Not all tampons are made equally, that's for sure.
Tampons are compacted pieces of cylindrical-shaped cotton that work by expanding to absorb your menstrual flow.
Organic tampons come with a heftier price tag, though claim to have so many more benefits over their regular counterparts.
But most importantly, are these organic tampons worth the hype?
Regular tampons are typically made from a blend of cotton and rayon, which is derived from wood pulp. Whilst it’s true that chlorine-bleaching wood pulp once resulted in traces of dioxins in tampons, this now defunct method was replaced in the late 1990s with a chlorine-free bleaching process.
After all, cotton used for tampons has to be processed to some degree so that it’s safe for use. So, both organic and regular tampons use the same chlorine-free bleaching process. However, the need to use cotton-only tampons is no longer necessary: rayon (or rather the bleaching process currently used) isn’t harmful, according to the FDA.
If you're worried about fragrance - simply opt for a fragrance-free regular brand, or go organic for peace of mind.
The differences between regular tampons and their organic competitors in terms of personal health benefits are minimal. In fact, that same chlorine-free bleaching process used on a rayon-cotton blend is also used on 100% cotton tampons, so go figure. In terms of composition, a 100% cotton tampon has no additional benefit to the user.
The Cotton Crisis
Shockingly, 2.4% of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, yet it accounts for 24% of global sales in insecticide and 11% of pesticide sales. In addition to this, chemicals used to bleach, dye, and even add fragrance to the cotton are adversely impacting the environment. Workers on the cotton farms are being put at risk every single day by spraying these unsafe chemicals as well as the concerning run-off, causing chemical pollution in our waterways. Should you wish to read more about this, WWF summarises the environmental impact of cotton here.
What makes cotton organic? Well, it must be 100% free of synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides and use methods that have a low environmental impact. That being said, it is a common misconception that organic farming is totally free from pesticides: organic cotton is grown with pesticides approved for use in organic farming. Third-party certification organisations verify that the cotton production adheres to the standards of organic cotton farming.
Whilst cotton itself isn’t necessarily a “bad” crop, it certainly has its drawbacks. Cotton is an extremely water intensive crop: it takes more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. On average, 10,000 tampons are used during your reproductive lifetime: single-use cotton tampons are undeniably resource-draining and not as “eco-friendly” as one might initially think.
When one also considers the travel miles associated with each box of tampons, it really puts into perspective how pressing it is to reduce our carbon footprint.
Single use products are not sustainable - more resources are needed to keep up with the growing demand. More cotton is being grown and harvested, more chemicals are being used to grow the crop, and more plastic is being created for the packaging of these products. Consider the resources needed to harvest, manufacture, and distribute these single-use products. All on an on-going daily basis.
One Zero Cup can last up to ten years, so that one “travel journey” is made once a decade (or perhaps twice if you have a child in that time and need to upgrade the size of your menstrual cup).
The Problem With Plastic
Plastic wrappers and applicators of tampons and pads take hundreds of years to break down, and even then we are left with micro-plastics that pollute our oceans. These microscopic pieces of plastic will inevitably be ingested by marine life, causing serious health problems and even death in some cases.
When you walk along the feminine hygiene aisle of any pharmacy, corner store, or supermarket, you’ll be overloaded with a sea of plastic options for your period. You’ll be hard-pressed to find applicator-less tampons or ones with a cardboard applicator. In fact, finding a period pad without any plastic composition is simply not possible. (Did you know that one sanitary pad consists of 90% plastic?)
Whilst some eco-conscious folk may swear by using tampons that have a cardboard applicator or even a reusable tampon applicator, it is important to remember that the cotton part of the tampon still takes approximately 6 months to break down naturally in the environment - but this has no bearing whether they are organic tampons or just the regular kind.
Tampons have an undeniably negative impact on the planet. These single-use methods of sanitary protection are unsustainable: in addition to their manufacturing process being both resource and chemical intensive, we know that they are contributing to our global plastic crisis.
Fortunately, there are many alternatives to reduce plastic waste during menstruation including period panties, reusable cloth pads, and of course - a Zero Cup!
If you're interested in improving your personal health, leaving as little impact on the environment behind as possible, and opting for a more convenient method of sanitary protection; consider trying a menstrual cup. Zero Cup is made from 100% medical grade silicone: it is safe to use and totally leak-proof. Unlike tampons, a menstrual cup doesn’t leave behind any trace fibres nor does it disturb the natural pH of your vagina. Switching to a menstrual cup is more environmentally responsible and totally better for your body.