Feminine hygiene

Feminine hygiene

There are currently 73 million women of menstruating age in the United States, and the average woman will use as many as 16,800 tampons from the time she's inaugurated into the sisterhood through the waning of her menopausal years.[1] All those tampons have a bigger environmental impact than you may realize. Eco-options do exist, however: in addition to the basic pad versus tampon decision, you can choose a product that balances your comfort level with concern for the environment, from organic tampons and pads to reusable menstrual cups and pads.

Tampons vs. pads: Which is better for the environment?

In 2006, a research group from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden conducted a life cycle assessment on tampons versus pads to determine which was the more environmentally friendly choice. The group compared a package of popular Swedish brand ultra-thin, normal absorbency pads (Libresse) with a package of OB applicator-free super absorbency tampons. The study traced the environmental impact of each product from cradle to grave, considering the impact of the extraction of raw materials to make them, their transportation and production into usable material, the usage stage of the product, and, lastly, the impact of the expected waste management methods.

The group found that sanitary pads are twice as harmful as tampons since they require the processing of plastics, specifically polyethylene. This process contributes to global warming and ozone depletion, while also emitting sulfur and nitrogen oxides, contributing to acidification.

However, tampons in particular have been the subject of concern from another perspective: that regarding woman's health. The most commonly associated health risks of tampon use is toxic shock syndrome (TSS), more prevalent in women under the age of 25. A normally healthy bacteria found in warm, moist places of the body can sometimes produce toxins that lead to TSS. This disease has symptoms that are similar to a severe flu, and has been related to tampon absorbency.

Disposable products and waste creation

No matter which you choose, disposable products create waste more rapidly than reusable items. In 1999, about 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads, and 700,000 pantyliners were flushed down the toilet daily.[2] In the US and Canada alone, more than 12 billion pads and tampons are tossed annually. The average woman throws away between 10,000 and 15,000 tampons, pads, and applicators over her lifetime. [3]

Most of this waste is sent to landfills or incinerated. However, a good portion of it passes through sewage treatment plants, ending up in oceans, littering beaches, and harming wildlife. According to the Center for Marine Conservation, between 1998 and 1999, more than 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along American coastlines.[4]

Conventional cotton and chemical pesticides

Cotton is the main material used to make tampons. It is estimated that cotton accounts for 11 percent of all pesticides and 24 percent of all insecticides used globally, even though it's grown on just 2.4 percent of the world’s arable land.[5] In the US, it’s estimated that conventional cotton farms apply about one-third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for every pound of cotton harvested.[6] The various chemicals used to treat conventional cotton can harm beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms, pollute ground and surface water, and adversely affect the health of humans and wildlife alike—including fish, birds, and livestock.

Almost half of the chemicals sprayed on global cotton crops annually—an estimated $2 billion worth—are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization (WHO). Pesticide residues remain in tampons in the form of dioxins and other potentially harmful chemicals. The vaginal walls are made of the most absorbent tissues in the body, so these chemicals are absorbed directly into the blood stream.

Bleach and dioxin

The fibers used to make tampons (cotton and rayon) and pads (processed wood pulp) are usually bleached with chlorine. Chlorine bleaching is a source of dioxin, a known carcinogen that can also, with prolonged exposure, cause endometriosis. Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asserts that the amount of dioxin present in today's tampons is negligible, experts counter that dioxin in tampons is still a concern, as it comes in contact with the most absorbent tissue in the body. The jury is still out because effects of dioxin are cumulative and can therefore be detected in the body 20 to 30 years after exposure.[7] Dioxin can also seriously harm wildlife.

External links



These pads are incredibly comfortable, absorbent, and affordable. The seller offers lots of options to customize the pads from the cloth pattern, inner soaker material, width, and thickness. They can be found at www.saucytots.com


I use Gladrags and sea sponge tampons. It takes a little getting used to, but after only one cycle I was hooked. I love my reusable products. They are also getting me ready to use cloth diapers one day for my future baby! Just be sure with the reusable pads to change the soak water every day. I would recommend the darker colors because they WILL stain. I bought the white organic cotton ones, but I just accept they will not be like new. EVER.


I had horrible problems with cramping and never suspected it was tampons. Once I switched to a menstrual cup, my problems went away! It takes some getting used to, but after you get the hang of it it's actually much more convenient than tampons (and more cost effective too!).

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