We receive many questions around flushing and disposing of tampons correctly, therefore we thought it would be useful to explain exactly how to dispose of these types of products and improve your ecological footprint. Let’s get into it!
There are plenty of sustainable ways to dispose of tampons and other period products, but flushing them down the toilet is a big no-no. Why? Because tampons, pantyliners and pads can block plumbing pipes and eventually lead to a backflow of sewage (super gross!). And more importantly, the effects on the environment cannot be ignored.
As it stands, tampons are the most commonly flushed ‘unflushable’ products. In a survey by our partners phs, *42% of participants had flushed them in the last 2 years. So, next time you’re wondering; “Can you flush a tampon down a toilet?”, the answer is “absolutely not” – no matter how tempting and convenient it might seem.
Disposing of tampons is simple and easy. All you have to do is wrap the used tampon in some toilet paper and throw it in the bin — that’s it! And if you happen to use pads or pantyliners, the same logic applies. Wrap the used products in toilet paper or product packaging before throwing them away. Most public restrooms have a small bin located right next to the toilet for easy access. It’s also important to wrap the products to prevent anyone else from coming into contact with bodily fluids, especially when cleaning out the bin. We want to make their job as easy as possible.
Don’t shy away from enjoying the great outdoors while on your period. If you remember to bring along some small sealable bags (ideally the eco-friendly ones), you’ll be good to go. Simply pop the used tampons in the bag and throw them away when you have access to a bin again. Steer clear from paper bags to avoid period blood leaks. It’s also a great idea to carry some wipes or tissue with you to clean up when changing tampons outdoors. Make sure the wipes/tissue are also sealed in the disposal bag.
There are biodegradable tampons on the market. Nevertheless, whether a tampon is made from 100% biodegradable materials or not, it should never be flushed. As mentioned, tampons can cause blockages in pipes and sewers. Despite containing materials that are biodegradable, they still don’t break down fast enough in water! On top of all that, blockages in the sewer systems can also lead to flooding, with sewage getting into rivers and seas.
Many tampons contain small amounts of plastic in the string and in the smooth cover on the surface of the tampon (this helps with tampon insertion and removal!). This plastic could take hundreds of years to break down, contributing to plastic in the ocean. As you can see from all of this, we do advise that only the 3 “P”’s (Pee, Poop and Paper) are flushed down the loo.
As well as period products, items like cotton wool, cotton buds, condoms, baby wipes, face wipes, paper towels and dental floss should also never be flushed. Always dispose of these items in your general household waste bin.
Plenty of people know that you shouldn’t be flushing period products, however, there are several socio-psychological factors that prompt them to make this decision anyway.** In many cases, tampon flushing is a habit that becomes second nature, especially because people think their family and friends do the same. They’ll remove the tampon and go into autopilot while on the toilet. As a result, they flush every tampon they use — yikes! In the UK alone, ***2.4 million tampons get flushed down the toilet on a daily basis leading to an unimaginable amount of waste.
Another motivator for tampon flushing is hygiene and an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude towards disposal. It’s been instilled in hundreds and thousands of people that it’s “cleaner” to flush the tampon because it’s no longer in your immediate space. This is reinforced by the false belief that periods are shameful.
In a survey conducted by Mumsnet in 2016, *41% of women didn’t know that tampons should not be flushed. This makes it clear that public education is essential to addressing the issue of period product waste. We all need to play an active role in ending period stigma and highlighting eco-friendly ways for people to dispose of tampons.
More than *half (55%) of sewer flooding is caused by blockages in sewers and drains, leading to flooding and pollution. A big contributor to these blockages is menstrual products being flushed. By the end of the Great British Beach Clean in 2021, an average of **4.8 pieces of menstrual waste were found per 100m of beach cleaned and sewer-related debris accounted for 6.3% of collected litter. However, if we use period products in an environmentally responsible manner, this narrative could change.
Long story short, tampons are not flushable and we always recommend being a binner, not a flusher! Continuous improvement is key to sustainability and it’s an ongoing journey that we are committed to. As a result, Lil-Lets is taking the ‘small but real steps’ approach, ensuring our actions add up to big changes in the future. We are always looking at ways to innovate, reducing plastic and waste as much as possible. We will continue our journey of educating and creating conversations around these important topics and we encourage you to do the same with friends and family. After all, creating safe spaces to talk about menstruation can help to normalise periods and end the stigma.
*https://www.phs.co.uk/media/3307/phs-water-pollution-whitepaper.pdf [Accessed: 9 December 2022]
**https://www.water.org.uk/news-item/only-flush-poo-pee-and-paper [Accessed: 9 December 2022]
***https://www.phs.co.uk/about-phs/expertise-news/period-shame-causing-plastic-pollution [Accessed: 7 November 2022]
If you flush a tampon, it can potentially block the plumbing and sewage pipes. This leads to a build-up of sewage — a major health and environmental hazard.
If you accidentally flush a tampon, it will probably make it through your toilet plumbing. However, it will also contribute to blockage in the sewer caused by various other sanitary products, plastics, etc. Make sure flushing tampons doesn’t become a habit and you’ll be fine.
You cannot flush biodegradable tampons. Although these tampons are known to be better for the environment, they still won't break down fast enough within sewage water and can potentially block sewage. Like any other period product, you should dispose of tampons in the bin.
You can dispose of tampons at home by wrapping them in toilet paper and throwing them in the bin. It’s recommended to keep a small bin in your toilet/bathroom to make the process easier.