Did you know that there is currently a tampon shortage affecting 34 million people in the nation? 

Menstruators across the United States are struggling to find hygiene products such as tampons. Consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of products on shelves. Women seem to continuously suffer from supply chain issues, and this issue is the latest to affect women following the baby formula shortage.

Can women endure yet another appalling shortage, or is it time to turn to alternatives?

Many wonder what has caused the shortage.

Sourcing of materials necessary for the manufacturing of tampons is a primary reason for the shortage. According to Bloomberg, factories that produce plastic used in menstrual products have shut down for maintenance. Many factories are also facing staff shortages, making it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand. Shipping and transportation costs have also increased, further exacerbating the shortages and delays in shipments.

This has led to an increase in panic buying, where people buy products in bulk (think back to the toilet paper panic buying beginning with the COVID pandemic). Unfortunately, panic buying worsens the situation as it causes products to rapidly disappear from shelves in moments when they are most in need.

How serious is the problem?

Tampons are expensive and the purchasing of menstrual products every month is already a burden for women who cannot afford them. According to Bloomberg, the average cost of menstrual pads has increased by approximately 8% and that of tampons by almost 10%. If this does not already sound like a serious problem, then it is worthy to note that women of color are disproportionately affected by this shortage. Just as with the baby formula shortage, it is low-income women and particularly women of color who face the greatest financial burdens and are the most heavily impacted.

Earlier this year, Connecticut passed a bill — HB5272 — to make menstrual products free in public institutions like schools and shelters. around the state recognized the inability for many women to afford menstrual products necessary to support their monthly cycles, a concept known as period poverty. Recognizing the urgency of this issue, student advocates and non-profit organizations like LiveGirl raised awareness on this issue and worked with state legislators to eventually get the bill passed.

Janet Stolfi Alfano from the Diaper Bank, a CT-based non-profit that helps ensure that women have access to hygiene and menstrual products, stated that “this shortage highlights what many CT residents experience every day. Disruptions in the supply chain impact low-income individuals and families the most severely.”

Although states like Connecticut have set milestones that can help combat crises like the recent tampon shortage, women around the nation continue to suffer. How long can women withstand suffering for basic necessities?

With the increase in prices, is there any hope for women who already struggle to afford basic products?

The answer is yes and no. On the bright side, there are quite a few alternatives to tampons. These include period underwear and diva cups. Yet both products have pros and cons.

Period underwear are undergarments that soak up blood. These come in a variety of colors and are meant to be worn as regular undergarments. Thinx, named as one of the best period underwear by the New York Times, provides security and is claimed to absorb as much menstrual blood as four tampons. The downside is that period underwear come at a heftier price than normal underwear. One pair of underwear can cost over $30.

Menstrual cups, also commonly referred to as “Diva cups,” are another alternative product that women are increasingly turning to amidst the supply crisis. Menstrual cups are reusable and can last years if taken care of properly. Yet, just as with period underwear, these cups are expensive and cost around $30. Although they can last for a long time, those who are struggling financially are not looking to spend more than they have to. Moreover, not many people know how to use menstrual cups and there is hesitancy in purchasing the product.

Nevertheless, now more than ever, women are increasingly turning to these alternatives and maybe you should, too. The supply chain issue and increasing eco-anxiety have led to an interest in period underwear and diva cups, both of which are reusable and much more sustainable.

To learn more about sustainable menstrual brands, I spoke to Claire Coder, the CEO of Aunt Flow. Aunt Flow is a brand that distributes organic and plastic-free bathroom products that are better for the environment than conventional products. Fortunately, there is hope for women as not every brand is facing a tampon shortage. Claire stated that “periods don’t stop, so neither do we.” In fact, as “cotton prices have surged, ports are closed, and the supply chain continues to worsen; the Aunt Flow team has worked tirelessly to ensure everyone has access to basic necessities.”

According to Global Citizen, menstrual products create over 200 million metric tons of waste each year, and create a carbon footprint that is equal to 12 pounds of CO2 emissions. What is worse is that most of these menstrual products are manufactured using plastic, which can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Claire further stated that “reducing waste in a period-positive way is so important, but every menstruator deserves to know the ingredients in the period products they use. 100% organic cotton products are safe for the body AND environmentally friendly.”

There is a key takeaway from this— if you have not thought about turning to sustainable alternatives, then amidst the supply chain shortage of tampons and the rapidly changing climate, it is the time to give it a try. For example, you can get involved with nonprofit organizations like LiveGirl to advocate loudly for the issues you care about. At LiveGirl, we know young people have the power, vice, and conviction to make change happen. Join us.

Asija Qyteza is a student at Wesleyan University and a member of LiveGirl, a Connecticut-based non-profit organization that builds confident, inclusive leaders.