is a lot of waste ending up in landfill, when we menstruate for approximately 40 years the figures are huge!
Since the start of the 20th century there has been an introduction of plastics into disposable sanitary wear, some was for design improvement (plastic applicator to improve insertion of tampons). The mid-century saw an increase move to more ‘discrete’ period packaging and this lead the way for the new more portable disposable products. In packs of disposable single use pads almos every single pad is individually wrapped in plastic along with a coated paper liner for the plastic wings/tabs. Up to 90% of disposable pads are made from plastic. Is there any wonder that many of us find them uncomfortable and unbreathable?
Reusable pads can save you financially (read our cost comparison article), but also environmentally.
Reuable menstrual products are made of softer fabrics to keep you feeling comfortable. Most reusable sanitary pads are made from bamboo, microfiber and cotton. There has been much debate over the years about the environmental impact of different fabrics, nothing comes without a carbon footprint. You can read Wendy’s article on our sister site The Nappy Lady on the environmental pros and cons of different fabrics. Reusable pads are just fabric with no hidden nasties or absorbent crystals that are found in disposable pads. Many disposable pads have chemicals in them that are designed to turn blood into a gel like substance, some pads are reported to have up to 2900 different chemicals in them. These have reported to be irritants, carcinogenic, allergens and endocrine-interfering. The manufacturing to make wool pulp (usually used for the core of the disposable sanitary pad) uses chlorine and Dixon, a very toxic substance know to man and is still to this day found in sanitary products.
After your reusable fabric pads have been used they are rinsed through and added to your normal washing so they don’t even need to add to your water or energy bill! Water usege in disposable product production is often a hidden useage/impact that people don't think of. At this time I have not been able to find statistics about the amount of water used to make disposable sanitary products but I know a number of studies are looking into this at the moment. To cut water use further you could also consider using a menstural cup or menstrual disc as these require even less water for cleaning/steralising.
Tampons are made of approximately 6% plastic, this is the applicator but it is also sewn into the core and also the string. It is estimated that half of UK women flush their tampons leading to an estimated 1.5-2 billion tampons flushed in the UK annually. Flushed tampons contribute to the 370,000 sewer blockages that occur annually and they can find their way into our rivers and oceans. The Marine Conservation society estimates that there are approx. 4.8pieces of menstrual waste on average per 100m of beach in the UK. The effects of microplastics are commonly known know thanks to The Blue Planet. It is believed that microplastic pollution contributes to the death of 1 million sea birds, 100 million sea mamals, marine turutles and countless fish every year.
It would be foolish not to talk about the pros of disposable products, after all there is a reason that they have become so popular in the last century. Many feel that their discreteness is a huge advantage, no carrying around used sanitary products if you are out for the day. However, you can read our article here on going out and about with CSP or join our Facebook group to chat with others about how they manage their periods while out of the house it really is quite simple.
Some people are put off but the idea of washing used sanitary products. To this we just reassure that it is just blood, and most people would rewash bedding/clothes that we had bled on too. Rinsing your pad on removal and then popping into a bag till wash day becomes very normal once you get started. You can find more information on washing reusable pads in our article.
Written by Roisin Senior Advisor @The Period Lady