How to properly dispose of tampons? This is a question as old as the tampons themselves, but it seems that there is no clear answer yet. A heated argument in the female community still persists – should tampons be flushed or thrown away with other household trash? Many women have been taught by their mothers that the best way to get rid of a tampon is to flush it, while many other women are outraged by the idea. Before taking sides, it is important to look at the arguments and whether there are any other, eco-friendlier options.
Flush or throw?
Ladies that prefer flushing overthrowing tampons in the trash are usually concerned with foul smells in the bin, unpleasant sight and discreteness. Especially in public bathrooms, where it often happens that trash bins are missing liners. It may seem that the best and easiest way is to flush, for both ladies and the people who clean public bathrooms, but considering how many problems it causes, this might not be the best way to dispose of tampons. The most obvious problem is the plumbing – tampons and pads often cause clogging, which costs money, time and nerves. For that reason, there are usually signs in bathrooms of restaurants, hotels and other crowded places, that remind the guests not to throw anything besides toilet paper (and sometimes not even that) into the toilet bowl.
Tampons and pads flushed in the toilet damage septic systems and present a problem for wastewater treatment plants. Wastewater treatment facilities are not designed for dealing with large amounts of sanitary waste. Considering that tampons and pads do not break down like toilet paper, they often cause blockages in pipes. This is why the National Association of Clean Water Agencies has initiated its “Toilets are not trashcans” campaign. By their accounts, flushing products like wipes, paper towels and female hygiene products causes significant problems and clogs, which amount to billions of dollars in repair costs and maintenance. Manufacturers of tampons themselves advise against flushing them. If the verdict is that tampons should be thrown away, what is the best way to do it? It is pretty simple – wrap them up in toilet paper and throw them in the trash. If the bathroom doesn’t have an accessible trash can, you can always carry an eco-friendly disposal bag, and not worry about disposing of tampons in public bathrooms.
While throwing away is better than flushing when it comes to the environment and sustainability, looking at the bigger picture it becomes evident that the best way to deal with periods is to avoid tampons altogether. They are not biodegradable (unless they are organic, in which case it takes them around six months to fully degrade) nor recyclable, unfortunately. After being thrown away, they usually end up in landfills where they are left to degrade in the coming centuries, along with other types of waste. The same story goes for pads. Although it seems to many that those two are the only options available, there are also some eco-friendlier alternatives. Our female ancestors have managed to deal with their periods without causing harm to the environment, and so can we, especially with the technology and knowledge we currently have.
Raising concerns about the amount of waste we produce has inspired many companies to think of more environmentally friendly ways for girls and women to deal with their periods. Here are some of the most common and widely available alternatives. You will find that they are both cheaper and healthier solutions than disposable pads and tampons.
One of the most popular zero waste solutions for feminine hygiene is menstrual cups. They are bell-shaped devices made of flexible, medical-grade silicone. They are inserted into the vagina and used for collecting menstrual fluids. Depending on the severity of the flow, they should be emptied every 4 to 12 hours. The content is simply flushed into the toilet and the cup is rinsed with lukewarm water before being reinserted. After the period ends, the cup should be sterilized (by boiling it in water for at least 5 minutes) and properly stored. Menstrual cups hold more menstrual fluids than tampons and can last for years with proper care and storage. Besides being environmentally friendly, they are also cheaper than tampons and pads.
Cloth pads are also a good zero waste alternative for a lighter flow or last few days of period. They are used just like regular pads, but instead of plastic mixed with some cotton, cloth pads are made of reusable bamboo, cotton or hemp. They do not contain any harmful chemicals and can be easily washed by hand or in the washing machine. With the help of a disposal bag, you can get through the day with a few cloth pads. Ladies that are concerned with smells shouldn’t worry, because changing the pad often enough will prevent any unpleasant smells. Cloth pads can last for 5 or more years with proper care. Considering that you will need only 10 of them to get through that time, they are also very cheap in the long run.
It may sound a bit wacky, but yes, sea sponges can be utilized as reusable tampons. They come in different sizes and firmness levels, and they are used the same way as tampons when it comes to both insertion and how long they last before getting full. When the sponge is full, it should be removed and rinsed before being reinserted. Menstrual sponges can last between 3 and 6 months and are fully biodegradable. Although, it is strongly advised to purchase only quality-checked menstrual sponges from well-established and certified manufacturers, because otherwise, they may contain dirt and very harmful bacteria.
This is yet another good solution for light flows and final days of period, but period-proof panties can also serve as a good back up protection for other feminine hygiene products. Period proof underwear is increasing in popularity because it is so convenient and comfortable. There are also specially made training shorts that can hold two tampons’ worth of menstrual fluid, enabling comfortable training even during the period.