MEXICO CITY – In Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, a product that many women rely on on a monthly basis is gradually disappearing from the shelves: tampons with plastic applicators.
With a lifespan of nearly 150 years, the applicators combine plastic bags, forks, mugs, balloons, and straws as single-use plastics that Mexico City has banned to advance a greener agenda.
However, women’s groups said the city’s ban on applicators is an attack on human rights and creates a “menstrual poverty” phenomenon, as alternative products such as organic tampons and silicone menstrual cups are more expensive and often difficult to find.
“A measure that sounds very progressive and well-intentioned with a commitment to the environment neglects the needs of women,” menstrual activist Sally Santiago told Reuters.
Mexico’s 126 million people produce 6,000 tons of plastic waste a year, the government said. The city’s plastic ban has also sparked controversy among the industries that are now making banned products. Manufacturers argued that products should be regulated but not banned.
Mexico’s Environment Minister Marina Robles recognized the backlash against the ban on applicators for plastic tampons and said dialogue with women about the new law should remain open.
However, she said there were alternatives, including tampons with cardboard applicators, menstrual cups, and organic tampons.
“We have compared and even analyzed the groups of women who use tampons and we believe that they can be perfectly covered with this other type of material,” Robles said in an interview.
Reuters found that some stores in Mexico City still had plastic applicator tampons in stores while others had disappeared. In one case, a small supply of cardboard applicator tampons was available alongside those with plastic.
Robles said about 7% of dealers are still “lagging behind” but that officials believed compliance would increase.
According to Anahi Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the menstrual rights group Menstruacion Digna Mexico, a box of organic tampons sold on the popular e-commerce website Mercado Libre had an average price of 51 to 100 pesos per tampon (2.54 to 4.99 US dollars -Dollar).
At that price, alternative products could be out of reach for many women in Mexico, where more than 40% of the population lives in poverty, according to the government.
“This could adversely affect people on lower incomes, which is worrying as absenteeism from school and work could increase,” Rodriguez said.
Businesses should take some of the responsibility for making tampons with or without applicators more readily available in Mexico, Robles said.
She said city officials were in talks with producers for nearly two years to make more non-plastic alternatives available before the ban began.
“It seems to us that this is part of the commitments entrepreneurs should make,” said Robles.
Even when alternative products are more readily available, the government is still removing an option from women, activists said.
“Although there are alternatives, we face a scenario of false freedom of choice when the structural conditions of women are not optimal,” said Santiago.