Are tampons biodegradable? Can they be composted?

Single-use plastic is often in the headlines. We are encouraged to opt for bamboo drinking straws and re-usable shopping bags – but our use of single-use menstrual products rarely gets mentioned. In 2018, in the U.S., women bought 5.8 billion tampons – the waste is colossal! What are the alternatives to putting them in the trash? Are tampons biodegradable and can they be composted?

What are tampons made from? Do tampons contain plastic?

The exact materials that tampons are made from vary from brand to brand. Generally, tampons are made from cotton and/or rayon (a man-made cellulosic fiber derived from plants). Plastics are also a key ingredient for some brands. Often a layer of polyethylene or polypropylene can be found in the main part of the tampon and even in the string. The tampon applicators, the tube that helps with insertion, are generally made from plastic or cardboard.

However, thankfully, there are more and more eco-friendly brands coming onto the market which have fewer/or even no synthetic ingredients at all.

So, are tampons biodegradable?

An item is biodegradable if it can be broken down naturally by micro-organisms such as bacteria. Items made from natural materials, in essence, can return to nature.

As you may have guessed, some tampons are biodegradable and some are not – it depends on what they are made of. Those made of cotton and/or rayon will biodegrade. However, if any plastic is present in the tampon this part will not biodegrade. Plastics will break down eventually into smaller and smaller pieces, but this is not the same as biodegradation. It does not return to nature – it simply gets smaller and can cause chaos in the environment. In terms of the applicator, the plastic variety won’t biodegrade but the cardboard variety will.

It is useful to note that, as with all biodegradable items, optimal conditions are vital for biodegradation. Landfill is not just a massive compost pile like people sometimes imagine. Poor airflow and moisture levels make the breakdown process significantly slower than breakdown figures quoted. Keep this in mind when you throw any biodegradable item in the trash – even your biodegradable tampons could still be around for a much longer time than you’d expect!

Can tampons be composted? Even used ones?!

Composting is a great way for disposing of waste – whilst creating a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. Its no surprise that it is becoming more and more popular as households seek to minimize their impact on the planet. It is a common misconception that if an item is biodegradable that it automatically qualifies for the compost bin. This is, unfortunately, not the case. ‘Biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are not the same thing. A biodegradable item will be excluded if, say, it contains chemicals or other substances that will contaminate the pile.

Tampons can be composted if made from purely biodegradable materials. However, if you use brands that still opt for plastic, they will only partially breakdown. Although the parts of the tampon made from the natural ingredients will biodegrade, the plastic parts won’t and will live on in your compost pile forevermore…

There is conflicting advice on the topic of composting used tampons. But, used tampons can be composted – in fact, blood is a great source of minerals for your pile. However, it is important to consider that blood (straight from the body – and not treated in any way) is a biological waste. Menstrual blood contains bacteria and could potentially contain pathogens that you don’t really want to be adding. Our advice? Err on the side of caution – add the final product to ornamental plants rather than edible ones…

Considerations when composting tampons…

Firstly, as when composting anything, it is a good idea to cut up the tampon into small pieces. This allows it to be mixed throughout the pile, but also gives the composting bacteria more surface area to work its magic on. If you are unable to do this, don’t worry, it is not absolutely necessary – they will just take a little bit longer to break down.

As you might know – composting materials can be split into two main types. ‘Green’ materials refer to items that are rich in nitrogen such as coffee grounds and fresh grass clippings. ‘Browns’ are rich in carbon and include items such as linen. Used tampons have an element of both. The cotton and rayon are carbon rich, so fall neatly into the ‘brown’ category. However, the fresh blood adds a ‘green’ element.

It is important to ensure you have an adequate mixture of both ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ in your compost pile. As with all composting, a bit of trial-and-error is required, but you won’t go far wrong with a 1:1 ratio. Monitor it and adjust as you go. If you take the correct steps to make sure your compost pile is healthy, you should find composting tampons quite a simple process. However, if you are new to composting, we have answered some of the most common newbie questions here to help you on your way.

The bottom line

Diverting waste from landfill is a great way to reduce your impact on the planet. If you do not want to use re-usable options just yet, using plastic-free tampons and adding them to the compost pile will cut your monthly menstruation waste significantly. As far as composting goes, tampons are fairly straightforward – just cut them up and mix them in. Voila.

