Tampon dispensers are extremely expensive for a consumer. Most often than not, a sanitary product will cost £1 per product, and can easily be £2+ in service stations. What I’m asking today is why are sanitary product companies, or the providers of the dispensers taking advantage of those in need?
I first found this issue when I was on a 12-hour shift and got the unfortunate first cramp and realised I was about to have a big issue. I was also on shift with only males and no spare sanitary product in sight. You know the dreaded feeling. Do I run 10 minutes to Tesco on my break, embarrass myself by asking one of the lads if I can take my break early, or resort to paying £1 per sanitary product to save my dignity?
Tampax recommends you only wear a tampon for 4-8 hours a day to avoid Toxic Shock Syndrome. But what if you’re heavier than usual? A 12-hour shift could lead to 3-4 sanitary products which would then amount to half an hour’s wage for a necessity, which could buy you 2 packs of Tampax or 4 packs of Tesco’s own brand.
More importantly, you would have a choice. With the dispenser above you can choose a ‘normal’ Always pad or a ‘super’ 3 teardrop Tampax tampon. If they don’t work for you, you’ll just have to deal with it. We have vending machines filled with different types of drinks, snacks, and even a pizza vending machine in Bristol. Why, when there are so many different body types and needs, are there two options. Understandably there are different options for each place, but this seems to be the norm.
Furthermore, often the other options are usually sex-related. When I’m at the shops or at a service station on a long road trip my priority isn’t usually buying condoms and sex rings from the ladies’ toilets.
It is understandable that sanitary products are expensive items, someone has to make money, but do they have to make that much money? Through a Statista report (2018), Tampax pearl made $298 million in sales in the US, in one year.
On a Quora forum, the question was asked as to why tampons and pads cost so much when they are necessary products? Many people referred to the fact that because they are a necessity and people rely on them, their producers can charge as they like. One person highlighted how periods themselves are a taboo subject so people are less likely to combat their price gouging.
Period poverty is a huge issue that affects women all over the world. Not only are women unable to access products but must take time off education and work if they can’t afford products, and even use products for unsafe amounts of time due to not having a replacement. A Plan International UK survey found that 36% of girls aged 14-21 years old were unable to access sanitary products in the UK due to the pandemic and 76% of those girls had to resort to using toilet paper.
Though the removal of the tampon tax in 2021 helped lighten the weight for women in England, many public spaces do offer free products as a courtesy. When I worked for Liverpool Football Club, they offered sanitary products free of charge in their bathrooms. Women would come out and try and pay me for the product and were delighted at the idea.
Liverpool John Moores (LJMU) is another space that offers free sanitary products throughout campus free of charge but still has coin-operated dispensers.
Through a Freedom of Information request, I was able to source the cost to provide sanitary products throughout LJMU’s campus (since 2019 when the campaign began):
- 2019 – £2,498.11
- 2020 – £0 (due to Covid19 closures and use of supplies from 2020)
- 2021 – £7,758.29
Therefore, 2021 provided the most accurate cost at £7,748.29 which is just under £2,000 less than the average yearly tuition for one single student.
I then asked what the cost is to purchase, supply, and maintain the coin-operated dispensers around campus (103 units) in the last 5 years and found that it costs LJMU £37,080. Understandably the dispensers create a profit for the university, but as a consumer, I am 100% more likely to use the free product than pay £1 for the exact same item. The continued usage of dispensers could be due to allowing for a backup in case the baskets were empty.
Shannon, 23, a midwife spoke about her experience with periods in the workplace, she believes that “period poverty is underlined by societal misogyny, the fact that it’s a female problem means the people in positions of power don’t take it seriously or don’t even give it a second thought. I strongly believe if men menstruated, all period products would be free (like toilet paper is).” She also explained that sometimes the union will provide free sanitary products, but it would be once in 5 months and not last long, so would be more of a token act.
Georgina, 21, a student and supermarket staff member was unaware of the number of women affected by period poverty but understands why products aren’t provided free “as you are expected to pay in shops.”
Scotland has eradicated period poverty, why are we behind? So many women are impacted and have to lose out due to not being able to access products.
If you need help or access to period products, Morrison’s has created an imitative called Ask for Sandy, where you can discreetly get a package of supplies from the Kiosk, or even head to your local food bank. If you can, many women are in need and would be hugely grateful if you donated some sanitary products to your food bank, you could even donate at your local supermarket.
Feature image from Natracare on Unsplash.