Menstruation is a regular and natural part of life for 26% of the world’s population. However, most feminine hygiene options available today are single-use sanitary products that have a major environmental impact.
While single-use products are popular worldwide for their convenience, each person who menstruates typically uses and disposes of an average of 22 sanitary products per menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, these products either end up in the landfill — where they take thousands of years to decompose, contributing to long-term carbon emissions — or they are flushed down toilets, leading to waterway pollution and clogging. Single-use sanitary products can also contain synthetic contaminants and toxins like dioxins, which are byproducts of the bleaching process used in their production. The average menstruating individual uses 5,000-15,000 pads or tampons throughout their lifetime, amounting to 400 pounds (181 kg) of waste in the landfill and 104 kilograms of CO2 emissions.
In addition to environmental impacts, single-use menstrual products pose significant financial costs. In the United States, people who use tampons will spend about $1,800 on tampons over the course of their lifetimes. Furthermore, menstrual products are often subjected to luxury taxes, despite being essential necessities, which perpetuates a form of gender-based discrimination known as "the pink tax."
Organizations committed to sustainability must prioritize sustainable practices in everything they do, including educating employees about more sustainability options they can integrate into their everyday lives. For instance, at ENGIE Impact, the Caring Cup initiative was created to spark an open discussion about menstruation — something many people experience, but rarely talk about.
The initiative was created in partnership with Ellxvate, ENGIE Impact’s employee resource group for women, and funded by a grant from ENGIE Impact’s employee-led sustainability group, Team Activate. Local vendors specific to each region were also part of the project, in order to support local businesses and help reduce emissions from shipping — Saalt in the Americas, Lunette in EMEA, and Filipino provider Sinaya Cup for APAC.
The initiative promotes a more sustainable lifestyle by empowering our global workforce to take action in reducing their waste footprint. Reusable menstrual cups and underwear are sustainable alternatives to single-use pads and tampons, and cost-effective options in the long run. Although the initial cost of investing in period cups and panties may be higher, the long-term cost is lower — and a company may consider subsidizing these more sustainable solutions in order to eliminate the financial barriers associated with transitioning to reusable menstrual products.
With carbon reduction goals in mind, the initiative also considered the environmental footprint of purchasing and shipping products to employees located on multiple continents. Partnering with local vendors specific to each region helped to reduce emissions from shipping and to support local businesses. It also gave employees even more access to comprehensive information about the products, including best practices for product use and care, delivered directly to employees by the vendors.
Commitments to decarbonization, Net Zero, and Zero Waste impact every aspect of our work and organization. These commitments extend from our professional offerings to clients, such as consulting and sustainability advising engagements, to our own employee outreach and engagement efforts.
We were able to leverage our own internal expertise around waste and sustainability consulting to analyze the potential carbon and waste reduction impact of the program.
If the 113 global participants made the switch from single-use to reusable menstrual products, we would achieve an overall reduction of 2,734 pounds (1,240 kg) of waste and 1,567 kilograms of carbon emissions over the next ten years.
“Giving people a chance to try things without an immediate investment or need for broad adaptation can lead to them learning about it more comfortably, which can lead to them investing in what works for them,” said Operations Specialist Sophie Hertz, who participated in the initiative and expressed appreciation for the opportunity it gave employees to try menstrual alternatives. “I do like the underwear, will likely continue to use them, and will probably get more.”
Every sustainability-minded company should work with employees, offering education and solutions in order to help them reduce their own personal carbon footprint — furthering our shared mission of taking bold climate action.
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