- Statistical Facts
- Environmental Impact
- Disposable vs Cloth Diapers â€“ A Benchmark Example
- Plastic Pollution â€“ the Bigger Picture
- Health Considerations
- Performance vs Disposables
- Cost Savings Analysis
- Business Practices
- Approximately 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators are sent to North American landfills annually.
- On an individual level, each of the approximately 73 million menstruating people in North America will throw away 125 to 150kg or approximately 16,800 disposable pads or tampons in their lifetime.
- Disposable pads and tampons are made primarily of bleached kraft pulp or viscose rayon, the origin of which is wood cellulose from trees. What makes these products perform so effectively is the use of high tech chemicals such as super-absorbent acrylic polymers (SAPs) surfactant-laced gels and leak-proof plastic backings. The long-term health and environmental impact of these ingredients is contentious and largely unknown.
- In 1991, the Landbank Consultancy report reviewed the environmental impact of disposable diapers and concluded that compared to cloth diapers, throwaway diapers used 20 times more raw materials, three times more energy and twice as much water; overall they generated 60 times more waste . Disposable menstrual pads are made from substantially equivalent materials and ingredients as disposable diapers.
- Lunapads will last well over 5 years with recommended use and care, as opposed to 3 or 4 hours in the case of disposable products. While individual use may vary, we estimate that a single Lunapad replaces 120 disposable pads or tampons.
- The cost of reusable products is significantly less than disposables â€“ you can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over time.
- 1,000,000 disposable pads and tampons are now being diverted from landfills monthly thanks to Lunapadsâ€™ customers having made the switch to reusable products, and tens of thousands worldwide are feeling more connected to themselves and at peace with their consumer choices.
From a common sense perspective, the choice to wash and reuse cloth menstrual pads is a simple one, akin to using stainless steel water bottles, cloth shopping bags or rechargeable batteries in lieu of their single-use counterparts. In doing so, we reduce the gross amount of resources consumed and solid waste generated.
It is estimated that approximately 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators are being sent to North American landfills annually . On an individual level, each of the approximately 73 million menstruating people in North America will throw away 125 to 150kg of disposable menstrual products in their lifetime . Moreover, these products require hundreds of years to biodegrade, particularly if wrapped in the plastic bag commonly provided for this purpose as part of their packaging.
Lunapads last at least 5 years with recommended use and care, as opposed to 3 or 4 hours in the case of disposables. While individual cases vary, we estimate that a single Lunapad replaces approximately 120 disposable pads or tampons.
In addition to the waste issue, one must also consider resources consumed, as well as manufacturing processes. Lunapads are made with a combination of three types of fabric, which admittedly use their own share of resources to produce. Critics may reasonably point to the use of conventionally-grown cotton as an environmental demerit to cloth pads. Further resources (water, detergent and energy) are also required in order to capitalize on their reusable benefit. That said, Lunapads are very small and do not require special laundering treatment, making the amount of water and soap required for their maintenance to be fairly minimal. Lunapads is further on track with our stated goal of switching to 100% organic or sustainable textiles, and currently use 100% certified organic fabrics for over half of our products.
Disposable pads and tampons are made primarily of bleached kraft pulp or viscose rayon, the origin of which is wood cellulose from trees. Imagine, if you will, what kind of processing is required to make solid wood into the fluffy fibers found in disposable pads â€“ in a nutshell, a lengthy series of powerful chemical baths. The rayon and pulp are further processed with a variety of bleaching agents to render them white (although not more absorbent), and then treated with another host of chemicals to enhance absorbency or add scent.
While growing cotton requires water and fertilizer, it is an easily renewable resource compared to trees, and requires relatively minimal processing to be rendered into a final product.
Dioxin is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S . While the jury is still out on the direct risk to human health posed by dioxin residue in disposable pads and tampons, its danger to the environment via effluent from factories is well known. In fairness, progress has been made in recent years to address this issue and oxygen-based bleaches are being increasingly adopted. That said, there has also been an increased adoption of use of Super Absorbent Polymers (SAPs) in the pursuit of â€śultra thinâ€ť pads, and disposable pads continue to be backed in plastic.
