Your time of the month can be fraught with discomfort and the environmental impact of your tampon is likely to be the furthest thing from your mind.
But on UK beaches there are nine plastic tampon applicators found per kilometre, according to the Women’s Environmental Network. Single-use plastics are common across popular tampon brands in applicators, packaging and even inside the tampons. The plastics that are found include both polyethylene, the most common form of plastic, and polypropylene, which is the plastic used in teabags and chocolate bar wrappers.
However, there are alternatives. British organic tampon company DAME has launched a reusable applicator, the D. The idea is you use, rinse and reuse the applicator, instead of throwing away countless plastic ones every month.
“At DAME we saw ourselves in a unique position to bring about change in an industry that is largely ignored. Not many people want to shine a light on tampon waste,” Alec Mils and Celia Pool, DAME’s founders, told HuffPost UK.
DAME’s range of organic cotton tampons are also completely compostable. Which raises the question, why is there plastic in our tampons in the first place?
According to the Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association (AHPMA), a small film of plastic inside the tampon is used in the majority of tampon ranges to aid insertion and stop fibre shredding, while some use plastics to strengthen the withdrawal cord.
The AHPMA expressly discourages the flushing of feminine hygiene products. This is a key way that plastic makes its way into our oceans.
“The plastic in tampons is an urgent problem that we need to address,” Kate Metcalf, co-director of Women’s Environmental Network told HuffPost UK. “Plastic doesn’t biodegrade when it reaches our oceans and rivers, it disintegrates into smaller pieces. These ‘microplastics’ are having a devastating impact on marine life as they are injested by fish, birds and other marine life with fatal effects.”
“It’s really down to the manufacturers to look at ways they can design out plastic from their products,” Rosie Cotgreave, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told HuffPost UK. “There are already some plastic-free products on the market, so we know it can be done.”
As part of our new series on plastic, we pulled together a comprehensive guide to where you can find the stuff in your tampon.
Ones to avoid
All of Tampax’s ranges contain a plastic film around the tampon, as well as the attached string. Although its main range offers biodegradable cardboard applicators, plastic can be found in its Pearl and Compak ranges.
Asda and Boots’ own brand tampon ranges – as well as Superdrug’s standard range – use biodegradable paper applicator tubes and recyclable packaging, but plastic can be found, once again, inside the tampons themselves. Superdrug’s compact tampons also use plastic applicators.
DAME’s reusable applicator can be used with a range of non-applicator tampons. The only difference is you rinse it after, instead of flushing it. DAME’s tampons do come in a plastic wrapper currently, but it is in the process of introducing biodegradable packaging. The Kickstarter campaign can be found here.
Both TOTM and Natracare’s tampons have extra eco-friendly credentials. As well as providing biodegradable cardboard applicators, both brands offer plastic free tampons made from 100% organic cotton.
In terms of packaging, TOTM’s applicator tampons are wrapped in paper, whereas their non-applicator tampons are wrapped in plastic, but TOTM is looking to change this as soon as possible. Natracare’s non-applicator tampons are wrapped in recyclable plastic and their application tampons are wrapped in biodegradable wax lined paper.
A menstrual cup is rated by the Women’s Environmental Network as the most sustainable option for those looking to make their period more eco-friendly. A Mooncup, (a particularly popular menstrual cup brand) for instance, is available for £20 and lasts ten years. Sustainable, cost effective and their packaging is plastic-free.
HuffPost UK also reached out to Lil Lets, who had not responded at the time of publishing.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Sainsbury’s own-brand cardboard applicator tampons were plastic free, however they contain around 3% plastic.