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The average menstruator goes through an average of 40 years of menstruation, about 2,400 days of bleeding. At least98% of Americansuse disposable sanitary products averaging about 11,000 tampons/pads over lifetime per user. It’s become so normal to use these disposable products that we don’t even notice the damage they cause to both our health and the environment. In fact, sanitary products are classified as medical products and hence their effects on the environment are disregarded as a necessary evil. But is it really necessary?
These disposable tampons are stuffed with risky ingredients and manufacturers are not required to disclose them. But health experts are beginning to raise the alarm as these products are potentially toxic with petrochemical additives.
So what is the environmental impact of tampons?
Tampons are made from bleached nonorganic cotton, rayon, wood pulp, or a combination of these materials. These plants are grown with pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers which leach their way into the ground. Furthermore, even after processing, residues of these chemicals, including diuron and dioxin, can still be found in tampons, both of which theWorld Health Organization has linked to immune system suppression, reproductive problems and cancer. Apart from causing health problems, these pesticides and insecticides affect the microbiota when they leach into the ground. The result is poor soil composition in areas surrounding these plantations.
Most, if not all disposable tampons come in plastic wrappers and packaging. Plastic takes about 500-800 years to decompose, that’s 10 times more than the life of the person who uses them. And about20 billion tampons and pads are disposed per year in North America alone. That waste will sit somewhere in a landfill, or even worse, find its way into the ocean for centuries, and more is still being added.
Most disposable tampons are made from a combination of cotton and wood pulp. These require intensive cultivation and high water consumption levels. Cotton, for instance, requires 6 pints of water to grow a single bud. Wood means trees have to be cut down and forests and natural vegetations cleared to create space for the plantations. These have a rippling effect on the natural ecosystem and it’s only a ticking time bomb.
Processing and manufacturing tampons is energy intensive. This energy is derived from fossil fuels and is used in processing the plastic and the wood pulp. The gaseous byproducts, a veritable cornucopia of greenhouse gases, is a major contributor to global warming. The bleach, the dyes, the byproducts released from factories all find their way into our water resources killing aquatic life gradually.
In some developing nations, excess plastic waste from tampons is incinerated leading to the release of toxic fumes, including carbon dioxide. These lead to acid rain, smog, and even drought.
The environmental impact of tampons cannot be ignored. The more we continue using disposable inorganic sanitary products, the greater the negative effect on the environment, and future generations will hate us for that.
There’s really no reason, other than financial ones, why we keep using such environmentally degrading products when there are better organic alternatives. Like, for instance, an organic tampon made from organic materials will take less than 5 years to decompose. And even when you use a silicon-made menstrual cup that takes longer to decompose, you’re saving the planet billions of tonnes of plastic waste by reusing the cup for more than 10 months.
There’s really no long-term incentive of using disposable plastic tampons, and the sooner the masses realize this, the faster we’re going to reverse the damage we’ve contributed to the environment.