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.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
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.”
YOU DON’T HAVE TO ABANDON TAMPONS
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.
3| Cardboard applicators do degrade when properly disposed.
And, no matter what — for god’s sake, stop flushing tampons and applicators in the toilet.
DO SOME RESEARCH
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]