Maintaining our health and protecting our planet promote longevity and environmental sustenance. However, in the current economic paradigm, saving money may take precedence over pursuing health-beneficial practices or green initiatives. But listen up ladies: one way to reduce your eco footprint while still maintaining a balance in your checking account is to replace your traditional tampons and pads with reusable feminine hygiene products (RFHPs) and products made with organic cotton. RFHPs (like menstrual cups and washable sanitary pads) are not only economically feasible and environmentally sustainable, but they do not pose the debilitating or potentially fatal health concerns that synthetic tampons and sanitary napkins do. So, for those interested in keeping the planet clean, their wallets full and their bodies healthy, RFHPs may be a sensible investment.
Worldwide, 45 billion disposable feminine hygiene products are incinerated, flushed out to sea or deposited in a landfill site (1). Incineration of synthetic products releases air pollutants, toxins and carcinogens into the atmosphere when plastics and chemicals used in the production of these products are burned. Of the disposed tampons and pads that are not incinerated, most of them end up polluting our oceans and shorelines. Not only is the presence of this waste harmful to sea life, but it really puts a damper on a day at the shore when what you feel brush up against your arm isn’t seaweed!
In an effort to reduce the impact that disposable hygiene products pose to our planet, it should be noted that RFHPs such as bleach-/chemical-free tampons and pads are organic and made with plant-based biodegradeable materials in lieu of plastics.
Death by Traditional Tampon
In addition, synthetic tampons can pose real heath risks caused by both the physical invasiveness of a tampon and by the release of chemicals into the highly absorptive tissues of the vaginal canal.
Synthetic fibers made of viscose rayon used in traditional tampons to increase absorbency provide an ideal environment for the proliferation of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that causes toxic shock syndrome (TSS) (2, 3). TSS is an incapacitating, if not lethal disease. Using organic, cotton tampons reduces this risk. However, risks associated with the imbalance of vaginal pH and absorption of necessary vaginal fluids that maintain cleanliness are only alleviated through the use of a non-absorptive menstrual cup or pad.
Chemicals used in the chlorine bleach of the synthetic cotton, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (dioxins), are some of the most toxic substances known. According to a natural feminine hygiene specialist, a 2005 study sponsored by the FDA office of Women’s Health found, “detectable levels of dioxins in seven brands of tampons. Just a few parts per million in body fat cause serious health effects” (4). A 1994 EPA study, reassessed in 2003, reports that dioxins are probable carcinogens and that they also pose severe threats to reproduction and sexual development as well as to immune response systems (5). Other studies have shown that the regular use of synthetic tampons can cause diseases once thought rare, such as endometriosis, fibrosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and polycystic ovarian syndrome (3).
Retailers should be sure to point out the environmental and health advantages of natural hygiene. And for RFHPs, their purchase is an investment; buying menstrual cups or washable pads will end up saving consumers hundreds of dollars per year. Respect the Earth, respect your body. WF
1. Natracare, “Sanitary Waste,” www.natracare.com/p146/en-GB/Our-Environment/Sanitary-Waste.aspx, accessed Nov. 6, 2009.
2. Seventh Generation, “Tampontificating,” www.seventhgeneration.com/learn/guides/tampontificating, accessed Nov. 6, 2009.
3. I.S. Perlingieri, “The Trouble with Tampons,” The Environmental Magazine, XV (5), 2004.
4. Natracare, “Organic Cotton,” www.natracare.com/p139/en-GB/Our-Environment/Organic-Cotton.aspx, accessed Nov. 6, 2009.
5. J. Campbell, “1994 EPA Dioxin Exposure Document,” Natural Therapies for Cancer, AIDS, Heart Disease, and other Chronic Illness, www.cqs.com/epa/exposure, accessed Nov. 6, 2009.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Dec. 2009