Bloody Hell

Half the world’s population menstruates for a major part of their lives, and yet the only really impactful innovation in feminine hygiene (at least in the United States) has been the move from cardboard to plastic tampon applicators. Folks, this has not been what we could call an “improvement.”

Listen, there’s lots to talk about when it comes to the ecological impact of feminine hygiene products, but let’s talk specifically about the environmental impact of plastic tampon applicators. Why? Because of all of the issues surrounding period-related waste, this one has always been the most dumbfounding and infuriating to us.

Plastic tampon applicators are completely unnecessary. There are plenty of alternatives. And yet they are ubiquitous. Store shelves are lined with them and the personal product companies have convinced the masses that they are the best, practically the only, option. 

There are hordes and hordes of American women and girls who don’t give it a thought. They buy the plastic applicator tampons that are being marketed to them (often with ridiculous names like “Pearl” and “Radiant” on packages) and they don’t for even one millisecond think about what happens to those applicators after their one-time use. It’s mad.


Whelp, this article from Bustle sums it up nicely: “It’s estimated that, every year, over 45 billion products related to periods, including tampons, pads and applicators, are thrown in the garbage. And tampons make up a large part of that weight. The Ocean Conservancy collected 27,938 used tampons and applicators on beaches around the world in a single day in 2015.”

tampon waste
I mean. What do we think happens to them? They’re PLASTIC. [photo | Heather Lee Murphy]

Look. We know. Some of the alternatives — reusable tampons, period panties, free-bleeding, washable cloth pads, and menstrual cups — can feel really radical and intimidating.

Lots of the folks who are concerned about period-related waste (and health issues) advocate for menstrual cups. This helpful article from Vice isn’t off the mark when it says cups have a “rabid fan base.” There is, indeed, an entire movement called “radical menstruation” or “menstruation activism.”

We support it, but we also know it’s not everyone’s, ahem…cup of tea. And we’re here to say that it’s OK. You don’t have to be a radical activist in order to do good in the world.

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it: You don’t have to overhaul your whole existence to make a difference. You can make small, easy changes. They add up and it has an impact.

If you’ve given menstrual cups or other non-tampon options a try and didn’t like the experience — or if you just can’t quite bring yourself to make that change (yet or maybe ever) — there are definitely alternatives to plastic tampon applicators.

On the most-to-least daunting scale (and also most-to-least environmentally friendly scale), you could try these options:

1 | Lots of women use tampons without any applicator.

2 | There are also some companies, like Thinx and Dame, offering washable, reusable tampon applicators to be used with applicator-free tampons.

3| Cardboard applicators do degrade when properly disposed.

And, no matter what — for god’s sake, stop flushing tampons and applicators in the toilet.


If you’re interested in a greener period, a quick Google search for “eco-friendly period” or “plastic-free period” will turn up lots and lots of information about not only the negative environmental impacts but also some potentially negative biological/health impacts of the feminine hygiene industry — and also lots of potentially greener and more healthful ideas/solutions.

Some of the options available are more radical than others. Some may seem daunting. Here we are to tell you that it’s OK to start by making one easy change. No matter what else you do or don’t do, vow to stop buying and using plastic tampon applicators.

[header photo | Josefin]

One thought on “Bloody Hell

  1. This information has been so informative. Education and awareness so necessary. I no longer have need for these products, however I can educate my nieces and sisters to read your article. I’m also trying to rethink the issue of women’s hygiene for women at risk or who are homeless as I like many others volunteers are helping teenagers or women at risk. The ultimate goal would be to bring those women together like is being done in some third world countries where women educate women on products to use and how to dispose of them (taboo topics). A lot of these women we interact in homelessness with are dealing with mental health or impact of violence so this adds in another level but perhaps by starting an education program it also may bring women together to help one another or when receiving assistance from services available to them eg doctors, counselling, housing, perhaps those professionals who also volunteer their time could add another step to their role by educating their clients with simple solutions to help with environmental impact. Environment is not exactly the most important topic on their radar but we’ve got to start.

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