Billions of tampons are purchased worldwide each year, on top of the other hygiene products that are purchased as well for the purpose of menstruation.
Consider the fact that tampons are a single-use product that ends up being thrown away, eventually making their way into landfills.
That definitely raises some concerns about their eco-friendliness. Those concerns are warranted because unfortunately, most tampons, in general, are not eco-friendly.
Despite not being eco-friendly, tampons are an essential product that anyone who menstruates needs over the course of their life so it’s hard to give them up completely.
Let’s look at the eco-friendliness of tampons more closely in this article and determine if there are better options out there.
1. What Are Tampons Made Of?
Because of the health and human safety factors related to using tampons, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treats them as if they were a medical device.
The FDA places regulations on what the actual tampon itself can be made of in order to keep the user safe.
In addition to being safe, these materials also need to be absorbent and effective for the tampon’s intended purpose while still being comfortable enough to wear.
As a result, most tampons are made from cotton, rayon, or a blend of cotton and rayon. At least, the very core and string of them are.
According to the Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association (AHPMA), some tampons may also be covered with a film of cellulose fibers (cotton/rayon) or synthetic fibers such as polyester, polyethylene, or polypropylene.
Most tampons also have an applicator surrounding them to make them easier to insert. In some cases, that applicator is made of cardboard.
But most of the time, the applicator is made from polyethylene or polypropylene plastic, as is the wrapper that the tampon comes in to keep it sterile.
2. How Are Tampons Made?
First, the cotton or rayon fibers used to make tampons are cleaned and purified. The cotton comes from the cotton plant, while rayon is made from chemically-processed cellulose fibers found in wood pulp.
Bleach is used to purify and whiten the fibers, but the bleach does not contain chlorine. Using chlorine to bleach paper and wood pulp can release harmful pollutants known as dioxins into the environment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins can also cause cancer and reproductive harm in humans. This is not something that you want to occur as a result of using tampons, which is why only non-chlorine bleach is used in the purifying process.
After purifying the fibers, they are woven together into sheets of fabric. The tampon shape is then cut from the sheets and wrapped with another fabric made from synthetic fibers.
The sheet is then wrapped around the string to form the tampon itself and inserted into the applicator.
If the applicator is made from polypropylene or polyethylene plastic, then it was essentially made by melting down pellets of one of these types of plastics.
The melted pellets were then poured into a mold and allowed to cool in order to create the applicator itself.
Once the tampon has been inserted into the applicator, it is wrapped up and packaged along with other tampons in order to be sold.
3. Are Tampons Eco-Friendly?
Making tampons out of cotton or rayon is not terrible for the environment. However, the synthetic fibers used to cover the core of the tampons – as well as the applicator – are not eco-friendly.
Synthetic fibers and the applicator are both made from plastic, which comes from crude oil. Collecting the oil is harmful to the environment because it has the potential to cause pollution.
On top of that, crude oil is a non-renewable resource. Once all of it has been collected, it will be gone forever.
That’s not the only problem with using crude oil. Once the oil has been collected, it has to be refined in order to be used for different products. After refining, it has to be combined with other materials to make those products.
Both the refinement process and combining crude oil with other materials to make plastic often involves heavy chemical use and manufacturing processes, which can both cause harm to the environment through contamination and pollution.
4. Are Tampons Recyclable?
If tampons were recyclable, you might be able to make somewhat of a case for their eco-friendliness.
But, neither the tampon itself nor the plastic applicator is recyclable, even though the applicator is made from a type of plastic that is usually considered recyclable.
The reason why tampons are not recyclable is that both the tampon and the applicator come into contact with blood. Blood is considered to be human waste, and recycling facilities are unable to process them.
Blood or other types of human waste can contaminate the recycling stream, including contamination by diseases that can be transmitted through contact with blood.
For the health and safety of everyone involved, you can see why it is actually a good thing that tampons aren’t recyclable.
5. Are Tampons Sustainable?
As with eco-friendliness, if tampons were only made from cotton or rayon and were recyclable, you could say that they are somewhat sustainable.
But because most tampons contain synthetic fibers and have a plastic applicator, they are not considered to be sustainable.
And even if tampons didn’t contain any plastic whatsoever, they still couldn’t be recycled. This means that they will always be intended for one-time use, which isn’t sustainable either.
