• Just 36% were aware that BOTH tampons and pads and liners contained plastic  
  • Almost 50% are concerned about the impact of product ingredients on the environment. This rose to 57% in those aged 18-25 years. 
  • 79% felt that the big brands should be doing something to address the issue of plastic in period products 
  • 28% currently flush tampons down the toilet, while 9% flush pads/liners risking sewage blockages  

A new survey undertaken by One Poll on behalf of environmental campaigning organisation City to Sea has revealed new insight into the knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of different period products by women across the UK. Shockingly, the research revealed that just over one-third (36%) of women are aware that most of both big brand tampons and pads contain plastic!   

The findings also show that 28% regularly flush tampons and 9% flush pads and liners down the loo. The impact of this action is creating an environmental and economic crisis. Research has shown that around 2 billion period products are flushed down the toilet in the UK each year, blocking our sewers and creating overflow that escapes into our rivers and seas. Period products are the 5th most common item found on European beaches – more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery or straws. 

City to Sea has been running the Plastic Free Periods campaign since 2017. It has since grown raising awareness about the hidden plastic in period products and letting people know that flushing period products creates plastic pollution. It focuses on promoting reusable and plastic-free period care empowering people to make informed choices about the products they use and how they dispose of them. 

City to Sea’s Head of Campaigns, Jo Morley commented saying: 

“These latest findings reinforce what we’ve known for years – plastic in our period products is creating a global environmental issue yet most people have no idea about the damage they’re doing to the environment, or worse, to their bodies.” 

She continued, “Crucially, however, it also illustrates the strength of feeling amongst consumers for big brands and manufactures to step up and take responsibility. By promoting reusable products and taking plastic out of disposable products they will not only be doing what is right for the planet, but also what their customers clearly want from them. It’s time for them all to decide, will they be part of the problem or part of the solution?”.  

Knowledge  

64% of users were unaware that big brands like Lil-lets, Tampax, Always and Bodyform, tampons and pads contain a significant amount of plastic in the products themselves.  

Some (23%) were aware that tampons did but thought pads didn’t while others (22%) thought pads did while tampons didn’t. Those aged over 36 were much less likely to know about plastic in period products. Only 27.5% of those over 36 years did not know about plastic in period products at all.  

City to Sea has separately produced a comprehensive ‘ingredients guide’ to different period products. 

Impact on the environment  

46% are concerned about the impact of product ingredients on the environment. This rose to 57% in those aged 18-25 years. Crucially, of those that were aware that period products contain plastic, 91% worried about period products’ impact on the environment suggesting raising awareness levels was key to changing consumer behaviour.  

  • A big-brand pack of 14 menstrual pads contains the same amount of plastic as 5 carrier bags. And each pad can be made of up to 90% crude oil. 
  • 200,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is landfilled each year in the UK. 
  • A staggering 3 billion disposable menstrual products are used every year in the UK alone. 

There was overwhelming support (79%) for the idea that big brands should be doing something to address the issue of plastic in period products. With 74% saying they would significantly respect a brand more if they got rid of plastic content and 66% saying they would try a different brand if they got rid of plastic.  

Alternative products  

There was significant interest in the respondents to learn more about alternative products. 30% said they would be interested to know about plastic-free pads/ liners with 18-25 years olds expressing the biggest interest. Again there was an overlap between knowledge of plastic content and interest in trying alternative products. 80% of those interested in plastic-free alternatives had previously been aware of plastic in some period products.  

Cost-saving  

Almost two-thirds (62%) were aware that they could save money by switching to reusable products. Again this was weighted towards young people with 78% of 18-25s and 68% of 26-35s saying they knew they could save money by switching to reusable products. 

Research suggests that by switching to a reusable period product you can save up to 94% of what you would have spent on single-use tampons and pads over your menstruating lifetime! 

Product disposal  

28% of respondents said that they flushed tampons down the loo while 9% said they flushed period pads/liners. The most often cited (53%) reason given for flushing products down the loo was “unaware a tampon shouldn’t be flushed” while 41% believed it was the most hygienic form of disposal. Other reasons included; habit (30%), no bins provided (29%), embarrassment (19%) and didn’t want to touch menstrual blood (17%).  

The good news however is that 75% said they would change their behaviour having been told that disposing of period products down the toilet can block sewers and cause wastewater to overflow into our waterways.