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How to Deal With Your Period on the Appalachian Trail

One day, while driving together to do a story about the Appalachian Trail, Suzannah — my delightful, intelligent girlfriend — spoke to me in code.

First, she looked all around my small car to make sure no one was listening, although we were alone. She lowered her voice and gave me the dreaded “we need to talk” look. I was scared.

Suzannah: “Robert?”

Me, nervously, not having a clue what to expect: “What, honey?”

Suzannah: “What do women do when they . when they . you know . on the trail?”

Of course I had no idea what she meant. As with most guys, she finally had to speak louder, move her arms, draw pictures and use words no longer than two syllables for me to “get it.”

“How do women hiking the Appalachian Trail deal with having their periods?”

There are two kinds of people in this world:

  1. Women who have monthly “periods” for most of their lives.
  2. Men who complain and pity themselves when the women in their lives have their periods.

As a member of Group 2, I had absolutely no idea how to answer that question.

Megan

Megan “Hashbrown” The Appalachian Trail Girl

Perhaps that will provide some insight into how happy I was when I read Megan “Hashbrown” Maxwell’s blog, Appalachian Trail Girl.

Megan wisely posted the answers to this quandry, as originally written by guest blogger, Emily “Yellow Tail” Flynn — a 2012 AT Thru-Hiker, student midwife and Childbirth Educator in training. (Those, friends, are worthy credentials.)

With the explicit written and verbal assent from Hashbrown and Yellow Tail, we happily present to you the article originally posted at Appalachian Trail Girl.

emily yellow tail

There are times when writers are territorial and unwilling to allow their material to be shared. Emily and Megan idealize writers who want to help hikers navigate the Appalachian Trail happily, safely and fearlessly.

AppalachianTrail.com is in their debt.

Here’s the original story from AppalachianTrailGirl.com:

Guest Contributor: Dealing With Your Period on the Trail

Here is something that’s often asked from one outdoorsy chick to another outdoorsy chick, but which isn’t often addressed openly: What the heck do you do when you’re out in the backcountry and you have your period?

It’s not fun, let’s just be clear. It’s hard enough to float through 3-7 days of cramping and paranoia about the back of your pants getting stained, now add: only possessing one pair of pants/one skirt at any given time, not showering for 7+ days at a time, seeing a flush toilet maybe every 5 days, worrying about Leave No Trace rules, having to conserve water, and being surrounded primarily by men for 6 months straight. Yeah, menstruating just took on a whole new level of nuisance.

Well, luckily, there are some interesting alternatives to the typical “feminine products” (oh how I despise all the terms for period aids) that offer some health and environmental perks on and off the trail. It may seem like some weird, hippie stuff, but many women report having more comfort and protection from the alternatives than traditional products, even while at home.

Here are a few products to try:

  • Non-applicator tampons. They can be a little tricky to get used to if you haven’t used them before, but try them out before you head out hiking. The trash you have to pack out is just the thin plastic wrapper and eventually the used tampon. As a general rule of thumb, even off trail, try to stick to non-scented and non-bleached tampons to minimize the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrom (TSS) and other infections due to changes in pH from the chemicals used in the production process.
  • Diva Cup. This is a flexible silicone cup that you insert just like a non-applicator tampon. There are a number of awesome benefits to this little do-dad. For backcountry trips, nothing could be easier to pack, use, clean, and re-use than the Diva Cup. When it becomes full (you can tell when you start to have some leaking, just like with a tampon), you just pull out, dump out, and stick back in! It comes in a small sleeve you can discreetly pack away. It’s a one-time investment of about $40, which makes economic and logistical sense on the trail. There are also disposable versions of this called “Instead”s. You can use one per day and they are safe to sleep in. http://divacup.com/
  • Sea Sponge. Okay, this is going to be the hardest sell, but I used a sea sponge for the 6 months I was hiking and it’s my normal go-to for that time of the month. It is literally a sea sponge you use like a tampon. Think about a soft, squishy bath loofah. It comes in a pack of 2, usually for just $20 and you cut it to your size and can carry it in a linen pouch that could fit in your pocket. It works the same as the Diva Cup in terms of re-usability, but needs to be rinsed off at the end of the day. My favorite part of the sponge is that it’s so comfortable and safe that you can sleep in it. That made a huge difference for me on the trail. Biggest downside, it was a tad messier than a Diva Cup, which got a little tricky at times. http://jadeandpearl.com/sea-pearls-sea-sponge-tampons/
  • Moon Pads. This is a re-usable pad made from a thick flannel. I personally find these somewhat uncomfortable for longer hikes, but usually the most comfortable option for nighttime protection. The advantages of having these while hiking is that they can be easily washed, dried, and re-worn, and come with the same cost and eco benefits as the other re-usable methods. You don’t have to stress too much about LNT or packing out piles of bloody garbage. The clear disadvantage of these is that you do need to carry them around for your whole trip. These might be better suited for shorter backcountry trips and normal monthly use than thru-hiking, but they are an option that minimizes the stress of re-supply. http://www.newmoonpads.com/home.html
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It’s important to talk a little about Leave No Trace (LNT) when discussing having your period in the backcountry. I was totally unaware of most of the LNT principles on my first few hiking trips and had the great misfortune of having to learn how to pee outside AND deal with my period while deep in the Big Sur backcountry for 4 days. I’ve since been properly schooled on pack in, pack out, and keeping proper hygiene while maintaining trail etiquette.

