Are Feminine Hygiene Products Really that Bad for the Environment?

How much disposable sanitary product waste ends up in landfills?Landfill feminine hygiene product waste

The average woman throws away approximately 100-150kg of “feminine hygiene products” during her lifetime. This includes tampons, disposable pads, pantiliners, disposable menstrual cups, tampon applicators, and all the packaging that those products come in. 

Are disposable feminine hygiene products really that bad for the environment?

Feminine hygiene products make up only approximately 0.5% of the total garbage (approx 28,000 kg) that the average woman throws away over the 38 years that she spends menstruating. As a comparison, plastic plates and cups also make up 0.5% of our trash every year. 0.5% is not negligible, however it is only a small proportion of a woman’s total personal waste that ends up in a landfill each year. About 25% of a woman’s yearly waste is containers and packaging, and about 20% is food scraps. Some of the best ways for waste to be significantly reduced is by buying food in bulk; taking along re-usable bags when doing grocery shopping (to avoid plastic bags); eating left-over food, and composting food scraps.

The most important and effective ways to significantly reduce waste do not involve menstrual products at all. However there are ways to reduce the amount of feminine hygiene waste that ends up in landfill – for example: (a) using sanitary pads that aren’t individually wrapped; (b) using tampons without applicators; (c) bleeding freely (if you are brave enough!); or (c) using reusable menstrual products.

How do re-usable menstrual products really compare to disposable products?

Reusable menstrual products (such as most menstrual cups & reusuable cloth pads and pantiliners) are used for a variety of reasons, and by many different types of women. The environmental reason is significant (these products are kind to the environment), however comfort and functionality are also key reasons why some women prefer menstrual cups and/or cloth pads.

For some women, cloth pads feel softer and more comfortable than disposable pads. Other women prefer the menstrual cup, also because it is more comfortable and functional than tampons or disposable pads (it can hold more blood, it can be left in for up to 12 hours, and for some women it is more comfortable to insert and wear).

For me, when I bought my first menstrual cup the environmental issue was not a relevant factor in my decision – I bought it because I didn’t like tampons, and I wanted a better alternative to pads. The environmental benefit is a very nice side-effect though! Since going from pads to the menstrual cup the amount of ‘feminine hygiene product’ waste that I dispose of each year has significantly decreased. However, I don’t use the menstrual cup exclusively – I also use disposable pantiliners with the cup to prevent leaking on the first 2 heavy days of my periods (I find disposable pantiliners much more convenient and comfortable for me than my cloth pantiliners).


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