Precisely what all these chemicals and substances are and what their gross environmental impact might be is largely unknown, particularly in the long term. Pad and tampon manufacturers are not required to disclose ingredients of all their products (proprietary information) and many are only listed generically (â€śfragranceâ€ť as an example) on the packaging.
While we are not doctors or scientists, we have had the benefit of almost 30 years of collective experience in talking to women about their health and menstrual products, and can attest to the fact that thousands of women are experiencing allergic reactions to disposable pads and tampons, likely due to contact with the aforementioned chemicals and plastics.
The diaper â€śdebateâ€ť is clearly relevant to the issue at hand, as disposable menstrual pads and pantyliners are made from almost identical materials to disposable diapers - and cloth pads, like cloth diapers, require laundering.
Peggy Oâ€™Mara is a highly respected author, researcher and public speaker. She is the publisher, founder and editor of Mothering Magazine, the worldâ€™s only independently owned natural family living magazine. This is an excerpt from her editorial titled A Tale of Two Diapers that offers a well-researched counterpoint to the argument that the energy and resources required to care for cloth diapers â€ścancel outâ€ť their environmental benefit .
"In 1991, Carl Lehrburger undertook a life-cycle analysis of diapers, his second study for NADS (the National Association of Diaper Services). It was the most detailed study to date of the environmental impact of single-use diapers and the first one not funded by the disposables industry. Lehrburger found that, compared to reusable diapers, throwaways generate seven times more solid waste when discarded and three times more waste in the manufacturing process. In addition, effluents from the plastic, pulp, and paper industries are far more hazardous than those from the cotton-growing and -manufacturing processes. Single-use diapers consume less water than reusables laundered at home, but more than those sent to a commercial diaper service. Washing diapers at home, however, uses 50 to 70 gallons of water about every three daysâ€”about the same as flushing a regular-flow toilet five times a day. These 1991 figures for gallons of water could probably be improved on using today's more energy-efficient washing machines.
According to the American Petroleum Institute, 3.5 billion gallons of oil were used to produce the 18 million throwaway diapers that Lehrburger studied in 1991. Approximately 7 billion gallons of oil each year are required to feed our disposable-diaper habit today, almost four times as much oil as is estimated to be in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 1991, the Landbank Consultancy, an independent environmental agency in the United Kingdom, reviewed and evaluated the available research on the environmental impact of throwaway diapers. Their conclusion: compared to cloth diapers, throwaway diapers use 20 times more raw materials, three times more energy, and twice as much water; they generate 60 times more waste.â€ť (Emphases ours.)
This research can be applied to cloth pads versus disposable menstrual pads, but on a different scale. Cloth pads are much smaller than diapers, so they can be easily added to a regular load of existing laundry. A separate load is rarely needed and so the additional amount of water consumed to launder them is relatively insignificant. It is also worth noting that since these studies were done, most washing machines today are considerably more efficient in terms of their consumption of energy and water.
While itâ€™s hard to create a perfectly balanced apples-to-apples comparison, we feel there is sufficient evidence to support the claim that on balance, Lunapads, particularly ones made with organic cotton (Lunapanties are made exclusively with organic cotton) are a significantly more environmentally responsible choice than disposable pads and tampons.
We believe it is important to contextualize the issue of disposable menstrual products within a broader spectrum of waste that addresses the pervasiveness of plastic waste in general, as we feel that these product choices and consequences are related. Tampon applicators in particular are a sad sight on beaches, and are surely consumed by fish and birds with fatal results. While we have not been able to find current data on what exact percentage of total ocean plastic debris disposable pads, tampons and applicators occupy, our position is: the less, the better.
As a historical reference point, according to the Center for Marine Conservation, over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along US coastal areas between 1998 and 1999 .
Excerpt from The Plastic Sea by Paul Watson.
â€śA June 2006 United Nations environmental program report estimated that there are an average of 46,000 pieces of plastic debris floating on or near the surface of every square mile of ocean.
