Environmental advocates would like to see plastic tampon applicators added to the list of items that could be banned in Canada by 2021.
Earlier this week, the prime minister announced the Liberal government intends to ban single-use plastics, such as plastic shopping bags and straws, within two years. The full list of banned items has not yet been created.
Jude Haydock of Terrace, B.C., said she’s found dozens of plastic tampon applicators in a settling pond in her hometown that have ended up there because people are flushing them down the toilet.
“It’s something that people don’t think about when they flush that toilet,” she said.
Robert Schibli, director of public works with the City of Terrace, said staff find many single-use plastics, including tampon applicators, in sewage drainage.
Aside from being an environmental concern, Schibli said that when non-flushable items are flushed down the toilet, it causes myriad problems, such as clogging pipes, plugging pumps and filling the settling pond with items that then have to be collected and disposed of in order to prevent them from flowing into the nearby Skeena River.
“It takes a lot of resources but we literally do have staff that boat on our ponds trying to remove all the floating plastic debris,” he said.
Though major menstrual hygiene companies like Tampax and Kotex have instructions on their websites not to flush plastic applicators or wrappers, Haydock believes some people do it out of embarrassment.
“[Menstruators] don’t want to put these things in the garbage when their brothers and fathers and boyfriends open the trash can.”
The solution, Haydock said, would be forcing manufacturers to stop making single-use applicators out of plastic and instead switch to a biodegradable cardboard.
“I think the younger generation just isn’t even aware that other products exists because [tampons with plastic applicators] usually occupy the bottom shelf … and those pretty plastic varieties are all eye level for the girls to just grab off the shelf.”
Three years ago, environmental advocacy group A Greener Future launched an online petition asking manufacturers to stop producing plastic applicators.
“For something that you only use for a few seconds, it has a very big impact,” founder and executive director Rochelle Byrne said.
Regular shoreline cleanups along Lake Ontario by volunteers with A Greener Future have yielded up to 30 plastic applicators at a time.
“Anywhere there’s sewage treatment, there’s definitely tampon applicators going through their system,” Byrne said.
A Greener Future’s petition continues to gain signatures every day. While it hasn’t persuaded manufacturers to rethink their products, Byrne said it’s played a major role in creating conversations about how plastic applicators are damaging the environment.
“Getting people to even just think about reducing single use plastic is a big step, because I feel like even in the day and age that we’re living in, there’s still a lot of people that are completely unaware of the impact that plastic is having.”