The average woman will use 12,000 to 16,000 disposable feminine hygiene products in her lifetime and it can take up to 100 years or more for something like a plastic pad or applicator to break down. Noting that early puberty is becoming more frequent in our days, the use of feminine hygiene products will be skyrocketing in the nearest future. General aging of the population also results in the increase of the demand in hygienic products like disposable pant liners, elderly pads, and more.
According to the report published by Allied Market Research titled, “World Feminine Hygiene Products Market-Opportunities and Forecasts, 2015-2022,” the global feminine hygiene products market is expected to garner a revenue of $42.7 billion, growing at a CAGR of 6.1% during 2016-2022. In 2015, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for the largest market share of around 48.9%, owing to increasing awareness towards personal hygiene and higher adoption of sanitary pads in markets such as China, Japan and others.
Because conventional women hygienic products are not designed for recycle, reuse of composting, they end up in landfills, on illegal dumping grounds, in water sources, seas and oceans. They also block sewage systems. According to the book “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation” of 2009, average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of “pads, plugs, and applicators” in her lifetime. Thus, during a woman’s fertile years, period-related garbage makes about 0.5% of her “personal landfill load” which is comparable to the percentage of the annual trash made out of plastic plates and cups. 1
Women and environment are highly contaminated with hazardous plastic chemicals in feminine hygiene products. Conventional sanitary pads are made up from up to 90% crude oil plastic and can contain associated plasticizing chemicals like BPA and BPS, and petrochemical additives which are known endocrine disrupting substances and are linked to heart diseases and cancer. Phthalates, a common ingredient in tampon applicators, are known to disrupt hormone function and may lead to multiple organ diseases. Phthalates leach from finished products when handled. They can be released from a product by heat, agitation, and prolonged storage.
Though there is a growing body of evidence confirming the presence of these and other toxic chemicals in feminine hygiene products, manufacturing companies are not legally required to disclose all of the ingredients in their products because of the gaps in the national regulations and related international instruments. Lack of clear labeling on disposable products and the potential for cumulative exposure to harmful chemicals is a troubling situation since feminine hygiene products are used by women on a monthly basis.
The multi-billion-dollar industry that manufactures feminine and other hygienic products, profits from the dominance of disposable products. They succeeded in making consumers believe the disposables are not only the most convenient and affordable option, but also have no health or environmental risks. Industry is backed up by the governments which, instead of addressing the issue of product safety and information disclosure of what feminine hygienic products are made of, do their best to increase the selling. For example in Canada the Department of Finance announced that it is removing the goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales tax (HST) on “a supply of a product that is marketed exclusively for feminine hygiene purposes and is a sanitary napkin, tampon, sanitary belt, menstrual cup or other similar product” effective on July 1, 2015.
Luckily there are actually all kinds of safe plastic-free and toxic free options that are available in various shapes and sizes to suit women’s needs and match their comfort level. Though better solutions to conventional feminine hygienic products exist, they are not available in many countries or are unknown to women making them limited in the options. In addition, in many countries, both in developing and developed ones, the feminine hygiene industry has successfully convinced women that their period is something which should be kept hidden and related hygienic products should be quickly disposed of without thinking of the harm they may cause to women’s health and the environment.
HEJSupport is working together with other NGOs for toxic- and plastic-free periods.