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Mexico City's Single-Use Plastic Ban Is Causing a Tampon Shortage


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Period poverty is the lack of access to the resources, information, and facilities to manage menstruation. Ensuring people who menstruate can manage their periods is essential to eradicating extreme poverty. You can join us and take action on this issue here

An effort to prevent waste and stop climate change has people who menstruate scrambling for tampons and in uproar in Mexico City.

Mexico City enforced a single-use plastic ban on Jan. 1, making it illegal for retailers to stock tampons with plastic applicators on their shelves, according to the Financial Times.

When Mexico City Environment Minister Mariana Roble first introduced the ban, she said that disposable single-use plastics are not essential items. Residents were surprised when tampons disappeared in January and have pointed out that other products that use more packaging are still for sale. 

The decision was a part of the environmental agenda spearheaded by Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, the city’s first woman mayor who took office in 2018. Sheinbaum has been working with manufacturers to push for sustainable applicators but the COVID-19 slowed down the effort. 

Some menstrual products do contribute a lot to the world’s plastic problem. One type of plastic industrially manufactured for disposable sanitary pads requires about 500 to 800 years to decompose, according to the organization One Future Collective. Many tampons use plastic applicators and a single person can generate up to 300 pounds of non-biodegradable waste through their menstruating years.

Tampons without applicators are not easily available in Mexico City and are much more expensive online, leaving many in a bind. Reporters from the newspaper Milenio could not find menstrual products at any stores in Mexico City but located them for sale in surrounding areas, according to Mexico News Daily. 

Menstrual advocates have argued that while they support the environmental effort, the government should have phased out tampons instead of removing them suddenly.

“They should have made sure there were tampons available with applicators that used an alternative to plastic, at an accessible price, before they withdrew them,” Anahí Rodríguez, spokeswoman for the organization Menstruación Digna (Dignified Menstruation) told the Financial Times. Menstruación Digna is also fighting to end Mexico City’s tampon tax that taxes menstrual products as luxury items at 16%. 

Lawmakers have pushed alternative period products as a solution but critics took to social media to knock down the suggestion. While pads are another option, they often still use plastic and some people who menstruate do not find them as comfortable, especially for physical activity. Menstrual cups and menstrual underwear are more sustainable and affordable long term but cost more upfront, which may not be a viable option especially as more people are being pushed into poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lillian Guigue, director-general for impact regulation and environmental regulation at the city’s environment ministry, claims the ban was announced well in advance and stands by the decision.

“We all have to do our bit ... if we don’t make an effort with the products we consume, we are destroying not only our future but that of all generations after us,” Guigue said.