When a U.K. startup began selling a subscription service to period products in 2015–the menstrual version of the Dollar Shave Club–they offered both disposable and reusable products. The reusable products were more sustainable, but virtually no one wanted to buy them. So the startup, called Dame, decided to design its own version of a green tampon that women might actually use.
“Moving over to something like the menstrual cup or a reusable cloth pad seemed like such a change in their habits,” says Dame cofounder Celia Pool. “We just thought, there’s got to be something in the middle that can be created that’s not much of a leap–that women can identify with, and that women will use quite readily.”
The company’s new tampon applicator, which launched on Kickstarter today, is plastic, but it can be reused indefinitely. It’s designed to be used with Dame’s organic cotton, chemical-free tampons. The tampon packaging is compostable, and the company is in talks with retailers about also selling products in bulk, without any packaging at all. Dame also plans to work with farmers who use regenerative farming practices–techniques that can help absorb carbon dioxide, so the products could ultimately be “carbon positive,” helping reduce emissions rather than adding to the problem of global warming.
“We want to be the first carbon-sequestering personal care brand,” says cofounder Alec Mills.
The disposable plastic applicators used on most tampons pose a major waste problem. When a Los Angeles beach was covered with tampon applicators and other trash in 2015–discharged from a nearby wastewater pipe–the county shut the beach down. But the sanitary products regularly show up on beaches and in the oceans; billions more end up in landfills every year. Even cardboard applicators, which are less popular, often have a plastic coating that makes them unrecyclable. In a lifetime, one woman could use 12,000 tampons and applicators.
“It’s a massive amount of waste, it’s all single use and it can’t be recycled, and nearly all of it contains plastic,” says Mills. “And there’s very little choice for women.” Increasingly, women do want a choice. In a 2016 Mintel survey in the U.K., only 6% of women said that they cared about the sustainability of their period products, but by January of 2018, that number had jumped to 48%.
Instead of going in the trash (or being flushed, incorrectly, down the toilet) the new reusable applicator can be wiped off with toilet paper, rinsed off in the sink, and then used again later. An antimicrobial coating helps keep it clean. The design is also meant to be something that people wouldn’t want to hide under the sink, in an attempt to normalize periods.
“One of the goals was to make something that looked beautiful, that looked well designed, that fit in with this modern woman who has all sorts of other technology in her bag,” Pool says. The sleek design, created after 30 rounds of prototypes, is dark green. “We didn’t want to go down the pink and fluffy route, and we didn’t want to go down the black sex toy route, so we looked at ranges of colors.”
The startup plans to begin redesigning other personal care products. “We’re basically going into the bathroom and seeing how we can rethink all of those products, and put them in a more sustainable way without compromising on their beauty, their design, and their efficacy,” she says.