Here’s something you can’t ignore, says tampon plastics activist

A British environmental activist is stepping up her campaign against single-use plastics in period products by calling on the world’s bestselling manufacturer of tampons to make greener alternatives.

Ella Daish, the founder of the #EndPeriodPlastic campaign, will go to the European headquarters of Tampax-maker Procter & Gamble in Geneva on Monday to present executives with a giant tampon applicator, made of 1,200 discarded Tampax applicators found littering British waterways, rivers and beaches.

She wants the US multinational, which makes the brands Tampax and Always, to reduce and then remove plastic from its period products, and develop reusable options. Her priority is for the company to end single-use plastic tampon applicators, which are used for seconds and take hundreds of years to decompose.

Procter & Gamble had increased its product lines containing single-use plastic, she said, in contrast to other companies that had taken action.

The British campaigner said she had met more than 10 retailers and manufacturers since launching her campaign in 2018, but Procter & Gamble had been the least responsive. “I am just fed up. I’ve been doing this campaign for over three and a half years and despite being the global leader of these products they are not doing anything. They are falling behind and every other manufacturer and retailer I’ve met is moving in the right direction.”

In 2019, Sainsbury’s said it would stop producing plastic applicators for its own-brand tampons, removing 2.7 tonnes of plastic annually. It has since been followed by Aldi, Superdrug and tampon maker Lil-Lets.

Daish met Procter & Gamble executives in the UK in 2019, but accused the company of “constantly avoiding the problem”. She said that in response to her critique of single-use plastic, P&G executives told her about their renewable energy supply. “They say, ‘We use renewable energy to power our factories,’ which is a cop-out … It’s irrelevant. What are you saying: ‘It’s OK to pump out billions of products containing single-use plastic using green energy?’ That doesn’t make it OK. It’s constantly avoiding the problem. There is never any traction and that is what I’m really frustrated about.”

Ella Daish with a handful of plastic tampon applicators
Ella Daish says Procter & Gamble has increased its product lines containing single-use plastic. Photograph: Ella Daish

After a call on social media, she asked people across the UK to send her plastic tampon applicators they found polluting their local environment.

She was sent boxes filled to the brim with discarded plastic applicators, found in all parts of the UK from the River Clyde to the Isles of Scilly. She said she hopes to return the giant tampon applicator to Procter & Gamble executives in Geneva. “I wanted to create something that you can’t ignore.

“It is clear that we need collective and sustained action on all levels to tackle the plastic pollution epidemic, and that includes industry. Manufacturers like Tampax and Always often put the blame on consumers to avoid ownership of the problem, but they must be held accountable.”

In 2019 the European Union passed a law banning single-use plastic cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers and cotton buds, which came into effect in July 2021.

The law did not ban the use of plastics in tampons, pads and applicators, but requires companies to mark these products as containing plastic, with information about how to dispose of them correctly. Wet wipes, cigarette filters and takeaway beverage cups also have to be marked in this way.

All these items, as well as plastic cutlery, straws and cotton buds, are in the top 10 most commonly found items littering European beaches.

The government announced in August that it was banning single-use plates and cutlery, and polystyrene cups in England.

A spokesperson for Procter & Gamble it had been in conversation with Ella Daish for a few years. “We wholeheartedly agree with Ella that plastics do not belong on beaches and we’re working to address this in line with European waste infrastructure, encouraging correct disposal of the product and applicator in bins to reduce plastic pollution.

“We know we have an important role to play in ensuring our products have the lowest impact on the environment, recognising that all products have an impact but in different ways. But solutions are not straightforward, take time and we need to balance the needs of our consumers while striving to find alternatives.”

Procter & Gamble made reusable period products, as well as tampons with cardboard applicators, the spokesperson added. “We know that periods are a highly personal topic and what’s right for some is not necessarily right for all. Our goal is to find a solution where people with periods don’t have to compromise quality, while also having the absolute least impact on the earth.”

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