We live in a plastic convenience culture; virtually every human being on this planet uses plastic materials directly and indirectly every single day. Our babies begin life on Earth by using some 210 million pounds of plastic diaper liners each year; we give them plastic milk bottles and plastic toys, and buy their food in plastic jars, paying with a plastic credit card. Even avoiding those babies by using contraceptives results in mass disposal of billions of latex condoms, diaphragms, and hard plastic birth control pill containers each year.
Every year we eat and drink from some 34 billion newly manufactured bottles and containers. We patronize fast food restaurants and buy products that consume another 14 billion pounds of plastic. In total, our societies produce an estimated 60 billion tons of plastic material every year.
Each of us on average uses 190 pounds of plastic annually: bottled water, fast food packaging, furniture, syringes, computers and computer diskettes, packing materials, garbage bags and so much more. When you consider that this plastic does not biodegrade and remains in our ecosystems permanently, we are looking at an incredibly high volume of accumulated plastic trash that has been built up since the mid-20th century. Where does it go? There are only three places it can go: our earth, our air and our oceans.â€ť
There is ongoing debate about health issues surrounding disposable pads and tampons that has yet to yield definitive answers. That said, we have heard from literally thousands of individuals who have experienced rashes and infections as a result of disposable products (in fact, it was for this reason that Madeleine started making Lunapads in the first place) and hope to learn more as a result of some pending legislation in the United States, detailed below.
Excerpt from a January 31, 2008 Media Release from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloneyâ€™s office.
Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), a longtime womenâ€™s health advocate, has introduced â€śThe Robin Danielson Actâ€ť (H.R. 5181), legislation that directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research and determine the extent to which the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other tampon additives pose any health risks to women. The bill also asks the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to collect and report information on Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a rare and potentially life-threatening bacterial illness which research has associated with tampon use in women. The bill is named for a woman who died from the illness.
â€śAmerican women deserve the ability to make educated decisions about a product that could potentially endanger their health and their lives,â€ť said Rep. Maloney. â€śRight now, 73 million American women use tampons, yet there is no research that unequivocally declares them safe. Womenâ€™s health research has been put on the backburner for far too long. Itâ€™s time federal researchers looked into this common consumer product and helped make TSS a disease of the past.â€ť
The EPA has released reports identifying dioxin as a â€śprobable cancer-causing agent.â€ť Tampons currently sold in the United States are composed of rayon, cotton, or a combination of both. Rayon is produced from bleached wood pulp, and the chlorine bleaching of pulp produces a by-product of dioxin. While chlorine-free bleaching processes are available, most wood pulp manufacturers only use elemental-chlorine free bleaching processes which still use chlorine dioxide as a bleaching agent, and therefore still produce dioxin. The EPA reports that even 100 percent cotton tampons and completely chlorine-free tampons have trace amounts of dioxin because decades of pollution have caused an infiltration of dioxin in the air, water, and ground. Dioxin can still find its way into cotton and wood pulp products - and therefore tampons - because of this pollution. Currently, the reporting of TSS to the CDC is both optional and uneven. In fact, the number of TSS cases and deaths has not been reported since 2003.
Waste and health considerations aside, how well do Lunapads and other reusable options actually work? This question is tricky to answer since reusable products are made with such vastly different materials from disposables.
In the case of Lunapads, we readily admit that as soft and absorbent as cotton fleece and flannel are, when it comes to managing heavy menstrual flow over several hours, their performance lags behind that of the ultra thin high performance disposable pads. Ironically, disposable productsâ€™ superior performance with respect to absorbency is thanks to all the chemicals and plastics we discussed earlier in reference to environmental impact.
Comfort is another important consideration when it comes to assessing the performance of menstrual products, and in this case we can confidently say that our products are vastly superior to disposable products. Lunapads and Lunapanties are made with 100% cotton and 100% organic cotton, soft, natural and breathable materials that are more akin to clothing.
Knowing performance is important issue for most of us, we acknowledge that reusable pads canâ€™t be expected to perform in the same way as disposables. That said, there are in excess of 100,000 people worldwide using Lunapads who would never switch back, so clearly the chore of washing them is worth the bother. Ask yourself if you would happily return to throwing away used bottles and newspapers rather than taking the time to recycle them for a similar perspective. Many also comment on the convenience of being freed from having to repeatedly buy disposable supplies, particularly in unanticipated situations.
