In every public bathroom there’s a sign begging you not to flush your feminine products. Despite these warnings, many of us — and don’t you dare deny it! — go ahead and flush anyway. It sure is convenient to jiggle a handle and watch a magic bowl whisk away your waste, but plausible deniability is for the birds and it’s time to face the facts: tampons should not be flushed.
On average, American women get their first period at 12 years old and enter menopause at age 51. Let’s say a woman uses four tampons a day — 20 tampons per cycle — and has 468 periods in her lifetime. That’s 39 bloody years and approximately 9,360 tampons! Flushing a single tampon can wreak havoc on your plumbing system, so can you imagine what 9,360 tampons could do?
Items that are intended for the loo — namely, bodily waste and toilet paper — are degradable and breakdown in water. Once flushed, they end up in a septic tank or your local wastewater treatment facility where they’re broken down further by bacteria in the system. Most synthetic tampons are nondegradable and specifically designed to absorb, expand, and stay whole for a considerable amount of time. There’s a common misconception that even biodegradable tampons — like LOLA’s — are ripe for the flushing, but even those can take months or years to disintegrate.
If you’re in the habit of flushing and have a septic tank at home, your used tampons are sitting patiently at the bottom of the tank waiting to be pumped out. According to the EPA, a tampon buildup could potentially cause a clog that would require septic tank repairs. (HomeAdvisor estimates septic tank repairs cost an average of $1,476.)
If you don’t have a septic tank and rely on the public sewage system, your tampons travel through miles of pipes and get caught in the screening process. It’s here that they’re filtered out of the system and make their way to the local landfill. Discarded septic tank contents frequently wind up in landfills, too, meaning you can cut out the middleman entirely by simply throwing your tampons in the trash to begin with.
This tampon-travel itinerary hinges on one thing, really, and that’s the tampon making it down the toilet and through the pipes at all. Older homes and certain wastewater removal pumps are often unequipped to handle the stuff plumbers are paid to remove: tampons, applicators, natural condoms, stuffed animals. So, unless you’re trying to keep your plumber in diamonds and pearls, heed your local barkeep’s warning and toss — don’t flush — your feminine products.