Disposable pads and tampons are still the best-selling menstrual protection. Every second in the world 1447 sanitary napkins are used, which are as much waste thrown away afterwards. Thus each year in France, more than 2 billion tampons and menstrual pads are thrown away. The classic disposable sanitary protections represent a colossal quantity of waste and thus of environmental pollution, but they are also a potential risk for your health because in spite of the warnings and recommendations launched these last years against these brands, but also of the government, they always contain harmful chemical substances for the environment and health.
Do conventional sanitary protections really represent an environmental risk?
Conventional sanitary protection pollutes throughout its life, from its manufacturing process to its treatment in a waste disposal site.
First of all, the two main materials needed to manufacture conventional sanitary protection are cotton and plastic. Both require large quantities of water, raw materials, but also non-renewable fossil resources for their production. Indeed, the cultivation of cotton is the one that requires the largest amount of water after rice and wheat. To give you a scale, 1 kg of cotton uses between 7,000 and 29,000 liters of water, which is equivalent, on average, to one shower per day for a year for a single kilo of cotton. In addition, the cultivation of conventional cotton, i.e. non-organic, uses many pesticides and chemicals. For example, the cultivation of cotton alone requires 25% of all insecticides used in the world. Then, cotton is treated and bleached with chlorine and many chemical additives that pollute water, groundwater and soil. And again, we are only taking into account the resources needed to produce the raw materials, not the manufacture of conventional sanitary protection itself.
Then, once they have been used, the sanitary protections and their packaging are thrown away in the garbage, in the best case. They will then be incinerated or buried, because they are not recycled (except for some packaging), which will again create pollution for the soil or for the air, as well as the emission of greenhouse gases. According to ADEME, tampons and menstrual pads represent 13% of residual household waste, along with diapers, wipes, disposable tissues, etc. In the worst case, these protections are flushed down the toilet (or in nature) and the plastic micro-particles and other chemical substances they contain are not all treated by the wastewater treatment plants, and therefore end up polluting soils and waterways, while having an impact on the biodiversity of these environments. Indeed, the plastic contained in the classic sanitary protections takes about 500 years to degrade while a sanitary napkin takes between 500 and 800 years before decomposing completely, while the protections are used only a few hours in a day. For all these reasons, sanitary pads are frequently found in nature and are the fifth most common type of single-use plastic waste on beaches.
Are conventional sanitary pads a health hazard?
Conventional menstrual protection does present a health risk due to its composition. Indeed, many chemical substances have been found in conventional sanitary protection (phthalates, glyphosate, dioxins, ...), even if in theory they do not or rarely exceed the health thresholds, they are directly absorbed by the skin. First of all, this can cause irritation, intolerance or allergies, but some of these substances are endocrine disruptors that can have a negative effect on procreation, hormonal dysfunctions, the immune system and sometimes even cancers. In addition, pads and tampons can cause toxic shock. However, even though the latest ANSES report recommends that manufacturers improve the quality of their products, there is still no obligation for companies to reveal their manufacturing processes or to display the composition, which does not encourage them to be transparent.
What alternatives to tampons and pads are available?
However, many reusable solutions that are healthy for the environment and for your health exist today. This is the case of cups, washable pads and menstrual panties which have a lifespan, on average, of 5 to 10 years. These solutions make it possible to considerably reduce the waste related to menstruation and although more expensive at the time of purchase, they pay for themselves quite quickly over time. To calculate the savings made thanks to our menstrual panties, you can use our savings calculator.
At Elia, our menstrual panties are certified Oeko-Tex and Origine France Garantie. They are in certified organic cotton and the absorbent fabric is in eucalyptus fiber. We chose this material rather than bamboo fiber because bamboo requires much more water during its production and is a victim of massive deforestation. Finally, our prints are climate neutral, because we compensate the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted during the printing of our communication supports.