Guidelines:

  • Do keep your hands clean! This is easier said than done. On the AT, water wasn’t a huge issue, so I normally washed my hands with drinking water, or some water collected stream side. If you’re hiking in an area where water is scarce and clean drinking water a priority, pack in some wipes, some bio-degradable camp soap, and/or some antibacterial cream. I normally shun the latter, but it’s important to have clean hands before and after insertion of whatever method you’re using.
  • Don’t wash your used products directly in your water source. Try to obtain some water and clean your products over a cat hole at least 200 ft from camp, trail, water, etc.
  • Don’t bury used products! You absolutely need to pack out your used pads, tampons, and wipes. It might be a good idea to carry extra plastic bags for this so you don’t need to mix this trash in with your food trash. Don’t put these things in composting toilets, either. Think about the poor trail maintainers who’d have to fish them out.
  • Do keep yourself clean. Not the easiest task when a shower might be a week away, but try and maintain some general cleanliness with your person and your clothes during this time. I pack extra toilet paper and water during that time to try to stay clean. It’s a pain in the butt, but worth the extra effort. No one wants a UTI or yeast infection while in the backcountry!

Like any new gear, it’s a good idea to test out the product before relying on it in the wilderness. Give your Diva Cup or sponge or whatever a whirl for a month or two before setting off with it for a backcountry adventure.

Emily thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2012 and started off as a solo hiker. She is a birth and postpartum doula, student midwife, and Childbirth Educator in training. Originally from Philadelphia, she is in the process of moving to Durango, CO. She has written about legal issues, women’s rights, birth options, and female adventures for various online and print sources. She kept a blog of her journeys along the AT called “Lincoln Logs and Barbies.” You can read more of Yellow Tail’s journey at www.eflynnand2000miles.tumblr.com.

This past year I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. In 2011 I graduated from the Ohio State University with a BA in English. My first section hike was a solo trip in 2010. I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve been addicted to the trail ever since. I created this blog with the hopes that I can inspire other women to hit the trail and have confidence in their hiking and camping abilities. If you have any suggestions or comments, let me know. If you wish to be a contributor, email me with you ideas. I can be reached at meganmaxwell234@gmail.com

Thanks again to Megan, Emily and Suzannah.

Click Here for Appalachian Trail Girl’s Blog

Click Here for the Emily “Yellow Tail” Blog: Lincoln Logs & Barbies

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.

Can biodegradable tampons be dropped on hiking trail

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Our organic tampons come in a range of combo or single absorbencies to keep you leak free ALWAYS.

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Eco tampons delivered to your door

Save 15% with every order – just £4.99!

UMM. I HAVE A QUESTION?

If you can’t find your answer here, please email hiya@hereweflo.co and our customer love team will have the answer you need.

One of our beliefs at Here We Flo is that every single person is different and the products they will need will also be different based on their flows, their bodies and their personal preferences.

We literally like to give life to the saying ‘to each their own’. That being said, and working under the assumption that nobody knows you like you do, if you still need a little help deciding what you need, here’s a peek into our top sellers: the bamboo ‘combo’ pad pack, the eco-applicator ‘combo’ pack & the bamboo liners. Hopefully one of those will be up your valley!

