EarthTalk: Is it true that there is a lot of
waste associated with tampons and sanitary pads and their
packaging? Are there any environmentally friendly alternatives
-- C. Howard, Victoria, BC
of ancient cultures couldn’t buy feminine hygiene
products at the supermarket or drugstore chain, so they
improvised, fashioning them instead out of various natural
and biodegradable materials—from papyrus and wool
to grasses and vegetable fibers. Modern women, however,
have relied on a variety of disposable products that create
significant after-use waste and can also be dangerous to
typical American woman will use—and discard—as
many as 16,000 tampons and their applicators over the course
of her lifetime. The numbers for disposable sanitary pads
run about twice as high. A 1998 study conducted by waste
consultant Franklin Associates concluded that 6.5 billion
tampons and 13.5 billion sanitary pads, plus their packaging,
were ending up in U.S. landfills or sewer systems each year.
Meanwhile, volunteers from the non-profit Ocean Conservancy
collected more than 170,000 tampon applicators along American
coastlines during a study conducted over a two-year period
in 1998 and 1999.
the health front, the sterile look of feminine hygiene products
does not betray the fact that the chlorine dioxide used
to whiten them can “theoretically generate dioxins
at extremely low levels,” according to the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA). Although the chlorine bleaching
of tampons and pads has become considerably safer since
the early 1990s, prior to which the process released some
250 different organochlorines into the environment and delivered
a product laden with dioxin, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) says that no safe level for dioxin exposure
is 10 times more likely to cause cancer than was believed
in 1994, says the EPA, and a lifetime of exposure to tampons,
in particular, can mean a significant accumulation of toxins
in a woman’s body and many non-cancer effects, including
birth defects and child developmental delays. Additionally,
tampons, because they interrupt the natural flow of blood,
can facilitate bacteria growth and cause infection.
address both the health and environmental issues associated
with feminine products, a number of innovative companies
offer alternatives. Gladrags, Natracare, Lunapads, Many
Moons and Pandora Pads all make a wide range of cotton pads
and other re-usable products free of toxic substances. And
Jade and Pearl shapes natural sea sponges to fit a woman’s
body, absorbing flow and likewise steering customers away
from throwaway products made of bleached synthetic fibers.
“The Keeper” is a reusable rubber cup designed
to catch menstrual flow; its maker also sells a silicone
version called the “Moon Cup” for those with
sensitivities to rubber. Such products can last for up to
10 years before needing replacement and are approved by
the U.S. FDA and Health Canada. Many of these healthier
and environmentally friendly (and less costly) alternative
products are available online as well as on the shelves
of natural foods markets across North America.
Moons Alternatives; Pandora
EarthTalk: I visited New York City recently
and could not believe the number of taxicabs on the streets.
Are there any efforts to “green up” these vehicles?
They must be real gas-guzzlers, considering all the idling
and stop-and-go traffic they face.
-- Justin Grant, Berkeley, CA
Just this past
May, as part of a larger effort to make New York the “greenest
major metropolis on the planet,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg
announced an ambitious plan to switch over the city’s
13,000-vehicle taxi cab fleet from gas guzzling traditional
cars to (comparatively) fuel-sipping gasoline-electric hybrids.
So far, 375 New
York City cabs are hybrids, but Bloomberg wants that to
rise to 1,000 by the end of 2008, with an additional 20
percent of the cab fleet going hybrid each year thereafter.
The reason taxis are an ideal fit for hybrid technology
is that they spend much time idling in traffic and while
waiting to load passengers. Hybrid cars, which pair a conventional
gas engine with an electric motor, essentially shut down
when they are idling, minimizing emissions significantly.
New York’s plan, once fully realized, is expected
to reduce carbon dioxide emissions of the city’s taxi
fleet by over 215,000 tons yearly.
And even though
cabbies will have to pay a premium to replace their existing
vehicles with hybrids, most are behind the move, as it will
save them about $10,000 yearly in fuel costs alone. According
to The New York Times, 90 percent of the city’s cab
fleet is now made up of Ford Crown Victorias, which get
only 10-15 miles per gallon (mpg) in city traffic. Ford’s
own Escape hybrid would improve that to 34 mpg.
been wanting to drive a hybrid taxi for years now,”
says Kwame Corsi, a cabbie from the Bronx. “Once this
law allows us to drive hybrids, our gas mileage will skyrocket
and our expenses will plummet. We pollute less and make
more money—who can argue against that?” New
York cabbies now ready to take the plunge can choose from
any one of six different hybrid models, including the Ford
Escape, Toyota’s Prius and Highlander, the Lexus RX
400H, and Honda’s Accord and Civic.
New York is not
the first to go hybrid with its cab fleet. San Francisco
took the plunge in 2005 when 40 Ford Escape hybrid taxis
hit the streets there. San Francisco is also home to 140
Ford Crown Victoria cabs retrofitted to run on cleaner-burning
compressed natural gas (CNG), which has been shown to reduce
ozone-forming emissions by 80 percent as compared to traditional
gasoline. The city’s goal is to have half its taxi
fleet—some 600 vehicles—powered by cleaner-energy
sources (either hybrids or CNG) by 2008.
Carriage Cab Company just welcomed its first hybrid, also
a Ford Escape. It is joined in the city by just one other
hybrid, that of an independent operator who began taking
fares in June in his Toyota Prius. Chicago has ordered taxi
firms with over 50 cabs to add at least one hybrid to their
fleets. The cities of Denver, Colorado and Boston, Massachusetts
are also looking to make the transition.
And while hybrid
taxis may be all the rage in San Francisco and New York
now, such vehicles have been plying the streets of Vancouver,
British Columbia since 2000, when cabbie Andrew Grant first
started offering taxi rides in his Toyota Prius there. Today
about a third of all the taxis in Vancouver are hybrids
and local lawmakers recently announced that the city would
approve only eco-friendly vehicles when handling applications
for new taxi companies or additions to existing fleets.
Grant’s “Hybrid Taxi Driver” Blog;
York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission.