Being mindful about your waste is also important when you travel

Do we really need tampons with applicators?

Sandra ROSENAUFirst Published: Last Updated: Limit Your Footprint

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This is my first article on our new website… yay. But who would have thought that I would choose to write about tampons… of all things. Before you run away screaming… please do read on as it’s important someone talks about it. It might be an odd choice of topic but my inner eco-warrior just compelled me to share with you what I recently discovered.

Without going into detail: I needed to buy tampons while in Canada recently… so I went one rainy, drizzly day in Quebec City to the closest Metro Supermarket. I found the aisle, but what I couldn’t find were normal tampons. I literally scanned every single product on the shelf and all I could find were tampons with applicators (and pads).

For those of you who have never seen a tampon with applicator (which included me until that day) have a look at the picture below. The tampon is in a bullet-like encasing with a little injection thing at the back. You may wonder why this is noteworthy. Check the size of it against a USD1 bill. After the tampon is inserted that’s what’s left behind… not just the tampon (which is bad enough as it is but kind of unavoidable unless you use a menstrual cup) but also an individual applicator with every single tampon.

I don’t know how many tampons an average woman uses each period but say she uses all 16 or 20 tampons usually in a pack, that’s 16 or 20 applicators ending up in landfill… easily 2 big handfuls every single month, 13 times a year, for 30+ years… that’s a whole lot of avoidable waste each of us girls using tampons with applicators produce.

Having now used both versions, I prefer the normal ones, and I can’t see the benefit of those with applicators. But hey, everyone is different and some women may find normal ones difficult to use or prefer the ones with an applicator, fair enough. However, if there really is a customer need for those with applicator surely there is a way to make these things more environmentally friendly?

Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble (manufacturers of U by Kotex and Tampax, respectively) and other manufacturers of personal hygiene products, have you thought about creating an applicator that can be reused and including just one in each pack or even producing an applicator that a woman could take free of charge from the shelf with her normal tampons if and when she needs one?

And the supermarkets offering them, surely you can at least offer both products so that a woman has a choice? I actually went to various supermarkets in Quebec City after that experience, not only Metro Supermarkets, but also IGA, and I looked at the shelves at the Metro Supermarket in Little Italy/Toronto… all only had tampons with an applicator.

As a final comment, being a minimalist traveller with only a carry-on backpack, I now not only feel even worse about my environmental footprint but valuable space in my backpack (as small as it might seem) is taken up by a product that is more than double the size of the one I would have chosen.

I’m interested to hear whether my experience is common in Canada, how things are in other countries and what the manufacturers’ approach is to environmental considerations in product design. Please leave a comment below.

Update as at 5 August 2017: Having been on the road now for over nine months, I feel sad (and angry) to report that all countries we have travelled through so far (bar one) only sold tampons with applicators (and usually only those made of plastic). I didn’t want to use a menstrual cup for this journey as bathroom standards in Central and South America are very different from those in Australia and New Zealand. I am now seriously reconsidering… 

Update as at 17 November 2021: I’m pleased to report that one fellow eco-warrior, Ella Daish, has been taking the fight for plastic-free period products all around the UK and now over to the European mainland, talking to supermarkets (who are pretty much all on-board) and now to the manufacturers, including giant Procter & Gamble. Please support her campaign so that we can end this waste once and for all.