We always recommend using the lowest absorbency possible to your FLO. The risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, which is associated with the use of tampons, increases with higher absorbency tampons, so we always recommend you use the lowest absorbency that meets your needs on each day of your period.

We offer combo packs for both of our bamboo applicator and non-applicator tampons, featuring both Super and Regular tampons. So, if your flow is heavier at the beginning of your period but lighter towards the end, you can adjust accordingly without needing 2 different boxes of tampons!

A good way to test which type of FLO you’ve got is to use the Regular absorbency tampon and, if it becomes full and starts to leak in less than 4 hours, you’ll know you need a Super instead. Another way that you can reduce the risk of TSS is by alternating your tampon use with the use of pads. Our FLO bamboo pads will work brilliantly for that!

We’ve got you SO covered! Did you know that our glo range, even if technically designed for bladder leaks, work perfectly for heavier flows?

Well, now you know! Our brilliant glo bamboo ‘regular’ and ‘long’ sensitive bladder pads are very well-suited to the heavy-duty period stuff ️‍♂️.

Featuring 3D-leak barriers, a charcoal core and high absorbency bamboo, they’ll offer you all the comfort and the protection you need!

They might have that same look and feel of plastic wrappers but ours are made from nature-flex (cornstarch) our 100% plastic-free + compostable!

Please never flush any type of period care down the toilet regardless of biodegradability unless stated otherwise – It can wreak havoc on the water systems and wildlife.

We recommend you dispose of them in the general waste bin, and they will naturally biodegrade in landfill in a few years. How wonderful is that? In contrast, the existing corporate alternatives take 100+ years to biodegrade.

FLO eco-applicator tampons: the tampons themselves are 100% compostable. However, there are still no official compostability guidelines for menstrual products, as experts themselves are conflicted due to the ‘medical waste’ nature of used period care products. So we recommend you dispose of them in the general waste bin, and they will naturally biodegrade in landfill in a few years. How wonderful is that? In contrast, the existing corporate alternatives take 100+ years to biodegrade.

The tampon wrappers are 100% recyclable (to be replaced by compostable, plant-based wrappers in Summer 2021).

And the tampon applicators themselves are made of a 95% plant-based (sugarcane) biopolymer and are recyclable (please check locally).

FLO non-applicator tampons: 100% compostable (including the wrappers!), making them the most sustainable single-use products on the market.

As above, because compostability in the period product category is a new and still debated topic, we recommend you dispose of your tampons in the general waste bin, and they will naturally biodegrade in landfill in a few years. That’s much less than mainstream products, whose biodegradation takes over 100 years!

Applicator tampons are very popular in the UK and US, less so everywhere else in Europe. So you might be prompted to use one or the other (or none at all!) based on your background.

Objectively speaking, the applicator tampons (albeit 95% plant-based & recyclable) still bring waste into the world. If it’s not rinsed and properly recycled, it’ll end up in landfill and contribute to unnecessary pollution.

However, we’re not here to shame you for your choices – applicators are very helpful in securing the tampon inside your vagina, which is especially useful if you’ve never tried tampons before. So whether you choose to go with or without, we’re here for you!

FLO eco-friendly non-applicator tampons are 100% compostable – from tampon to wrapper, which means they’re the most sustainable / least wasteful single-use period product on the market.

If sustainability is very important to you but you can’t deal with a menstrual cup, then this is the one for you.

The only difference between our retail products and our subscription products is the packaging: you’ll only find our sweets-inspired packs and ice-cream tubs in stores .

Our femcare subscription range comes in our adorable pink letterbox-friendly cardboard packs, but the contents are exactly the same!

This is for logistical as well as sustainability reasons, as we want to make sure we use as little packing and shipping materials as we can and our carbon footprint remains at a minimum!

Oh, and single-absorbency packs are only available on our website for now.

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5% of our profits go to people + planet, via charities who are fighting period poverty and FGM.

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Source https://thinkofthepandas.com/2022/03/21/are-tampons-biodegradable-can-they-be-composted/

Source https://appalachiantrail.com/advice/how-to-deal-with-your-period-on-the-appalachian-trail/

Source https://www.hereweflo.co/pages/organic-biodegradable-tampons

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