Have you ever wondered how your beloved menstrual cup compares to traditional tampons in terms of environmental impact? Maybe you’re someone who is still on the fence about reusable period products because you’d like to see some meaningful data on sustainability. This article takes you through the troublesome statistics of disposable menstrual products while also offering some ethical inspiration for those who menstruate.
Consider this sobering fact: in all likelihood, every single disposable tampon or pad that has ever been used has yet to decompose — or even come close to fully decomposing. In fact, no one alive today will ever witness a total decomposition of these products; scientists hypothesize it will take at least 500 years for disposable pads and tampons to break down completely
On average, folks who menstruate will use 11,000 disposable tampons or pads over the course of their lifetime. To put that into a larger global context, it’s estimated that 100 million people use tampons worldwide. In North America alone, 20 billion disposable menstrual products are thrown out each year.
Despite the alarming nature of these statistics, it’s important to note that these numbers are gradually shifting. Economists predict the reusable menstrual cup market will have a compound annual growth rate of 5.3 per cent over the next decade. In 2018 the menstrual cup industry, which continues to grow each year, was valued at a little over one billion US dollars.
These numbers focus primarily on environmental impact, but what about means of production and overall sustainability? The production of disposable tampons and menstrual products is reliant on the cotton industry. Cotton is considered a “thirsty crop,” which means it requires a large amount of water to thrive. When grown on an industrial scale, cotton also contributes to soil degradation and erosion while also requiring the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers — all of which have been shown to have detrimental effects on those working in cotton fields as well as local biodiversity. Most tampons are also made from materials such as rayon and chlorine, all of which can have a detrimental effect on the environment as they sit in landfill sites. Many disposable menstrual products, especially pads, contain polyethylene plastic which is a known environmental pollutant.
Now for the good news! Here at Aisle we take environmental impact and sustainability seriously. Each year, our loyal customers help to divert 2 million pads and tampons from the landfill each month. Our reusable products are designed to replace at least 150 disposable products and with gentle care can go on to replace many more disposable tampons and pads.
When discussing reusable menstrual products and sustainability it’s also important to consider economic privilege. In the long run, it makes more financial sense to invest in a reusable menstrual cup. However, for some folks the initial cost is insurmountable. Aisle is a proud participant in several Dignity Projects, with the aim of providing accessible menstrual care products for those who need it most. The use of reusable menstrual products ultimately helps lighten the environmental impact of people who menstruate all over the world, regardless of their financial means.
Ashley Linkletter is a mental health, food, and nutrition writer based in Vancouver, BC.