Environmental Impact of Period Products

Quick Facts

  • – Disposable products can take 500-800 years to degrade after 
  • – Period products with packaging lead to 200000 tonnes of waste each year
  • – Compared to a disposable pad a reusable pad will save an average of 1320 single-use products from going to landfill

Lilypads believe in making a positive impact on the planet. We have been able to commission research working with Zero Waste Scotland into the environmental impact of period products. And we are excited to share this with you today. 

Impact of single use period products

80-85% of respondents in Scotland reported using single-use period products. So this makes them the most popular. The life cycle of single-use period products includes the procurement of raw materials, manufacturing, distribution and disposal through landfill or incineration. We will now explore the environmental impact of this life cycle. 

Friends of Earth revealed that disposable pads contain 90% “petroleum-based plastic” with a pack of disposable pads being the equivalent of 4 plastic bags.

Raw materials extraction and production 

Single-use period products commonly use cotton. Cotton uses more harmful chemicals than any other single major crop (including 6% of world’s pesticides and 16% of world’s insecticides). These chemicals harm the ecological environment through poisoning soil and waterways, harming wildlife and humans who rely on these water sources. Cotton requires a large amount of water for growth. 20000 litres of water per kilogram. This is more water than used for plastics such as polyester production. Using rainwater and no chemicals makes it more sustainable.

Cellulose is extracted from trees and plants. This leads to plant and wood waste. Secondly, the cellulose taken from trees is contributing to deforestation. 

Synthetic fibres are widely used in sanitary products. These are extracted from fossil fuels creating harmful greenhouse gases and by-products. The process to extract, manufacture and bond these synthetic fibres takes up a large amount of energy.

Disposal

Disposal of single-use period products includes landfill and incineration, these are the least sustainable methods of disposal.  Single-use period products which end up in landfill can take between 500-800 years to degrade leaving a carbon footprint which outlives the user.

340860 single use period products are flushed down Scottish toilets each day. In the UK; 70000liners, 2.5million tampons, 1.4million pads are flushed down the toilet each day. 80% of sewer blockages are causes by flushing the wrong items down the toilets leading to flooding which can pollute waterways. This costs £14 billion each year to unblock.

Products and packaging for period products leads to 200000tonnes of waste each year. Incorrect disposal of singe use products contributes to plastic pollution of the environment and wildlife. A 2016 Marine Conservation Study found an average of 20 items per 100m of coastline. These products take years to degrade or don’t degrade and break into microplastics eaten by marine life.

Overall, the annual carbon footprint of a typical menstrual product is 5.3kgCO2e. With around 286 products used in a year per user equating to 8.830kg of CO2e a year. 

Reusable pads 

By swapping to reusable period products you can reduce your impact on the environment. Compared to a disposable pad a reusable pad will save an average of 1320 single-use products from going to landfill. So This can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 88%.

Health impact 

As well as impacting the environment, disposable pads can have an impact on your health. Pads contain chemicals including odour neutralisers and fragrances dioxins or furans from bleaching chlorine compounds, pesticides from non-organic cotton and adhesive chemicals. This is to bleach single-use products white. Tampons contain 6% plastic and a blend of cotton and synthetic rayon. Dioxins that are toxic when inhaled or ingested lead to a number of adverse effects on the skins from skin rashes and acne and more severe effects to the immune system if exposure is high. Pads also contain sodium polyacrylate crystals which can cause skin irritation such as allergic rashes. 

Lilypads want to make periods more comfy and sustainable. We are big believers in education and research to educate more people about periods and the environmental impact of period products. 

Feel free to use this article and share it but make sure to reference us. 

Help us with our mission by purchasing a set of pads from us today.  


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Learn more about why Lilypads started

Two women, founders of Lilypads reusable period pads

Lilypads began in 2018 after we discovered that many young students were being forced to engage in transactional sex in exchange for period products. These students were being forced to risk their lives and health just to remain in school.

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