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How companies are making single-use period products more sustainable

Isabel Pavia/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Every year, an estimated 45 billion menstrual products are used around the world, with each person who menstruates generating more than 400 pounds of waste in their lifetime, according to an article from Plastic Oceans International.

It’s an environmental crisis that rarely gets talked about, due to the stigma around periods themselves, August CEO Nadya Okamoto, told ABC News. The New York-based startup claims they are trying to meet consumers' preferences with their line of more sustainable pads and tampons.

“Because of the period stigma, there hasn’t been the same level of accountability,” Okamoto said.

Okamoto said August’s products decompose at faster rates than the standard tampons and pads, but admits they aren’t perfect. The organization's tampon applicators are still made of plastic which, while they may be recyclable, depending on the jurisdiction, often get discarded in the trash.

“Applicators are very much a U.S. thing. I know in Europe and in places overseas, digital tampons, non-applicator tampons, are a lot more of the norm. A lot of this is from embedded fear of touching your own period blood,” Okamoto said.

The company’s tampons and pads are made of organic cotton and fully biodegradable within 12 months, Okamoto said.

But some argue that products ending up in landfills outweighs the potential benefits of using sustainable materials.

“A landfill is intended to entomb these products forever and ever, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s 500 years or three years,” Dr. Susan Powers told ABC News.

Powers studies the life cycle of period products, from extraction of materials to decomposition. She advocates for the use of reusable products over single use.

“Cardboard or no applicator is a far better choice. Plastics are recyclable, and they’ve got their little triangle on them. Well, it’s not recyclable everywhere. In general, the reusable is always going to be far superior to any disposable,” Powers said.

August argues that even in conditions where products aren’t able to degrade, using organic, biodegradable and compostable materials still reduces water usage and overall carbon emissions.

ABC News has reached out to leading tampon and pad manufactures about issues of sustainability and concerns that their products contribute to overflowing landfills and the environmental problems caused by that. They have not responded.

Single-use tampons and pads are by far the most popular choice for Americans today, but alternative options, like period underwear and menstrual cups, are gaining traction. However, the initial cost for these reusable products often sways people from making the eco-friendly switch.

In the meantime, Okamoto wants to bring more awareness to the lack of sustainability in traditional period products.

“How do we brainstorm the most sustainable solution that people will actually use as we push the whole industry to be more sustainable?” Okamoto said.

 

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