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Mexico, single-use plastic bans and period poverty

Ana Gutierrez , Jennifer Martin and Alhelí Calderón-Villarreal explore how the Mexico City ban on single use plastic contributes to period poverty and how this is particularly challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors all volunteer for Pandemic Periods.

The United Nations Generation Equality Forum took place in Mexico City just a few weeks ago. It advocated for a raft of gender responsive policies and transformative programmes. Meanwhile people who menstruate in Mexico are experiencing period poverty. They don’t have the resources to buy basic menstrual hygiene products, and now they face the additional challenge imposed by a ban on all tampons that have plastic applicators.

In a society where people that menstruate have limited access to appropriate products to manage their periods, questions should be asked around the fairness of prohibiting a product that is of basic need for more than half of the population.

According to Mexico City’s reform to the 2003  Solid Waste Act the commercialization of tampons, with plastic applicators, is prohibited as part of a clause that bans the use and commercialization of all single use plastic. This law in an effort to reduce the amount of  plastic that ends up daily in one of Mexico’s 40 sanitary landfills. Mexico City single-handedly produces 12,816 tons of solid waste every day. Of this total 123 tons are plastic and less than half of it is reused or recycled.

The women of Mexico’s capital have had to assume a great part of the environmental commitment in a country where its federal government, led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, ruthlessly promotes the use of coal and discards renewable energies.

The law came into force the first of January 2021, leaving more than four million women without access to a basic sanitary product. Furthermore, the law excludes plastic bags necessary for hygiene reasons or the ones that prevent food waste.

The Government of Mexico City has equated withdrawing from the market single use plastic bags, straws and disposable forks, to prohibiting the sale of tampons with a plastic applicator.

The Ban could not come at a worse time, as according to Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development. 42% of women and girls  that menstruate have to choose between buying food or purchasing menstrual hygiene products. In 2019, the poorest households in Mexico City spent up to 8% of their income on menstrual hygiene products. Limiting the availability of menstrual hygiene products creates demand for them and can cause the price rise of menstrual hygiene products. Further worsening period poverty and pushing countless individuals that menstruate in Mexico City to use precarious and unsafe methods to manage their periods such as cardboard, newspapers and cloths.

To make this alarming statistic worse, according to the United Nations Development Program, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to further push 9.1% of women worldwide into extreme poverty. Period poverty is a manifestation of poverty, this means that additionally 47 million women are going to experience hardship to manage their periods and period poverty is going to rise not only in Mexico, but worldwide in the next few years.

We recognize that single-use plastics are harmful to the environment and that environmental waste must be managed, but a blanket ban on single-use plastics, without offering an alternative to plastic applicators, could have detrimental impacts to individuals that menstruate in Mexico City.

The government’s official response to the tampon ban was to invite women to use the menstrual cup. The recommendation came with no consideration, as more that 260,000 homes in Mexico City lack access to running water and the average cost of a menstrual cup is out of reach for millions of women that live in poverty, in a country where they earn almost 20% less than men. It also does not consider intersectionality aspects that individuals that menstruate face using the menstrual cup. Age, disability, and socioeconomic status are key aspects that affect the effective use of this product. Disabilities that limit their ability to use this product, cultural stigma, socioeconomic limitation, or young menstruators who this product is not intended for are just some examples.

The government should offer alternatives for menstruators, other than the use of the menstrual cup. Tampons with biodegradable applicators, made out of cardboard or tampons without an applicator should have been introduced into stores and pharmacies before the Ban was passed. Mexico City’s government could have collaborated with tampon producing companies, before the law was passed, to ensure this basic hygiene products did not go out of stock in the country’s capital.

A more serious and long-term approach should be taken in Mexico City to ensure all menstruators have access to the necessary means to manage their periods. Starting with adequate access to running water and sanitary facilities and continuing with measures to provide sanitary products at a lower price or free, at least for impoverish populations.

In recent times, Mexico has demonstrated their ability to apply a forward-thinking and innovative lens to current public health problems, particularly for financing. However, banning plastic tampon applicators without offering affordable or realistic alternatives to menstruators demonstrates how intersectional approaches to policy development are required.

Nonetheless, the “tampon ban” re-opened the discussion in Mexico’s senate to the possibility of taking the VAT off menstrual hygiene products. Other states in Mexico are taking positive steps towards period equality. Michoacán just passed a law that ensures the access to free sanitary products in all public schools, Mexico City and other states are starting to consider this measure as well.

We have to acknowledge the effect policies like the plastic applicator tampon ban have on women, so more gender inclusive policies can be promoted.  Further steps need to be taken to ensure all menstruators have access to sanitary products and safe, hygienic spaces in which to use them, however in the case of Mexico City a step back could initiate the way forward.




Gender Working Group

We meet online every month to discuss key issues, activities, opportunities and ideas for collaboration. We have a long and growing list of resources on gender and public health emergencies.



Gender Working Group

We meet online every month to discuss key issues, activities, opportunities and ideas for collaboration. We have a long and growing list of resources on gender and public health emergencies.