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Can you flush biodegradable tampons?


Think before you flush (Picture: Getty)

Flushing standard tampons down the toilet can cause plumbing blockages that can lead to sewage backflow and other hazards.

But what about biodegradable plant-based tampons that typically break down into natural components?

We might assume this would be fine for our waterways as the materials decompose anyway. So can we flush these?

‘No, we should not,’ explains Dr Olivia Ahn, founder of sanitary towel brand Planera. ‘A biodegradable tampon is not designed to be flushable and it will still block a pipe.’

She adds: ‘A flushable product – as per the UK’s “Fine to Flush Guidelines” – would need to break down and pass a 5.6mm sieve in 6 hours. A biodegradable product is not necessarily water dispersible.’

In fact, Olivia says there are currently no tampons in the world that are ‘certified flushable’.



What is the UK’s ‘Fine to Flush’ standard?

‘Fine to Flush’ refers to thew new official standard identifying which wet wipes can be flushed down toilets safely.

According to Water.org: ‘Although there has been an increase in products being labelled “Do Not Flush,” there are many wipes on the market labelled “flushable” which do not break down quickly when they enter the sewer system, and which would not pass the stringent tests which meet the standard to receive the “Fine to Flush” symbol.

‘The labelling of these products can cause confusion amongst consumers, increasing the problem of sewer blockages.’

Even tampons that are labelled as fully biodegradable shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet. 

Leah and Nikki, founders of organic cycle care brand Ohne, agree that while their tampons are 100% biodegradable, it’s never advisable to flush them – or any kind of tampon – down the loo.

They say: ‘Biodegradable or not, most water-waste systems simply are not designed to handle tampons, which can accumulate over time and lead to blocked drains. 

‘Best practice is to wrap your tampon with a bit of toilet paper and pop it in the bin.

‘And if you have a composter at home, you can pop your biodegradable pads and tampons in there.’

While there are no tampons that are currently flushable, there are sanitary towel versions that have passed the ‘fine to flush’ standard – like the kind made by Planera.

Founder Olivia and her team did extensive research to make this possible and she stresses that, while some products claim to be biodegradable, actually only a small portion of them are.

This is something she learnt first-hand.

‘We started off with a non-flushable biodegradable product but found that it would never have the right environment to biodegrade away,’ she adds.

‘Even if we made the whole product biodegradable, it would still get incinerated releasing toxic fumes, stuck in waterways blocking pipes, or in a landfill for centuries as it would not be in the right environment to biodegrade away.

‘This is when we pivoted and became the world’s first biodegradable pad, as we could guarantee that the product would break down in sewers – ultimately returning to the environment as fertiliser.’

How do both biodegradable and flushable sanitary products work?

‘“Biodegradable” means that the product would break down in the presence of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria [both in presence and absence of oxygen],’ says Olivia.

‘Therefore, the percentage of materials that are biodegradable is important – some products label themselves biodegradable as a portion of the materials are biodegradable. 

‘This term can still be misleading, as the conditions required to biodegrade away is critical – so even if the materials are biodegradable, they may be permanent due to where they end up.’

Olivia says this is the difference between certified flushable, home compostable and industrial compostable.

‘Certified flushable guarantees biodegradation when flushed down a toilet,’ she adds.

‘Home compostable means the products can degrade in a home compost and industrial compostable requires specific controlled conditions at an industrial composter to degrade.’

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