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How Your Period Affects the Environment

Plastics in our period products

Here’s a crazy fact for you, did you know that it takes around 500 - 800 years for single-use plastic period protection to break down?

Each month we are using period products, and for a lot of people, that’s single-use tampons and pads. Throwing plastic pads and tampons away, either into the bin or flushing them down the toilet, is contributing to the ever-rising problem of plastic waste and pollution. With just one WUKA pair, you can save 100 tampons and pads from being throw "away" into the landfills and ocean.

How big is the problem?

According to the Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association (AHPMA), 4.3 billion menstrual products, including liners, pads, and tampons, are used every year in the UK.

Plastic Ocean UK report that in the UK, approximately 4.6 million single-use plastic period products are flushed down the loo every day. Breaking those figures down, City to Sea estimates that every single day in the UK about 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads, and 700,000 panty liners are flushed down the toilet.

So that's between 1.5 - 2 billion period products being flushed down the toilet each year. When the sewers become blocked with pads and tampons they can end up in our rivers and seas.

City to Sea have also shared that flushed plastics make up around 6.2% of beach litter in the UK. Menstrual products are the fifth most common item found on Europe’s beaches, more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery, or straws.

The Marine Conservation Society shared that on average, 4.8 pieces of menstrual plastic waste is found per 100 meters during a beach clean up. So for every 100m of beach there will be 4 pads, pantyliners, backing strips, or one tampon and applicator.

Every-time you and your family visit the beach you will be near used pads, pantyliners, and tampons. I’m sure this will make your stomach churn. No one wants to think that whilst eating their sandwiches, or their kids are digging sandcastles, that a used tampon is close by.

Of course, period protection waste doesn’t just have an impact upon us, it also affects marine life. City to Sea has found that plastic debris kills more than a million seabirds, and over 100,000 marine mammals, every year.

Plastic period protection that is put into the bin ends up in landfill and there is only so much space on our planet to house waste. The plastic applicator used for inserting a tampon takes centuries to break down.

"Did you know, when you go to the shops and buy a pack of period pads, you are buying the equivalent of 4 plastic bags? Each individual pad is 90% plastic and tampons contain 6% plastic. What’s interesting is that the string on a tampon is often coated in plastic too."

What About Organic Pads and Tampons?

Organic pads and tampons are made from cotton and, therefore, decompose quicker than non-organic pads and tampons.

Although they are organic, it’s still a ‘no no’ when it comes to flushing them down the toilet. Sewage systems can become blocked and, as a result, organic period products can end up in the sea.

According to Liz Sutton from the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN), organic tampons take around 6 months to decompose.

The best ways to dispose of an organic period product is to throw it into the bin, recycle the wrapper, or add the tampon to the compost.

Reducing Plastic Period Waste

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to reduce or eliminate your period plastic use or waste…

Don’t flush pads, tampons, backing strips, packaging, or pantyliners down the toilet
If you’re choosing to use single-use items then always place them in a bin
If you want to use single-use pads and tampons switch to organic
Switch to cardboard applicators rather than plastic
Buy tampons with no applicator
Use a reusable applicator to insert your tampon
Volunteer to litter pick at your local beach (if you’re lucky enough to live by the sea)

Switch to Reusable Period Products

And, of course, the biggest thing you can do is to not contribute to the problem by switching to reusable period protection. There are a range of products available, such as…

Wrapping it Up

We’re not sharing these facts to make you feel guilty or ashamed. Everyone needs to know this information. It’s only right that the truth is shared so people can make informed decisions when choosing what period protection to use.

Often this information isn’t shared in schools and sometimes parents don’t know about reusable options either. So, when a girl starts her period, she uses the plastic single-use product that her mum uses, or what she was introduced to at school.

This short clip, filmed by City to Sea, clearly shows us the impact that period plastic waste is having on our environment.

If you’d like to find out more about what your period is costing your health, the environment, and your finances, then check out our blog post here.

If you’d like to find out more about WUKA period pants then head over to our website, where you can find info on absorbances, how they work, size, style, and more.