When ecologically-minded feminists debate their menstrual product options, they most often advocate using organic cotton tampons and pads, rather than those made from synthetic materials like rayon. The reason most of these women choose organic cotton versions centers around fact that synthetics have been linked to potential health hazards, such as Toxic Shock Syndrome and dioxin exposure.
One option that is often left out of such discussions (as well as media programs and articles) is reusable menstrual products. The truth is, before tampons and throwaway menstrual pads came on market in 1930s, women used rags, which were kind to environment because they were washable and hence, reusable. It wasn't until '30s, and in years since then, that more and more ecologically-minded women began to discover that they had cause for concern.
After all, it is extremely wasteful to use a product for just a few hours and then toss it. And according to most estimates, average woman will use nearly 12,000 of these products during her lifetime. That's quite a lot of garbage!
Whether you flush a tampon or pad down toilet, or throw it in garbage, it is going to be problematic for environment. If flushed down toilet, these products can clog sewer line; or they can go on to play havoc with water treatment plant. (I understand that in 9 out of 10 plumbing problems in apartment buildings, homes and offices, culprits are reusable menstrual products!)
When you throw them in garbage, these reusables end up in landfills, where they probably won't biodegrade for many years, because they lack light, water and circulating air. (Did you know that people have dug into landfills and found newspapers from 50 years earlier that are still readable?) And experts estimate that plastic tampon applicators may actually take 300 to 500 years to break down. But since tampons have only been around for seventy years, we can't yet be positive exactly how long applicators will take to biodegrade.