What is the carbon footprint of tampons?

We’re constantly hearing about how bad conventional menstrual products are for the environment, but what is the actual carbon footprint of these menstrual products? Today, we look at the carbon footprint and environmental impact of non-organic tampons from the early stages of the manufacturing process till after they’ve been used.

The average menstruator menstruates for roughly 4 decades and uses approximately 11 000 period products in their lifetime! According to an article written by Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy Campaigner Thandile Chinyavanhu, in South Africa there are around 16 million menstruators who create 52.4 million kilograms of menstrual product waste each year. These used menstrual products end up in landfills, sewage systems and can be found polluting natural environments like beaches, rivers, parks etc. In the United Kingdom 1.5 billion period products are flushed down the toilet, and in the United States 7 million tampons are found in landfills annually.

The environmental impact of the tampon manufacturing process is excessively high right from the beginning. Tampons are made from cotton which requires enormous amounts of water, pesticides and vast amounts of land to grow and be cultivated. It’s estimated that about 7000 to 29 000 litres of water is needed in order to grow just one kilogram of cotton! Tampons are also made of another material called rayon which is made from wood pulp, this process is extremely energy intensive too.

The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm conducted a life cycle assessment of tampons to determine their ecological footprint. Their research showed that the largest contributor to the carbon footprint of the entire manufacturing process of tampons is the production of plastic applicators which uses the most amount of fossil fuels.

In another report conducted by a Harvard Business School graduate, it was found that 100% organic and biodegradable menstrual products have 35% less of an ecological impact in the entire production process, compared to conventional menstrual products. Large corporations like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble are very much aware of the impact their products and the manufacturing processes have on the environment. However, they’ve said that it will be too difficult to try an convince consumers to switch from disposable products to reusable ones instead. But, we all know that it’s all about the money and that reusable menstrual products won’t generate the same amount of profit like disposable options do.