Scary statistics

14 07 2010

A good friend of mine and her business partner have taken on another business — one that you wouldn’t normally think of, and one that some people might feel uncomfortable about discussing in their 30-second ‘elevator pitch’.

Their new business is Moon Pads (, and they make and sell washable menstrual products (or ‘feminine hygiene’ products as the advertisers would like us to say, demurely). Their products don’t use chemicals for absorption, are reusable, last for years, and don’t go to landfill.

Well, I was chatting to Suzanne via instant messaging today (she’s based in Tasmania), and we were talking about her new business and how it was going. She also sent me a prototype of their new brochure for my opinion. And I got to thinking about this chemicals-going-to-landfill thing with respect to the commercial, disposable menstrual products that Western women (at least) have been using for the past 60+ years. And I started to think about some statistics. And it was scary.

There are some 6.5 billion people in the world, but for ease of calculation, let’s make that 6 billion. Half of them are women (3 billion), and of those a good proportion are between 12 and 55 (again, I’m using these ages as approximations for the onset of puberty through to menopause). As I don’t know what women in places like many African nations, India and China do about menstrual products, I’m going to assume that they don’t use the commercial, disposable, chemical things those in the so-called developed countries do. That removes some 1.5 billion women from my estimates (1 billion alone from China and India, and I’m guessing another half billion from Africa). Let’s remove another half billion of those left to account for those who are under 12 or over 55.

What we’re left with is approximately 1 billion women of reproductive age in the so-called developed world. Now it gets interesting…

Let’s assume that EACH woman in that 1 billion cohort:

  • has 12 periods per year
  • has her period for 5 days per month
  • uses an average of 4 tampons or pads per day of their period
  • has periods for approximately 40 years of their lives

So, each woman will use some 9600 disposable tampons or pads (12 x 5 x 4 x 40) over their menstrual life.

Over 40 years, and assuming 1 billion fertile women from the so-called developed nations, that’s 9600 BILLION disposable tampons and pads that are sent to landfill or incineration for the chemicals to leach out into the earth’s groundwater or pollute the earth’s atmosphere. That’s some 240 BILLION per year!! And I think my numbers are conservative. If you add another billion to represent the fertile women of Africa and India and China, double those figures.

This is BIG business — and it has terrible environmental consequences.

From Wikipedia (

The materials used to manufacture most pads are derived from the petroleum industry and forestry. The absorbent core, made from chlorine bleached wood pulp … with the addition of polyacrylate gels …. The remaining materials are mostly derived from the petroleum industry, the cover stock used is polypropylene …, with the leakproof barrier made from polyethylene film. The extraction, production and manufacture of these plastics contributes nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide – ozone depleting gases; human toxins that lead to cancer and birth defects as well as chemicals that cause the acidification of trees. The high plastic content of these products ensures they remain in our environment for centuries as they are neither biodegradable nor recyclable. Disposal of used sanitary products by either flushing out into the oceans of the world, incinerating or depositing in landfill creates various pollutants including dioxins deposited in the sea through sewerage waste and air pollution from incinerators.

No wonder Suzanne and her business partner have taken on the production of reusable, washable menstrual products. Even if only a small percentage of fertile women switched to cloth, the environmental savings would be enormous. (And yes, I know that various chemicals were used in manufacturing the cloth used in reusable napkins. But this would be nowhere near the amount of petrochemicals used to produce the commercial, disposable products.)

And then there are the savings to your wallet. A package of around 12 pads costs between $5 and $6 here in Australia. Assuming you used two packs per period, that’s some $10-$12 per month or $120 to $144 per year. Cloth pads from my friends’ store ( average about $15 each, so to cover two days’ worth, you’d need about eight ($120). But this outlay covers you for many years of use, not just one year.

Maybe it’s time women stopped being conned by the ‘health’ industry into thinking that they have to use these highly-manufactured and environmentally toxic products and that there aren’t alternatives.

I’ll try not to think of the other disposable things manufactured with lots of chemicals that we can’t live without these days, like tissues (when I was a kid, we all had cotton hankies — when did tissues become the ONLY thing to use?). I’m as guilty as anyone of using tissues, paper towels, and similar. Perhaps handkerchiefs and cotton hand towels need to make a comeback?



One response

12 01 2011
sanitary disposal units

Yes. your assumptions is right. I m sure no one gonna use above mentioned commercial, disposable things in both china and India.

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