Mexico City Banned Tampons to Save the Planet But Forgot to Talk to Women First

There has been an outcry on social media and from women's groups, who say that the banning of the vital sanitary product is a violation of their rights.
February 26, 2021, 2:00pm
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There has been an outcry in Mexico City since the government banned the sale of plastic-applicator tampons because of environmental concerns. Photo by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

MEXICO CITY - Mexico City has gone beyond the call of duty in its ban of single-use plastics. As well as outlawing bags, cups and straws, it is the only part of the country to forbid plastic-applicator tampons, and women in the Mexican capital are furious.

Over 30 organisations have filed an official complaint with the city’s anti-discrimination body (known by its Spanish initials Copred), accusing the administration - currently run by the  first female mayor Claudia Sheinbaum - of violating the rights of women.

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“These legal reforms had no gender perspective that would have identified the specific and disproportionate affect on girls, adolescents, women and others who menstruate, and provided a more adequate solution to us and to the environment that puts human rights front of stage”, said the organisation Menstruación Digna (Dignified Menstruation) in the complaint.

It also argues that Mexico City’s government underestimated the fact that over 30 percent of people in Mexico City live in poverty and more than two percent don’t have access to clean water, which makes the use of alternatives such as menstrual cups, which are more expensive, more challenging. Activists argue that with the ban, the government is helping to broaden gender gaps and generate “menstrual poverty.”

The ban came into force in January, and Twitter blew up with criticism from users who claimed the government didn’t issue warnings about the implementation of the new rule as comprehensively as it did about the ban on disposable plastic bags, straws or cups.

Activists are questioning the point of banning such a vital product that produces such a small amount of waste.

“Although the proportion [of plastic] may be small, it is important to us anyway,” Mexico City Environment Minister Marina Robles said to VICE World News.

“It was a very technical, well studied measure, associated with the shape of this part of the tampon - it gets stuck in the throats and stomachs of animals - and the commitment we women have shared for so long in the fight for equality and to improve environmental conditions,” she added.

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When women took to social media to complain about the ban and the shortage of tampons, many asked why this product was prohibited while Coca-Cola keeps selling multiple types of plastic bottles all over Mexico.

Robles said it has to do with recycling. 

Most plastic and PET bottles are excused from the plastics ban because they are recyclable, said Juan Carlos Carrillo, an environmental lawyer working for the Mexican Center of Environmental Law (CEMDA). Mexico is one of Latin America’s recycling champions.

“(PET) has a market, has an industry that has invested billions of dollars and Mexico has 20 years of experience in recycling,” Carrillo said.

But that said, just because certain products can be more easily recycled, that doesn’t mean that they actually are.

It’s also a legal problem - there isn’t a general law that defines what single-use plastics are and which of them are essential. So each state or city administration decides what they are, which is why plastic-applicator tampons may be banned in one city and allowed in another. 

“To focus on menstruation as an environmental damage perpetuated by women and the products they “choose” prevents us from acknowledging that the production and sale of items made of damaging and polluting materials are propelled by the industry and government’s lax supervision. And that does not depend on the will of women and others who menstruate,” stated Menstruación Digna in a press release posted on Twitter.

In the meantime, as the law banning plastic-applicator tampons is being applied in some stores and not others, women around the capital are stocking up as much as they can as debate around the matter continues.