February 25 2021 | Written by Madi Hanaka (She/Her), Graphics by Sissi Chen (She/Her)
“As I wrapped my used tampon in toilet paper, I casually checked over my shoulder to locate the bathroom garbage when I immediately made an anxiety-inducing discovery. Shit. There’s no garbage in here.”
If you read my last blog post, this story may sound familiar to you. If you haven’t, here’s the spark notes version: the lack of garbage bin in my boyfriend’s bathroom forced me to carry my used tampon home with me.
Following this blog post, I made a TikTok about my experience with the missing garbage bin and posted it to the Marlow page. While it seemed obvious that bathrooms without garbage bins are a menstruator’s nightmare, the hundreds of comments on this TikTok proved that people are not in agreement when it comes to the proper disposal of menstrual products. Here are just a few of the many comments we received on this post:
“Wait I thought we’re supposed to flush them..”
“I flush mine. The ones I buy say it’s okay to lmao”
“I know I’m the worst but I flush mine”
“Just flush it”
“Isn’t she trying to toss the wrapper of the new one? Because I do that. Flush the used one and wrap the used inserter”
“Guys you’re supposed to flush them.”
It didn’t stop there. As I continued to research this topic, I found the same question being posed across multiple platforms.
This reddit thread showed similar debate. One commenter even wrote “Had a friend who flushed sanitary pads, she thought that was what you were supposed to do because her mother and sister did too.”
These comments and posts came as an absolute shock to me. Growing up, my mom always stressed the importance of keeping tampons out of the toilet bowl, and now I’m reading hundreds of people suggesting that I do the exact opposite. I thought to myself: am I missing something? Have I been avoiding flushing my tampons for no reason? In this week’s blog, we are deep diving into this topic and getting to the bottom of one very important question: to flush, or not to flush?
The main motivation for flushing menstrual products is convenience - why spend extra time wrapping and disposing of your products when you can simply flush them like toilet paper? Well, the answer is that menstrual products are not like toilet paper. According to Liz Sutton of the Women’s Environment Network, tampons take approximately 6 months to biodegrade, and pads/liners last forever. Toilet paper breaks down in a matter of seconds. By flushing your tampons down the toilet, you are directly contributing to blockage in pumps and water screening systems.
“But some tampons are labelled as biodegradable!”
Yes, some tampons are marketed as “biodegradable”, but they still take a considerable amount of time to break down. This means that in the interim, flushed products will overwhelm the water-waste systems and accumulate over time.
In theory, flushing a few compostable items down the toilet wouldn’t hurt, but multiply that by the sheer number of menstruators out there, and the amount of products being flushed will inevitably lead to drain blockage and floods. Not only does this gravely impact the environment, it can also lead to hefty plumbing bills. According to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, flushing products like wipes, paper towels and tampons cause billions of dollars per year in maintenance and repair costs, and these costs get passed onto consumers.
Big name tampon companies are also in agreement. Brands like Tampax, Kotex and Playtex all clearly state on their websites that users should absolutely not flush their products down the toilet, but rather wrap them in toilet paper and dispose of them via a waste bin.
When it comes to flushing your menstrual products, the risk just isn’t worth the reward. In the long term, you will not only be doing the planet a favour but also saving yourself the stress of clogging your toilet, or someone else’s. As stated by the City of Ottawa in a recent Youtube ad, “your toilet is not a green bin or a garbage can, only flush the 3 Ps - Pee, Poo and (toilet) Paper”.
While it definitely saves a few seconds to toss your tampon in the toilet bowl, those 2 seconds of convenience cause consistent problems in our water systems. Save the environment, save your energy, and save your money... stick to the bin!