6. Are Organic Tampons Better?
The term organic means that a crop is grown without the use of chemicals, such as pesticides and fungicides.
Essentially, organic tampons are made using 100% cotton that was grown organically. Organic cotton is better for the environment because it doesn’t have the potential to leach harmful chemicals into the soil and waterways.
Because of this, organic tampons are marketed as being better for the environment (and human health as well). This is true, in a way, because organic tampons aren’t made with synthetic fibers either.
However, a lot of organic tampons still have plastic applicators on them which we’ve already determined is not eco-friendly.
We can consider organic tampons to be better for the environment only if the applicator is made from cardboard or another biodegradable material instead of plastic. But even being made from cardboard, the applicator still isn’t recyclable.
7. Are Tampons Flushable?
Tampons are not flushable. This is because unlike toiler paper, they will not break down as easily in the sewage system.
Flushing tampons can lead to a blockage in sewage pipes. This is not only bad for the pipes themselves, but it can also lead to expensive repairs in your home as a result of a backed up sewage system.
8. Are Tampons Biodegradable?
As long as tampons are organic or made from 100% cotton fibers – meaning no synthetic fibers are used in the making of them – they are considered biodegradable.
However, even if just a small percentage of synthetic fibers are used to make a tampon, the tampon will not be 100% biodegradable.
Even if the cotton portion does biodegrade, the synthetic fibers will not biodegrade (or will take a very long time).
The plastic applicators used for tampons are not biodegradable either. However, tampon applicators that are made from cardboard will biodegrade.
Any tampon that is biodegradable will say so on the packaging. Otherwise, you can assume that your tampon is not biodegradable and that you should dispose of it in another way.
9. Are Tampons Compostable?
Following the guidelines above, as long as a tampon is biodegradable, it is compostable as well.
However, because used tampons contain blood, you have to be more careful with how you compost them.
Bio-waste materials such as tampons that are compostable can take longer to break down, especially in a safe way considering that they contain blood. You will need to give them extra time to break down before you can use the compost.
Cutting up the tampons can help speed up the composition process, but ultimately it’s up to you whether or not you feel comfortable composting them.
And remember that unless the tampon is labeled as biodegradable, it should not be composted either.
10. Are Tampons Reusable?
Remember that the FDA and other similar organizations consider tampons to be a medical device and regulates their use as a result.
Because of this, any tampon that is not approved by one of these organizations should not be reused.
There are tampons that are considered to be reusable that are designed to cut down on single-use waste.
However, these tampons are often made differently and usually aren’t approved by health organizations for use.
Reusable tampons can also lead to infections and diseases as a result of bacteria and yeast that could be left behind on the tampon.
11. Are Tampons Washable?
Tampons that are considered to be for one-time use are not washable simply because of how they are made.
Most reusable tampons are made in a way that they can be washed and used again. But remember that many of them aren’t safety approved by health officials and organizations (or it’s hard to find evidence that they are).
It’s also possible that they won’t get completely clean when washed, which can lead to infections since they are used internally.
12. How to Dispose of Tampons Properly
Unless you’re using organic and biodegradable tampons, the only way to dispose of them is by throwing them away.
However, it is important to properly dispose of them to prevent others from coming into contact with blood or other bodily fluids.
Before throwing away a tampon, you should wrap in up with toilet paper or tissues, or place it in a plastic bag. This will prevent other people from touching the tampon when collecting the trash.
However, in terms of the tampon going to the landfill, wrapping it in toilet paper is better than sealing it in a plastic bag.
When wrapped in toilet paper, the cotton part can stil decompose. But when sealed in a plastic, the tampon won’t decompose as easily due to the plastic barrier surrounding it.
Remember that you should never flush tampons – even biodegradable ones. But, you can compost biodegradable tampons if you choose.
13. Are Tampons Toxic?
Since tampons are FDA-approved for use, that means that the FDA has determined that they don’t contain any chemicals that can be harmful to our health.
However, there are problems that can occur from using a tampon the wrong way or wearing it for too long, including infections.
One of the more serious problems that can occur from using a tampon is toxic shock syndrome. Toxic shock syndrome mostly occurs as a result of bacteria growth due to leaving a tampon in for too long. It can be deadly up to 50% of the time.
Since the FDA started regulating tampons, the cases of toxic shock syndrome have gone down.
