Environment and waste
Ecological impact varies according to disposal method (whether a tampon is flushed down the toilet or placed in a garbage bin - the latter is the recommended option). Factors such as tampon composition will likewise impact sewage treatment plants or waste processing. The average woman may use approximately 11,400 tampons in her lifetime (if she uses only tampons rather than other products). Tampons are made of cotton, rayon, polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene, and fiber finishes. Aside from the cotton, rayon and fiber finishes, these materials are not bio-degradable. Organic cotton tampons are biodegradable, but must be composted to ensure they break down in a reasonable amount of time. Rayon was found to be more biodegradable than cotton .
Environmentally friendly alternatives to using tampons are the menstrual cup, reusable sanitary pads, menstrual sponges and reusable tampons. Menstrual cups are silicone cups that are worn inside the vagina to collect the fluid. Reusable sanitary pads are similar to disposable sanitary pads, but differ in the sense that they can be washed and used as many times as needed by the owner. For women who cannot or don't want to use a menstrual cup, but like internal products, sea sponges inserted like tampons may be a good option. These can also be washed out and reused and when they lose their absorbency can be composted. Some women have also made reusable tampons, often pieces of knit or crocheted fabric that are rolled up and inserted into the vagina, and later washed, dried and reused. These alternatives are environmentally friendly because they are reusable, and in some cases compostable, so they contribute less waste to landfills.
Alternatives also include reusable absorbent underwear.
The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm carried out a life cycle assessment (LCA) comparison of the environmental impact of tampons and sanitary pads. Their “cradle to grave” assessment of the raw material extraction, transportation, production, use and waste management stages took three main impact categories into consideration: human health, ecosystem quality and resource use. They found that the main environmental impact of the products was in fact caused by the processing of raw materials, particularly LDPE (low density polyethelene) – or the plastics used in the backing of pads and tampon applicators, and cellulose production. As production of these plastics requires a lot of energy and creates long-lasting waste, the main impact from the life cycle of these products is fossil fuel use, though the waste produced is significant in its own right.