For about half of women reading this, no doubt your reaction will be, “how do people still think it’s OK to flush sanitary products?”
The other half — and I'll admit I was one of these until very recently — will have no idea flushing tampons is an environmental nightmare. I don’t know how I missed the memo on this for 27 years of life, but apparently about 50% of women are equally oblivious — so let’s spread the word.
Take action: Menstruation Is Not a Disease
Some 700,000 panty liners are also ending up down the drain, according to figures published in the Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences, along with 1.4 million menstrual pads.
Flushing plastic period products down the loo pollutes the ocean! - 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet in the UK every single day. https://t.co/cgioL9CBrB#PeriodsWithoutPlastic@natracarepic.twitter.com/Dz6CzpTswe— WomensEnvironNetwork (@WEN_UK) July 3, 2018
And it’s having a pretty devastating effect on our marine environment, given the plastic and chlorine in the products that we’re flushing.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has teamed up with plastic-free period brand Natracare, to raise awareness about the problem and the potential solutions.
According to MCS and Natracare, one pad can take as long as 50 years to fully break down. What’s more, one pack of sanitary pads contains the equivalent amount of plastic as four carrier bags.
With around 45 billion menstrual products disposed of globally every year, that’s a whole lot of waste. But the plastics used don’t biodegrade, and will remain in the environment for hundreds of years, contaminating land and oceans.
While menstrual pads look a lot more like they contain plastic, given their sticky undersides, flushing tampons is also deeply harmful.
They may look like they would break down quickly, along with toilet paper, but they don’t. And what’s more, they aren’t always filtered out by waste treatment plants, so they end up in our seas, rivers, and on or beaches instead.
“The bottom line is, flush only the three Ps: pee, poop, and paper,” Lyn Riggins, a producer and writer at WSSC, one of the largest water and wastewater utilities in the country, told Allure. “Flushing anything other that pee, poop, and paper causes problems within the wastewater system.”
“We see tampons that make their way through the pipes to our treatment plants, completely intact,” she added. “They don’t break up like toilet paper.”
Over the past decade, MCS volunteers have collected more than 20,000 tampons, applicators, and sanitary pads from British beaches. At a rate of six pieces of period waste per 100 metres of beach, the organisation reckons there’s around 2 million items of period waste across the whole of the UK coastline. Not a very sanitary thought.
Now, in honour of “Plastic Free July,” MCS and Natracare have launched the “Sea-ing Red” campaign, which calls for greater awareness about the harm that period waste is doing to the marine environment.
The campaign wants women to be aware that we really, really shouldn’t flush our menstrual products, but it also aims to raise awareness about the fact there are lots of more sustainable options out there to skip the plastic problem entirely, including menstrual cups, reusable cotton pads, and period pants.