#WARONWASTE - What happens to tampons after you flush?

So it turns out that women have periods - and not only can we talk about them, we want to talk about them! Open dialogue is the first step in changing the way women deal with menstruation and can create awareness around the options they have for menstrual health products. What we still need to do however, is look a little deeper and talk about some stickier topics, surrounding logistics and politics in menstruation


By Esme Soan

With the resurgence of reusables, and new innovative tech & design making ‘that time of the month’ more cost effective, environmentally friendly and of course, good for you, we wanna show you all your options.

One of our favs at WHC is the menstrual cup, a sustainable alternative to tampons. Director and owner of Australian company Juju, Brenda Tootell, has the deets - "Women have around 400 menstrual cycles in their lifetime," says Tootel. "We can each save 300 disposable tampons or pads from entering our landfills and waterways every year by using sustainable products (like Menstrual Cups).”


Yeow.

There is little conversation or explanation that pads, tampons or applicators don’t disintegrate or break down like toilet paper or other biodegradables. Funny thing is, women have periods, and its time to talk about the nitty gritty details.

So, in true #waronwaste style, we are gonna ask what exactly happens to a pad or tampon once you’ve finished with it?

FIRST OFF - DON’T FLUSH IT DOWN THE TOILET!

The only thing that should head down the pipes is pee, poop and (toilet) paper.

Tampons expand in water - which means they can block toilets, pipes and even larger sewers by getting stuck to other things like twigs or rubbish. This is expensive to fix, ultimately adding costs to water and sewerage bills in your household and for the government.


At treatment plants they are removed as solid waste – usually mixed up with other non- flushable items like wet wipes, and fat & oils which create large blockages called fatbergs. These can cause sewage overflows into creeks, rivers & beaches.

NOT GOOD.

Marine life can be poisoned by ingesting tampons, which take a long time to decompose in the ocean.

If you do flush your tampon down the loo – it will hopefully be picked up at a treatment centre - and eventually end up in landfill.

 

Photo credit: Hunter Water 

Photo credit: Hunter Water 

 

If you place your used tampon in a feminine hygiene bin in a public bathroom – it will go to an incinerator or landfill. Incinerator can lead to environmental waste such as air emissions and solid waste.

Landfill require land space and here, the cotton inner of tampons may take between 6 – 12 months to breakdown, but the plastic packaging and applicator can take up to 500- 800 years to break down.

And this is only the half of its environmental impact. The manufacturing process of tampons is resource intensive as the farming of cotton and rayon (wood pulp) requires large amounts of water, pesticides and fertilizer. This material is then bleached in either chlorine or hydrogen peroxide, plus the labour involved with plastic packaging.

So, if we have tickled your interest in reusable sustainables, or you would like to consider a more ecofriendly tampon option, check out our other articles here.


References
Gould, H (May 16, 2016) Tampons not for Toilets; biodegradable bag hopes to fight the flushers, The Guardian.
Stein, E & Kim, S (2010) Flow: The cultural story of menstruation, St Martin Griffin.
Sheyra (Nov 4, 2016) The Ecological Impact of Feminine Hygiene Products, Harvard Business School.

 

Esme Soan