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It has been estimated that the average woman will throw away 250 to 300lb worth of sanitary protection, and use up to 15,000 tampons during her lifetime. This, and other expenses on sanitary protection, will cost her over £150 a year. Part of this expense is likely to be down to the ‘every-day panty liner’, a relatively new product that has been successfully marketed on the somewhat controversial claim that it is intrinsic to ‘daily freshness’. In general, the topic of feminine care products seems hard to talk about for many people, women included, but it is notable that more articles are appearing in the popular media exploring feminine care and sustainability or environmentally-friendly guides to sanitary products, addressing questions like: “Should I Flush My Tampon?”
The sanitary protection market is dominated by one company, Procter & Gamble, who produce the well known brands Tampax, Always and Allday. This large and extensive company has been criticised for less-than ethical practices in relation to the environment and animal welfare. Fortunately, alternatives are available, and they are well worth seeking out because they reduce health and environmental concerns to a near-zero.
Manufacturers estimate that 10% of women have permanently deserted the tampon due to fears of the blood infection Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). This is a rare but painful, and potentially fatal, disease. 99% of TSS cases are found in women wearing rayon-blend tampons, the most common kind. Results of a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, suggest that the use of 100% cotton tampons may reduce the risk of TSS compared with tampons that contain rayon – the study found that all-cotton tampons did not produce the dangerous TSS toxin from the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, while other tampons did. Natracare tampons – which are 100% cotton (and organic) have never been linked to TSS.
The superabsorbent polyacrylate gel AGM was banned from tampons in 1995 because of links to TSS, but it is still used in some towels. The main safety issue arises from the temptation to change gel-filled towels less frequently, causing a build-up of bacteria. Additionally, a Canadian study on babies’ nappies found that when dry, AGM powder can travel up the urethra to the kidneys and cause scarring.
The Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) has campaigned on the issue of GM cotton in tampons and towels. Aside from the environmental objections to modification of the cotton crop, the organisation is concerned about potential alterations in absorbency levels increasing the risk of TSS, and about the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance marker genes.
Using disposable sanitary products risks putting toxins next to your skin or vaginal tissue. Some residues, such as pesticides and dioxins from the bleaching process, have been linked to birth defects, reproductive disorders, depressed immunity and cancer.
Casual flushing of sanitary protection waste means that much of it ends up in rivers and sewage outfills, acting as a breeding ground for diseases and potentially being mistaken by sea mammals for prey. Otherwise, it festers in landfill sites, where it takes six months for a tampon to degrade. Reusable sanitary protection, such as menstrual cups and washable sanitary towels are the best environmental option as there are no disposal issues to consider.
The percentage of waste paper pulp in tampons and towels has sadly decreased recently as manufacturers play to the fact that around half of women declare themselves prepared to pay more if they sense a higher quality and comfort level – hence the extra wings, gels and gauzy layers that keep appearing.
For those who are concerned about sanitary waste ending up in landfill, there are now a number of ethical, eco-friendly mail-order companies that produce washable sanitary towels.
It may also be worth considering the menstrual cup, made by companies such as Mooncup. The cup is re-usable, which makes it a financially and environmentally viable option, and it does not contain any harmful chemicals and substances, which means it has not been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome. Mooncup have an excellent ECI score and their discreet storage pouches are made from 100% organic cotton. To get a better idea of how the product works it’s well worth reading the passionate testimonials on www.mooncup.co.uk.
Another good ethical alternative to traditional tampons and pads are a disposable range available from Natracare. Natracare tampons are made from certified organic cotton and are non-chlorine bleached. Organic cotton removes the risk of direct exposure to residues from chemical pesticides and fertilisers used on traditional cotton. In addition to tampons, they produce sanitary pads and liners made from biodegradable, chlorine-free cellulose and Bioplastics. See www.natracare.co.uk
Ethical Comparison – Feminine Care Rankings Detailed Table
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We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Natracare, Mooncup, Yes, The Diva Cup, Draper’s Organic, Naty, Organyc, Gift, Lunapads, Cottons, Lil-Lets, Bodyform, Kotex, Always, Tampax, Carefree
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LAST UPDATED: 2018