With respect to the DivaCup and tampons, the difference is even more marked. Have you ever felt excessively â€śdried outâ€ť by using tampons, especially towards the end of your period? This is because tampons donâ€™t just absorb your menstrual flow, they also absorb your natural vaginal moisture, which can be uncomfortable. The DivaCup is widely celebrated among customers for being more comfortable than tampons, thanks to its non-absorbent functionality that results in reduced dryness.
Reusable menstrual products present an opportunity for real financial savings, as demonstrated by the table below. We have chosen not to include two ancillary costs: utilities and detergent used to clean washable pads and the portion of property taxes used to finance garbage pickup of used disposable products and landfill maintenance.
DISPOSABLE PADS VS. LUNAPADS SAVINGS CALCULATION
|DISPOSABLE PADS||Price @ Drugstore.com||# Per Pack||Cost Per Pad||Pads per Period||Cost per 5 Years|
|Always Flexiwing Maxi Pads||$7.99||36||$0.22||20||$266.33|
|Stayfree Maxi Pads with Wings||$6.79||36||$0.19||20||$226.33|
|Seventh Generation Ultra Thin Maxi Pads||$4.29||14||$0.31||20||$367.71|
|Natracare Organic Cotton Maxi Pads||$5.49||14||$0.39||20||$470.57|
|U by Kotex Ultra Thin Maxi Pads||$7.99||36||$0.22||20||$266.33|
|U by Kotex Nite Pads with Wings||$4.49||14||$0.32||20||$384.86|
|LUNAPADS DELUXE KIT|
|Cost per 5 Years: $129.99|
|2 Mini Pads|
|2 Basic Mini Liners, 2 Mini Wing Liners|
|3 Maxi Pads|
|2 Maxi Liners, 2 Maxi Wing Liners|
|2 Long Pads|
|2 Basic Long Liners, 2 Long Wing Liners|
|Average Cost of Disposable Pads (5 Years)||$330.36|
|Cost of Lunapads Deluxe Kit (5 Years)||$129.99|
|Average Savings Using Lunapads||$200.37|
TAMPONS VS. DIVACUP SAVINGS CALCULATION
|DISPOSABLE TAMPONS & MENSTRUAL CUPS||Price @ Drugstore.com||# per Pack||Cost per Tampon||Tampons per Period||Cost per 5 Years|
|Playtex Regular Tampons||$9.99||36||$0.28||20||$333.00|
|Tampax Pearl Tampons with Applicator||$8.99||36||$0.25||20||$299.67|
|OB Non Applicator Tampons||$4.49||18||$0.25||20||$299.33|
|Seventh Generation Tampons||$5.19||20||$0.26||20||$311.40|
|U by Kotex Tampons||$8.29||36||$0.23||20||$276.33|
|REUSABLE MENSTRUAL CUP||Unit Cost||Life (Years)||Cost Per 5 Years|
|Average Cost of Disposable Tampons or Cups (5 Years)||$332.37|
|Cost of The DivaCup (5 Years)||$87.50|
|Average Savings Using The DivaCup||$244.87|
While not a direct, tangible benefit per se, many prefer to do business with smaller-scale, more accessible companies who they feel better understand their needs and are operating with clear and credible social and environmental policies.
In the 18 years that we have been marketing and developing these products, many other woman-owned companies have sprung up with product offerings and marketing messages similar to Lunapadsâ€™. In other words, there appears to be a groundswell in terms of both supply and demand â€“ people want more choices, and entrepreneurial- minded women are using their creativity and skills to provide them. These businesses tend to work with local manufacturers and suppliers, and are seen as valuable role models and practitioners of progressive values-based business practices. Lunapads is proud to count itself as a leader in this exciting movement!
Furthermore, these businesses are championing a new approach to menstruation and fertility cycles that is about empowerment and self-awareness rather than simply managing monthly flow. Whatever residual shame-based cultural attitudes may remain around menstruation, these pioneering entrepreneurs will gently yet persistently work to heal them, to the benefit of all.
But enough about what we think: just ask someone who uses reusable menstrual products about their choice and experience, or visit our Testimonials section â€“ we rest our case!