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Mexico City Implements Ban on Single-Use Plastic — But People Who Menstruate Face the Consequences

by Olivia McCormack

People who have periods will keep tampons hidden meticulously: being stranded without period products means uncomfortably, embarrassment, and ruined clothes. For people in Mexico City who use tampons with plastic applicators, however, they no longer have the option to hide them. They don’t even have the option to buy and use them.

Mexico’s population of 126 million produces 6,000 tons of plastic waste yearly. To minimize their impact on the planet, Mexico City passed legislation banning single-use plastic in 2019. As of Jan. 1, the commercialization, distribution, and delivery of plastic products are now illegal. The law is now impacting those who menstruate and rely on tampons with plastic applicators.

A person who menstruates will spend around six and a half years of their life on their period and use between five thousand and 15 thousand pads and tampons. Those thousands of tampon applicators can take up to 150 years to decompose. And while plastic applicators can be recycled they are usually not accepted due to sanctuary concerns. The environmental impact of plastic is significant, but the impact of losing an inexpensive and trusted menstruation product may impact the lives and wellbeing of countless people in Mexico City.

While there are sustainable options for some people who menstruate, they come with a price tag. With 40% of Mexico’s population living below the poverty line, according to data from the Mexican government, higher-end menstruation products are not feasible for all who need them.

A pack of 36 non-reusable pads from Walmart in Mexico cost $319 pesos or $14.99 in USD. Reusable options are a much higher up-front cost, though they don’t require frequent repurchasing. Menstrual cups cost 650 pesos or $30.55 in USD, and a 10-pack of reusable pads cost $809 pesos or 38.02 USD. 

Not only are hygiene products expensive, but consumers are taxed on top of the high sticker price. Mexico has the sixth highest period tax, with a 16% charge on period products. A movement has been rising in Mexico to lower or even remove the tax completely, but no legislation has yet to be passed ending the tax.

Direct labor employees in Mexico make on average between $2.40 USD and $6 USD. An “unskilled direct laborer” making $2.40 USD a day would have to work over 18 days before they could afford to buy a 10-pack of reusable pads with tax. And that’s with 100% of their wages going towards period products, ignoring the other costs that occur with menstruation.

When those who menstruate do not have access to period products they are unable to function in daily life. Children fall behind in school because they are unable to attend and adults are unable to work while remaining sanitary. 

As menstrual activist Sally Santiago told Reuters, this measure “might sound very progressive and well-intentioned with an environmental commitment.” However, she continued, it’s “neglecting the needs of women.”

Photo credit: Unsplash/Josefin

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