lifestyle

How to correctly dispose of tampons and pads without destroying the planet (or your plumbing)


Reusable products are best for the planet, but disposing of disposables properly is also good practice (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Having periods is, for the most part, annoying.

No matter how many times we see triumphant white-trouser-wearers in menstrual product adverts, playing sport and living their best lives, real world periods still mean mess, pain, and expense for most.

Then there’s the environmental impact of our periods. There’s absolutely no shame in using pads or tampons over reusable methods like cups, but it can’t be denied that disposables create waste.

According to one study, a year’s worth of a typical feminine hygiene product leaves a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalents, and half of UK women flush tampons away (totalling to 1.5-2 billion menstrual items flushed down Britain’s toilets each year).

Of the approximately 370,000 sewer blockages throughout the UK every year, up to 80% are caused by fats, oils and grease, wipes, sanitary waste and other
unflushable items, says a report from Wen. These blockages cost £88 million a year to fix.

While that doesn’t mean you need to start free-bleeding – or use a product that doesn’t suit you – it does serve as a wake up call on how we dispose of tampons and pads.

Here’s how to get rid of used menstrual items – helping the planet, and ensuring you don’t have to call out a plumber after a blockage.

How to properly dispose of tampons

It’s not widely-known, but tampons can’t actually be flushed down the toilet.

Toilet paper is designed to break down when wet, but because tampons are supposed to stay in the vagina and absorb liquid (and come out whole), they don’t disintegrate in the same way.

They can end up in rivers and coastal waters – as well as washing up on beaches – or cause plumbing issues that can be costly to fix.

Tampon applicators – either cardboard or plastic – are also not suitable for the sewers, although cardboard can be put into your recycling.

Instead of flushing, use the packaging from your next tampon to wrap it up, then pop it in the bin and wash your hands.

Plastic – and other solids – flushed down the loo can end up in rivers and seas (Picture: Toronto Star via Getty Images)

If the idea of ‘keeping’ them in the bin makes you a little squeamish, using biodegradable scented nappy sacks can ease your discomfort. Similarly, you could use a trash can specifically designed for nappies, as many come with built-in odour filters and low-touch emptying.

Using a spray disinfectant daily and giving the bin a weekly deep-clean is good practice, and a sprinkle of baking soda at the bottom also keeps smells at bay.

How to properly dispose of pads

Pads can be even more harmful to flush than tampons, with the plastic in their base ending up in our oceans and sewage systems. A standard pack of pads contains as much plastic as five carrier bags.

Like tampons, they’re specifically supposed to be absorbent and strong, so pads will expand when wet rather than dissolving.

Even so-called flushable pads (typically touting themselves as an environmentally-friendly option, without single-use plastics) can clog pipes and septic tanks, as they may take time to break down.

When changing pads, roll up your used one (sticky side outwards) then cover in the wrapper for your fresh one (or toilet paper if you’re not replacing the pad).

When on the go, you might not be near a bin for disposal. FabLittleSack makes sanitary disposal bags from sustainable materials that can be used one-handed and have an opaque finish (to save your privacy). Perfect for public toilets, just put your pad in the bag, seal, and throw away when you get home.

Can I recycle tampons or pads?

Both tampons and pads aren’t typically recyclable, so should be put into your usual waste bin for council collection.

Do check on the packaging, however, as some brands use materials that can be composted.

As for the packaging itself, cardboard is widely recycled, but you should remove any plastic film on the box (normally in the form of a ‘window’ to see the product).

Each manufacturer has different guidelines and processes, so check the leaflet enclosed in your menstrual product pack to see how best to dispose wrapping.



How to have a more environmentally-friendly period

Using menstrual products that fit your needs is always best, but if you can make these changes, they can lessen your impact on the environment.

  • Use the ‘three Ps’ rule for flushing: Only flush pee, poo, or paper.
  • Consider switching to reusable period products, like period pants, menstrual cups, and pads.
  • If you’d still prefer to go for disposable tampons and normally use an applicator, you should ensure you opt for those with cardboard applicators that are easily recycled. Alternatively, get a reusable tampon applicator that’ll last you ages and save you cash (but won’t sit in a landfill like single-use plastic).
  • Although it’s not advised to flush any pads, those that describe themselves as flushable are kinder to our planet. Even when put into the bin or recycling they break down much faster – stopping plastic making its way to rivers and seas.

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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