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How One Woman Is Making the Period Industry More Sustainable

Published on December 2, 2021

Ella Daish stands next to the giant tampon applicator she created with period waste found on beaches

As a UK postal worker, Ella Daish began taking note of the large amounts of waste people were producing four years ago. She noticed there was even more waste around Christmas time, and the realization caused her to become more mindful of her own consumption.

By making simple tweaks, Daish began living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and she felt good about the changes she was making. But when her period came, she had another epiphany. As tampons and pads piled up in her bin, she began doing more research on period products, only to find that many of them contain up to 90% plastic.

“The first thing I did was I went into my local supermarket to get an alternative option, and I found that there were no eco-friendly options,” Daish says. “As individuals, we can’t make a decision about what we’re purchasing if the option isn’t on the shelf.”

Lack of Sustainable Period Products on the Market

Instead of buying locally, Daish bought organic cotton tampons and pads online, figuring someone else would do something about the lack of sustainable period options in her local shops. But the more she thought about it, the more the issue bothered her, and she couldn’t stay silent about it any longer.

“I carried on with my job for a couple weeks, but the problem just kept going around in my head. It didn’t make sense, making product out of plastic, which takes hundreds of years to break down, and you only use it for a couple of hours,” she says. “If these small brands can make it work, why can’t the big brands? Why aren’t they doing something about it?”

Daish Pressured Retailers to Carry Sustainable Period Products  

Daish began to feel a personal responsibility to speak up, noticing that people were paying attention to the issue of plastic bags and straws, but not period products. At first, she didn’t think she had the power to take action, but she took inspiration from other women making waves in the environmentalism space, launching a petition to ask retailers to add eco-friendly period products to their shelves.

While Daish says it was difficult to get the attention of big-name retailers in the beginning, her persistence eventually paid off, and key decision makers began making tangible changes.

“In less than two months, I had 100,000 signatures,” she says. “It turned my life upside down, but it was overwhelming to have such a positive response to it.”

Four Brands Have Removed Plastic Applicators

As a result of Daish’s work, four of the brands she petitioned have now removed plastic applicators, saving 28 tonnes of plastic each year. She notes that while much of the responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the average consumer today, it’s up to the retailer to provide people with more sustainable and affordable period options from the beginning.

“The period industry is a massively brand-led industry,” she notes. “When you think of tampons, you think of Tampax. We are given branded products from a young age, and they’re consistently marketed to us. It’s not people’s fault, and I never judge people for what they use. Affordability is a huge problem.”

Ella Daish tried to deliver the giant period applicator made out of found plastic to Proctor & Gamble, which owns period brand Tampax. Most of the period plastic she found was made by Tampax. Photo credit: Poppy Chandler Outpost Pictures.

Daish Created a Giant Tampon Applicator Out of Found Plastic

Since leaving her role as a postal worker in 2019, Daish has put all her focus and energy into campaigning for more environmentally sustainable period products. She recently returned from campaigning in Europe, where she met with supermarkets and retailers to help raise awareness about the power they have to create positive change.

As part of the campaign, Daish created a giant tampon applicator out of period plastic found on beaches, waterways and local ecosystems in the UK. Of the 1,200 plastic applicators collected for the project, 87.5% came from Tampax, Procter & Gamble’s tampon brand. On Nov. 19th, Daish tried to deliver the applicator to Procter & Gamble’s European headquarters to “return” the plastic to them.

“We have so much power as individuals. Before I started this campaign I thought only people with degrees and politicians could create change, I never thought I could do something like this,” Daish says. “If you’ve got a passion for something, all you need to do is take that passion and create something. I just felt like if I didn’t do something now, I’m going to regret it in 20 years. Stand up and raise your voice, we all can make a difference.”

Lead image: Ella Daish created a giant tampon applicator out of period plastic found on beaches, waterways and local ecosystems in the UK to illustrate why we need more sustainable period products. Photo credit: Poppy Chandler Outpost Pictures.

The Author
Mackenzie Patterson is a Toronto-based writer and journalist. She enjoys long walks, iced coffee on tap, and discovering all the latest and greatest health and wellness trends.