Why you can't - and shouldn't - flush biodegradable pads and tampons

It’s easy to get a bit confused when language like biodegrade literally means natural decomposition. But sadly, terms biodegradable and water-dispersible are not interchangeable. So, that tampon you thought you could flush, we’re sorry to say that it just doesn’t measure up to the UKs’ ‘Fine to Flush Guidelines.’ Here’s why you need to know the difference.

Ok, so - what does biodegradable *actually* mean?

Biodegradable is a term used to describe a substance that can decompose naturally, usually by bacteria or other living organisms, like mycelium. Meaning that if your tampon or pad is biodegradable, it will decompose, naturally, over time. Or, so you may think.

The term itself is actually very misleading. Some period products are labeled as biodegradable when only a portion of the materials are.

In fact, there are very specific conditions that need to be met for a natural biodegradable process to take place. In short, though biodegradation is - or may be - possible, because of the circumstances pads and tampons find themselves in, more often than not, it’s not achievable. 

Natural environments, (where your tampon or pad is likely to end up), are much more complex than the labs that test for biodegradability. Many uncontrollable factors contribute to the environment in which materials may degrade, i.e. fresh water or salt water, landfill site and location within a landfill, deep soil or top soil. So, even if the materials are biodegradable, where they end up plays a huge role in how they behave. And, if they can biodegrade away, or not. 

Then, there’s the flushing. Biodegradable doesn’t mean water dispersible. Water dispersible means that the substance is soluble in water, eventually dissolving - the same way toilet paper does. And so if you want to flush it, you need it to be certified flushable.

But, why can’t I flush tampons or conventional pads?

First off, we need to distinguish between flushable and non-flushable. Certified flushable pads, like ours, can be flushed in the knowledge that they are water dispersible as well as fully biodegradable. We re-designed the pad; from the production process to materials used, Planera’s flushable pad has been designed to break down in water leaving no trace (and no microplastics!). Non-flushable tampons and pads, even if they are labeled as biodegradable, should never make their way down the toilet, (or the compost bin for that matter). Ever.

We know, it’s super convenient and easy to dispose of your pad or tampon by flushing it away. We’ve all been there, in a public toilet or at a friend's house, where it feels like the only option. The reality is, flushing non-flushable pads and tampons down the toilet shouldn’t be an option at all.

Flushing away non-flushable pads and tampons cause untold amounts of ecological disruption. As well as sewage backflow causing huge health hazards, they can become stuck in waterways and block pipes.

That doesn’t mean biodegradable tampons and pads aren’t good. They are. Ideally, they ensure you can safely and sustainably dispose of period waste. But, there are no tampons in the world that are certified flushable - yet. So, please, no matter how tempting, don’t flush it away

What is certified flushable, then?

Certified flushable guarantees biodegradation when flushed down a toilet, as well as being microplastic free. If your period goal is to lessen your environmental impact, then this is a critical difference. Even biodegradable pads can produce microplastics.

This is because every single material within a biodegradable pad or tampon doesn’t need to be biodegradable. Only a percentage. And even biodegradable plastics, like PLA, still create microplastics as the biodegradable plastic degrades, meaning that microplastics stick around for that time until they break down. Whereas our Planera pads break down fully into biogas, water and fertiliser in less than thirty days. So no microplastics will ever be created.

To be certified flushable, there are certain parameters the period product needs to meet. And, as per the UK’s guidelines, a flushable product would need to break down and pass a 5.6mm sieve in 6 hours to qualify. This is why things like face wipes and non-flushable period products are causing environmental problems, like on the banks of the River Thames, and on British beaches

The Marine Conservation Society estimates that sewage-related debris (which includes period products) makes up about 8.5% of Britain’s beach litter. 18,050 pieces were found in 2017 and in 2020, plastic has consistently made up 80% of all marine debris studied by the IUCN.

This is why we developed a fully flushable period pad.

Planera was founded because of how frustrated we were by the amount of waste that was forced on us, as consumers, by big companies. Sometimes we don’t have a choice. That’s what we wanted to change. Now, we’re the world's first certified flushable and biodegradable pad, guaranteed to break down in the sewer system, returning to the environment as fertiliser. 

Are Planera working on flushable tampons?

We see tampons as another product where our technology could have a massive impact and we’re currently developing a flushable internal absorbent product with our “LaunchPad” community.

If you’d be interested in helping us shape the future of period care then please follow our Instagram (@planeracare) and join our community.