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How to responsibly dispose of your period products (and the wrappers)

TOTM's medium flow organic cotton pads box next to medium and super pad in their wrapper on a blue background with sky reflection

A small habit can make a big difference. Here, we’re giving you the lowdown on how to responsibly dispose of your period products.

What do you do with your used tampon or pad? This is an important question. Flushed period products are having a negative impact on our environment. They are clogging up sewage systems and polluting oceans. But the eco-impact doesn’t end there. What about the packaging your tampons came in? or the wrappers? It all needs disposing of.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to make you feel guilty by being preachy or bossy. We’re here to be informative, so you can have a planet-friendly period!

What’s the problem?

Conventional brands have been exposed for using excessive plastic in their products and packaging. In fact, it’s been revealed that mainstream pads can contain as much plastic as four carrier bags! Due to the global plastic crisis, this is no doubt concerning. It means that this plastic is either making its way to the ocean (if flushed) or is clogging up landfills for decades (if binned).

Flushing is a big problem in itself. A 2016 study found that half the menstruating population flush tampons.

Then there are the wrappers and plastic applicators. Single-use plastics are having a hugely negative impact on the planet. According to WEN, there are nine plastic applicators per kilometre on UK Beaches.

It starts with a switch…

Before delving into the disposal methods, we’re first talking about making the switch to eco-friendly period care. As you can see from the stats above, it’s very difficult to responsibly dispose of a tampon or pad if it’s majority plastic. Some elements can be recycled, but plastic wrappers and applicators cannot be recycled due to the nature of the product.

When looking for more eco-options, a popular choice is reusable menstrual cups. One cup can last years. It can be reused on your period, so you do not generate any waste on your period each cycle. However, don’t feel pressurised if you know reusables are just not your thing. You need to find what works for you!

Disposable options made with organic cotton are a more sustainable choice than conventional products. So, if you’re not ready for a reusable you can still be kind to your body and the environment.

Now, let’s talk about disposal

Here are our tops tips to responsibly dispose of period care products:

Organic cotton tampons or pads: Throw in the bin or compost

Tampons and pads that are made with organic cotton are biodegradable because organic cotton naturally breaks down. Organic materials can be degraded aerobically with oxygen or anaerobically without oxygen. Organic cotton products are farmed without the use of toxic pesticides. Which is a bonus when it biodegrades because it doesn’t seep harmful chemicals back into the ground. If you’re using organic cotton period care on your period, you can, therefore, dispose of this in the bin. It will naturally break down in landfill, therefore having less of an impact on the planet.

If you have a composter at home or easy access to an industrial composter, you can also compost your organic cotton tampons and pads. It’s important that your composter is well sealed and you have the correct damp and warm composting conditions in order for the products to break down. You can put the tampon or pad in the composter whole or break them up with scissors. It also helps to separate the backing layer (where the adhesive is), and putting this in the compost separately from the rest of the pad. Both of these will help the products break down quicker.

Tampon applicators: Do not flush

As we mentioned above, plastic tampon applicators are having a huge impact on the environment. Even more so when they are flushed! Our top tip is to ditch the plastic applicator altogether. If you can’t get on with non-applicator tampons, look for cardboard applicator options. Same as with paper, cardboard is a carbon-based material, therefore, is biodegradable. This means it can also be composted (if cut down into smaller pieces). Another great alternative is a reusable applicator. You can shop ours at Tesco or Superdrug.

Wrappers and packaging: Consider what can be recycled or replaced

Plastic period care wrappers and the applicator cannot be recycled due to recycling regulations. They are therefore destined for the landfill and can take 450+ years to breakdown. It’s advisable to seek out paper or cardboard alternatives (which can be recycled) to replace these single-use plastics.

Make it a general rule to scope out what can be recycled and what cannot be recycled. If, for example, the box your tampons came in can be recycled, then it’s important to follow these instructions (our cardboard boxes can be!). If you’re ever unsure what the packaging is made from, ask the brand you bought the product from. They should be able to advise on materials and responsible disposal methods.

Excess or unused products: Consider your options

This is just an additional tip to prevent unnecessary waste. If you’ve purchased an extra box of a product that you no longer use, or if you’ve tried out a new tampon brand but find you need a different absorbency etc, be sure to not throw the brand new product in the bin! Excess or unused product can be donated to your local food bank or to causes such as Red Box Project.

Hopefully these can help you on your way to having a planet-friendly period.  For more on eco periods, delve a little deeper into the reasons why you should never flush tampons here. Thinking of switching to an eco-period alternative? This guide might help you out (includes real user experiences).

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