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Eco-friendly womens' business

G-Online

Greening 'that time of the month'

Womens' underwear

Credit: iStockphoto

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Did you know the average woman uses a combination of 11,000 tampons and pads in her lifetime? That's an Australian total of around 1385 million being used then tossed into landfill, jammed into incinerators or flushed down toilets each year.

Even scarier is how conventional pads contain over 90 per cent non-biodegradable crude oil plastic that will harm the environment forever.

To paint a visual of the global effects, that's a 15-cm-wide strip that would wrap around the earth 770 times if all menstruating women in the world used conventional pads for just one year.

According to eco-friendly sanitary company Natracare, plastic production for pads releases "ozone-depleting gases, human toxins that lead to cancer and birth defects, as well as chemicals that cause the acidification of trees."

Pads also contain other non-compostable, non-biodegradable and non-renewable petroleum-based materials, and chlorine-bleached wood pulp.

Conventional tampons are made from eco-hazardous viscose, polypropylene, rayon and non-organic cotton - which has almost one kilogram of harmful pesticides sprayed on it per hectare in farming and accounts for 16 per cent of global insecticide releases.

They're also bleached using chlorine, which releases dioxins (considered carcinogenic) into the atmosphere and into the products.

Best disposal

Because of the materials, conventional pads and most traditional tampons will cause eco problems no matter how you ditch them, but here are the best options:

If you're at home, wrap tampons and pads in toilet paper, or pop in a brown-paper bag or biodegradable nappy disposal bag (like WotNot's cornstarch bags), then place in a bin.

If you're out, place in the special sanitary disposal bins provided (e.g. 'Rentokil' or 'Pink'), and never flush them! If you know you're going somewhere without sanitary or regular bins, come prepared with a bag or container to take your sanitary products with you.

Problems with flushing

Thirty three tampons land in Sydney's Malabar Sewage Treatment Plant every 10 minutes on average.

Flushed sanitary items may fluke it past your home plumbing system, but can end up blocking your local council's pipes, causing environmental hazards underground. And guess who pays to fix these kinds of troubles? Taxpayers - at hundreds of dollars per blockage.

In 10 years of plumbing, Mark Blake from Tasmania received hundreds of telephone calls from frantic women who had blocked their pipes with pads or tampons.

"Nearly every week on average," says Blake. "It's quite a common occurrence. You've only got a four-inch drain. It doesn't take much for something to get caught on there.

"A sanitary item doesn't break down like toilet paper does once it gets wet. If anything, it swells up a bit more," he says.

"You also get some tree roots in the drains and these roots hook the tampon strings. Then when you flush the toilet again, it all builds up and blocks the system."

(There are some exceptions to the no-flush rule, however, like Eenee biodegradable pads, which are designed to be flushable.)

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