A recent Time article brought attention to the issue this week, describing empty shelves from California to New York.
What’s happening: I Support The Girls, a foundation that provides bras and menstrual products to people experiencing homelessness, posted images on Twitter of sparse shelves and said its organization barely has “any tampons to donate to folks in need.”
The #TamponShortage is real. From Maryland to Ohio, Rhode Island to Michigan, we are getting all your stories talking about sparse shelves. We feel it to as our warehouse (see pic) has barely any #tampons to donate to folks in need. pic.twitter.com/jeF3yDMY1X— I Support The Girls (@I_Support_Girls) June 10, 2022
Procter & Gamble Co., which makes Tampax, the most popular tampon brand in the U.S., told Time that its retail sales had “exploded” in 2020 after launching a campaign ad with comedian Amy Schumer.
Demand has been up 7.7% over the past two years, and the company has been running its factory in Auburn, Maine, 24/7 to keep up with high demand, a spokeswoman told Time. This factory is the only one P&G uses to produce tampons.
Plus, Edgewell Personal Care, which produces the brands Playtex and o.b., has been experiencing staff shortages in its factory in Dover, Delaware, the only factory the company uses to produce tampons.
But is the Schumer ad campaign all to blame? The year 2020 also saw global supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19.
- Procter & Gamble also said in its most recent earnings call, Time reported, that it was still struggling to source raw materials for tampons and deliver products where they’re needed.
- Thyme Sullivan, co-founder and CEO of the startup TOP (The Organic Project), said the cost of getting its tampons to the U.S. is up 300% from last year, since the company started transporting its wrappers by airplane from Italy since shipping has become so difficult and expensive, Time reported.
Why it matters: Tampons are used by nearly 70% of menstruating people in the U.S. and, like baby formula, are a necessity and can’t easily be rationed.
In addition to shortages, there has also been a rise in cost on menstrual products. Tampons saw a cost increase of nearly 10% and menstrual pads were up 8.3%.
What’s causing the tampon shortage? An array of supply chain issues could be factors in the increased prices and shortages.
The raw materials used for tampons such as cotton, rayon and plastic have been in high demand since these materials are often used to make medical products like personal protective equipment, which were in demand during the pandemic.
- Drought conditions in Texas, where about half of the cotton in the U.S. is produced, are having a negative impact on cotton growth and crops. The USDA has designated about 23 counties in Texas as “primary natural disaster areas” due to drought conditions.
- Plastics and super-absorbents come from oil, which has seen a 70% price increase since last year according to Bloomberg.
Transportation and shipping costs have also increased. TOP, a company that makes menstrual products with organic cotton, told Bloomberg that its overseas shipping prices had increased from $3,000 to about $12,000 per shipping container.
Despite experiencing the same supply chain issues as other companies, TOP, which is women-owned, told Time that it has not experienced any shortages and has avoided price increases.
Sullivan said the gender of people running most of America’s companies could help explain the tampon shortage, noting shortages of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, gloves and masks didn’t last long at the onset of the pandemic. She told Time there isn’t a rush to solve the tampon shortage because it doesn’t directly impact the people in charge.
- “It is just a matter of who is asking for it. And who are the decision-makers,” Sullivan told Time. “It’s why we need to bring men into the conversation, because in many places, they’re still the decision-makers, and this wasn’t on their radar.”