Written by: Maya Galinsky
Have "sustainable" menstrual brands been gaslighting you (literally) with their CO2 footprint?
The world is plastered with signs preaching sustainability and eco-friendly products. The menstrual product industry has significantly jumped onto this movement. Brands pop up left and right, promising a better tomorrow through 100% organic cotton menstrual products. They keep ensuring that we support an eco-conscious Earth if we buy their tampons or pads.
There has been an increasing demand for 100% organic cotton tampons. The focus on health and comfort has led to a more conscious-based market. According to Market Watch, the global Organic and Natural Tampons market was valued at $602.94 million in 2021 and is expected to reach $900 million by 2027, about a quarter of the world’s total tampons market.
Who doesn’t like the idea of making a sustainable swap for something that’s a necessity? On a large majority of these brands, one can find their CO2 footprint campaign. Carbon footprint tells you how much global warming a product cause throughout its life cycle. Sounds great, no?
The Environmental Footprint Method also exists, aka the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA includes environmental impact categories that cover 15+ different impact outcomes, including C02 emissions. Comparatively to the Carbon footprint method, the LCA is the “complete environmental impact package of a product.” The thought then occurred, why haven’t our glorified-trailblazer sustainability menstrual brands educated the public on this? Moreover, shouldn’t they want to? And if not, how come?
As someone who loves and adores these impactful mission-fueled menstrual brands, I realized I must separate my admiration and dig deeper. And let me tell you, once I did, I realized that there are many more environmental crises worth caring about.
The understanding that there are more environmental factors besides carbon footprint is not an outlandish statement to grasp. Yet it is easy to overlook the doubts when the sustainable menstrual industry has all backed behind this campaign strategy. The real question is, why haven’t these brands acknowledged this? So much of the public’s education has come from their brand’s educators.
Is there a reason companies glorify CO2 emissions and do not acknowledge LCA? Here lies the investigation, which single-use menstrual products are better, Conventional or Organic? So, let’s break it down. The single-use menstrual products on the market include Organic tampons (TO), Conventional Tampons (TC), Organic Pads (PO), and Conventional Pads (PC).
In figure 1: you can see Einhorn’s results of their LCA assessment. The color scale shows the level of impact (green is the lowest impact, and red is the highest impact).
Here’s what the results indicate. The organic pad (PO) shows the worst result/greatest impact out of all four single-use products. Afterward comes the organic tampons (TO), followed by conventional tampons (TC), and then (the best of the four single-use products), the conventional pad (PC).
These results are shocking because we have, up until now, associated organic cotton with lower environmental impacts. One of the main reasons for these results is the high amount of organic cotton needed in organic pads (PO). A higher amount of organic cotton is required to maintain a three drops absorption capacity to have the same absorption capacity as conventional products.
Additionally, organic cotton production strongly affects land use, terrestrial, marine and freshwater eutrophication, acidification, ecotoxicity freshwater, and respiratory inorganics.
It is critical to differentiate that organic cotton doesn’t necessarily mean it is terrible for the environment. The greater weight of cotton required and the packaging are also relevant to these findings.
These sustainable organic menstrual brands should be more transparent with their customers. It doesn’t sit well, and I can’t help but feel like trust was lost. The world has relied upon much of its menstruation education by leaning on these brands. Now, a wall of doubt and hesitation has emerged. What once, though, represented awareness was just a means of a half-true tactic of marketing. The next step that should be taken in this pursuit of truth is for us, the consumers, to ask these brands to report their products’ full environmental impacts. This way, customers can access all knowledge before heading to checkout.
Organic and Natural Tampons Market Size with Emerging Growth | Top Key Players, Production Capacity Estimates, Revenue, Competitive Environment and SWOT Analysis | 2023-2027. (2022, November 24). MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/organic-and-natural-tampons-market-size-with-emerging-growth-top-key-players-production-capacity-estimates-revenue-competitive-environment-and-swot-analysis-2023-2027-2022-11-24
Nickel, L. (2022, November 3). CO2 footprint vs. Environmental footprint of products– The main differences. Ecochain. https://ecochain.com/knowledge/product-co2-footprint-vs-environmental-footprint/.
Vilabrille Paz, C., Ciroth, A., Mitra, A., Birnbach, M. and Wunsch, N. (2020) Comparative Life cycle assessment of menstrual products. GreenDelta GmbH, commissioned by einhorn products GmbH