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Why is there a tampon shortage in the United States?

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Empty store shelves
Empty shelves depict how dire the tampon shortage is the USA was in 2022 and the impact on period poverty

You may have noticed some of your products missing from store shelves recently. If you haven’t already heard, it’s part of the great supply chain issue due to the pandemic. One of the latest and most shocking shortages is tampons. But why is there a tampon shortage in the United States? Could it happen in Canada? And what’s the weird Amy Schumer connection? Read on, friends.

The cost of tampon production

According to Bloomberg, inflation is making it more expensive than ever to have your period due to the soaring costs of the various layers and components that go into period pads and tampons. Since 2021, average prices for disposable pads and tampons rose 9%, according to NielsenIQ. Cotton, a common ingredient in period care, inflated in cost by 40% in the last year, while wood fiber increased by 25%. In addition, mainstream period care brands, like Proctor and Gamble—which rely on plastics and super-absorbent polymers derived from oil—have bee

n hit by inflated oil prices, largely in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This has impacted the cost of related products as well, including diapers and incontinence care products.

Other challenges? Drought in Texas has made cotton scarce, transportation costs are on the rise, and a labor shortage has created a perfect storm. Furthermore, The Economic Policy Institute asserts that corporations across industries have propagated inflation within a “pandemic-distorted environment.” to increase their profits. The situation may be summed up as “driven by higher corporate profit margins and supply-chain bottlenecks.”

The USA tampon shortage

Images from twitter users depicting emtpy store shelves in period care aisles
Tweets from across the USA show empty store shelves as many struggle with period poverty

Not only is period care more expensive in the United States, but the ingredient scarcity, labor shortages, and transportation costs have decreased production. A taxed shipping system means it also takes longer for products to be delivered. The result is fewer products on store shelves. How long will the shortage last in the United States? Proctor and Gamble—one of the largest tampon suppliers—have said they are working 24/7 to meet consumer demand.

The impact of period poverty

The number of those struggling to find safe period care each month in the United States is already high. A Kimberly-Clark survey found that 42% of those who regularly menstruate struggle to buy period products (April 2021). That means nearly half of all Americans who menstruate are currently experiencing period poverty.

Not only is inflation exacerbating the issue but the lack of stock is yet another barrier to equitable period care. Not to mention that 26 states still charge sales tax on period care, such as Hawaii, Idaho, and Texas—where you can enjoy chocolate bars and guns tax-free since they are deemed “necessities”.

Non-profit organizations that provide free period care to those who need it are also feeling the pinch due to rising costs in addition to more people needing support. Such groups purchase products in bulk with funds received by donation or government grants—or accept period care donations directly.

The impact on period health and wellness

What does this all mean for people with periods? We already know that those who struggle to afford period care make their dollar stretch by using lower quality products, using products for longer than recommended, or using no products at all.

Lower quality period care products

Often cited as a risk factor, the chemicals and plastics used in mainstream period care products have not been shown to cause cancer. However, lower-quality period care and mainstream products do use chemicals—such as bleach, formaldehyde, and phthalates—that cause irritation for some users.

Using period pads for too long

While pads can last to hold most flows for eight to 12 hours, that extended length of time increases the temperature of the area, changes vaginal pH, and provides optimal conditions for bacterial and fungal growth. As a result, health conditions can arise from infections to irritation and itchiness of contact dermatitis, swelling, and hyperemia. Pads should not be used for longer than four hours. Tampons should never be used for longer than four hours either, and using a higher absorbency tampon than what’s needed for your flow may result in toxic shock syndrome.

Using no period care

While some choose no period care, most people who menstruate opt for period care out of necessity. Balled-up toilet paper and socks, for example, are often cited as alternatives by those without period care but doing so is uncomfortable, unsafe, and not effective—making it impossible to work outside the home or go to school. This puts a disadvantaged group of people at an even greater disadvantage.

Why not opt for reusable period care? Reusables, like cups, reusable pads, and period underwear are an excellent investment—but an investment nonetheless. The initial cost can be prohibitive, and others may not have adequate washing facilities.

Will Canada experience a tampon shortage?

According to retail distributors, Canada is unlikely to see a tampon shortage like the United States since distributors have several weeks of inventory at any given time, and are backed by wholesalers with plenty of supply. However, as we saw with toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, demand may increase in Canada as people may stockpile tampons in response to what’s happening south of the border. If store shelves do start to run out in Canada, there are many alternatives to mainstream brands, not to mention period care subscriptions like joni.

How joni is keeping your period care stocked up

While we’re not experiencing a tampon shortage in Canada, we do things differently at joni than mainstream brands to keep you stocked up.

Supply chain | No ingredient competition

joni uses different ingredients than mainstream brands while they’re competing with each other over raw materials. joni doesn’t use oil-based plastic or regular cotton—two main scarce ingredients affecting other manufacturers at the moment. Instead, joni uses organic bamboo, organic cotton, and compostable plastic made from cornstarch. In contrast, one box of period pads is equivalent to five plastic bags!

Relationships and regional raw materials

As a small, social enterprise, it’s important for us to source and build relationships with manufacturers with values aligned with our own and who can produce sustainable and safe products on demand as we grow. With our bamboo pads manufactured in China and our organic cotton tampons produced in Slovenia, raw materials are sourced close to their production areas. To ensure quality, and production and employment standards, it’s important to joni to maintain close relationships with our manufacturing partners who can supply us with products as demand grows. joni period care products (including plastic-free pads and tampons) are then stored in Canada at our warehouse and retail distribution centers across Canada.

Period equity

joni was established as a social enterprise on a mission to make period equity possible in our fight against period poverty. Our business model supports this through competitive pricing, free shipping anywhere in Canada for orders of $10 or more and on all subscriptions, a discount on subscriptions to make prices even lower. Five percent of all revenue is donated in support of period equity and period poverty initiatives and we’ve donated 110,000 period care products since launching in 2020.

Thanks a lot, Amy Schumer!

A screenshot of Amy Schumer's Instagram where she has shared a news headline that says Amy Schumer is getting blamed for national tampon shortage.
Amy Schumer on Instagram about being blamed for the tampon shortage

Despite supply chain issues, labor, or transportation, Amy Schumer is the true cause of the tampon shortage in the United States—according to Tampax (a Proctor and Gamble company), following their successful commercial campaign starring Schumer. Funny and candid, we love how Schumer has used the platform to help break down social taboos around menstruation. But have the commercials been so successful as to cause a shortage of tampons? In defense, Amy Schumer, who recently underwent a hysterectomy, said on Instagram, “I don’t even have a uterus!”








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