However, it can still occur so a tampon should never be left in for more than 8 hours, but changing it after about 4 hours is recommended.
14. Are Tampons More Eco-Friendly Than Pads?
One of the other most commonly used menstrual products are pads. Considering that tampons aren’t the most eco-friendly, it leads us to wonder whether pads are more or less eco-friendly than tampons.
It is thought that menstrual pads are made up of 90% plastic compared to tampons which are made up of about 6% plastic (excluding applicators).
Plastic is used in pads to make them leak-proof and more absorbent, in addition to the adhesives used to make the pads sticky and the packaging used to wrap them.
Even though neither one is very eco-friendly, when you compare pads and tampons, tampons are the better choice.
15. Are Tampons Vegan?
Many people assume that for a product to be vegan, it just can’t be made with any animal products. However, being vegan also means that products aren’t tested on animals.
Unfortunately, some tampon brands are tested on animals before use. The reason for these tests is to make sure there is no skin irritation, allergic reactions, or toxicity that causes harm to the animals before use by humans.
There are some brands that aren’t tested on animals, and a lot of organic and biodegradable tampons are vegan as well.
16. Are Tampons Flammable?
The materials used to make tampons, including cotton and rayon, are flammable materials that will burn when they come into contact with a flame.
Other materials used to make tampons, such as plastic, tend to melt when exposed to flame. So essentially, yes, tampons are flammable.
17. Are Tampons Waterproof?
Tampons are commonly worn while swimming, and the synthetic fibers around the tampon help create somewhat of a barrier to water.
But, due to the majority of the tampon being made from cotton and rayon, they will absorb water the same way that they absorb blood.
This means that tampons can’t be considered waterproof, since a material has to completely prevent water from penetrating the surface in order to be waterproof.
5 Eco Friendly Tampons Brands
Founded by two sisters, Blume creates FDA-approved tampons that are made with organic cotton. The applicators are made from bioplastic as well.
These tampons are also made without the use of chemicals and are 100% biodegradable. The box is recyclable as well.
Natracare is the first company to develop cotton tampons that are 100% certified organic. The tampons and the applicators are 100% biodegradable and compostable. They are certified vegan as well.
Natracare also donates to non-profit organizations that help the environment and society, including organizations that reduce plastic pollution, protect animals and their habitats, and support gender equality and equal access to healthcare.
3. Seventh Generation
Seventh Generation creates eco-friendly tampons made from 100% organic cotton, with an applicator made from plant-based plastics.
Seventh Generation also donates a portion of sales from their period products to organizations that help provide access to hygiene products for everyone who menstruates.
Veeda creates eco-friendly period products including pads and tampons. Their tampons are made with 100% Non-GMO cotton and contains no plastic or synthetic fibers in the tampons themselves.
Although the applicators are made from plastic, they also have tampons available without an applicator, which creates an even more eco-friendly product.
5. Tampax Pure
Not all of Tampax’s products are eco-friendly, but they have created a line of products for the eco-conscious consumer.
Like other brands mentioned so far, Tampax Pure tampons are made from 100% organic cotton, and the applicators are made from 90% plant-based plastic.
3 Eco Friendly Alternatives to Tampons
1. Menstrual Cup
The cup can be emptied out, cleaned with soap and water, and reused.
It is more hygienic than reusable tampons and can be used over and over again without having to throw anything away.
2. Period Panties
Period panties are made with highly absorbent fabric and are designed to be at least two times more absorbent than tampons.
They can be worn without a tampon, pad, or menstrual cup and can be washed in the washing machine in order to be reused in a way that is hygienic.
3. Reusable Pads
Reusable pads are made from an absorbent but machine-washable fabric and are worn just like traditional pads.
As long as you clean and care for them properly, they are more hygienic than reusable tampons since they are used externally instead of internally.
Menstruating is a natural thing that can’t be avoided without medical intervention, so hygiene products such as tampons are essential.
Most tampons are used worldwide, but they are single-use which can contribute to a lot of waste.
What’s worse is that many of them are made with materials that are not eco-friendly and can only be disposed of in a landfill or incinerator.
If you’re looking to make a more eco-conscious decision when it comes to your hygiene, consider choosing eco-friendly tampon brands or switching to an eco-friendly alternative to tampons altogether.
By doing this, you can help contribute to lowering the amount of plastic waste that continues to have such negative impacts on the environment.