The more I delve into the world of feminine hygiene, the more I realise just how much misinformation surrounds periods. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until recently I discovered that tampons shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet. I thought, ‘What?! There must have been a crucial lesson I missed at school about this!‘, but sadly my false assumptions provide further evidence of the mysteries surrounding sanitary waste disposal.
It turns out that women like me are in the majority. Like it or not, flushing is the most common tampon disposal method. So, what exactly happens when you flush a tampon down the toilet? And how should we dispose of tampons and pads in a more environmentally conscious way?
Following the UK-wide ban on plastic microbeads in 2018, we are more aware than ever about the relationship between what goes into our water and the impact of waste on marine life. According to The Marine Conservation Society’s 2018 Great British Beach Clean Report, 6.2% of the UK’s beach litter is sewage-related debris (defined as items flushed down the toilet that should be thrown in the bin). This includes used tampons, plastic tampon applicators, wrappings and sanitary pads that have not been filtered out by waste treatment plants.
If you’re reading this with a rising feeling of guilt, you are not alone. Women in the UK (far more than in other European countries) seem to favour flushing as the primary disposal method for used sanitary products, with up to 2 billion sanitary items flushed down Britain’s toilets every year.
We’re not entirely to blame for this however. Most tampon boxes don’t clearly state the best disposal methods, whilst sanitary bins in public restrooms are often messy and overflowing – so it’s no wonder so many of us plump for the mess-free flush option. But easy doesn’t always mean right, and flushing tampons (or wet wipes, condoms, pads and wrappers for that matter) down the loo is officially an environmental no-no. Even high-street brand Tampax expressly states that their tampons should not be flushed. Instead, they should be disposed of with other non-recyclable household waste.
Unlike toilet paper, tampons do not break down in the sewage system. As a result, flushed tampons can build up in household plumbing, blocking pipes or making their way to waste treatment plants. It is estimated that this costs £88 million annually to utilities companies.
So, how should we be disposing of tampons?
Tampons cannot currently be recycled, so the best option is to toss them in the rubbish (or compost if they are 100% cotton like ours!). If a public toilet cubicle or bathroom doesn’t have a bin, wrap the tampon in some loo roll and dispose of it at the next available opportunity. Remember, organic doesn’t mean it’s okay to flush – whilst our &SISTERS organic cotton tampons and pads are biodegradable, they still cannot be flushed down the toilet.
Join the #plasticfreeperiods revolution
Did you know… the average box of menstrual pads contains the equivalent of 5 plastic carrier bags, according to the Women’s Environmental Network. In the UK, women use roughly 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their reproductive lifetime. That equates to 200,000 tonnes of waste per year, destined for landfills (if thrown in the bin) or the sea (if flushed down the toilet), where it will break up into microplastics that take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
The &SISTERS nüdie period cup is a reusable and environmentally conscious alternative to traditional tampons and pads. Period cups eliminate waste to landfill entirely, and sidestep the tampon disposal issue altogether. Read about the many other benefits of period cups here.