A tampon shortage has left menstrual product aisles in stores bare in recent months, and the disruption has been blamed on factors ranging from the mundane — persistent supply chain issues — to the bizarre — transgender consumers using tampons and Amy Schumer’s Tampax ad campaign.
A visit to local Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens stores confirms the tampon shortage has affected Boise, too.
Macarah Wright is the founder of Boise Period Project, an organization that works to provide menstrual products to residents in need. She said that compared to last year, the organization is receiving fewer donations and having a harder time sourcing tampons to distribute.
This shortage has caused people to go from store to store looking for tampons, buy marked-up boxes online and, in the most dire situations, go without.
Already, one in four people who menstruate in the U.S. live in “period poverty,” meaning they lack access to necessary menstrual products. In Idaho, one in four menstruating teens has missed class because of a lack of access to period supplies. The tampon shortage threatens to exacerbate the problem in Idaho and across the country.
“There’s a lot of people who are borderline homeless, or just experiencing poverty, who have to decide whether they’re going to buy their period supplies for the month, or food, or whatever bills they need to pay,” said Wright. “And it’s a question nobody should have to ask themselves.”
In addition to the shortage and rising prices that are a result of inflation, Wright said the 6% sales tax on tampons in Idaho further restricts access to products. Individuals also may not purchase menstrual products with food stamps.
What is causing the shortage?
Shortages throughout the past two years — including toilet paper, baby formula and now tampons — have been chalked up to a combination of high shipping and materials costs, labor shortages and shifts in demand. Or more generally, the catch-all “supply chain.”
Raw materials like the cotton and plastic that go into tampons are in high demand and short supply, in part because of their use in medical products, according to a Time magazine story. The same story reported that high fuel costs and manufacturing labor shortages, like those seen at the Edgewell Personal Care tampon manufacturing plant in Dover, Delaware, also likely play a role.
The small number of production centers could also be contributing to the problem, Time reported. Leading tampon manufacturers Procter & Gamble and Edgewell Personal Care each operate just one plant that produces tampons.
One of the stranger claims about the origin of the tampon shortage came from U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican who espouses conspiracy theories and said tampon dispensers in men’s bathrooms for transgender individuals were driving a spike in demand.
Only 1.6 million Americans 13 and older identify as transgender, a number that has remained steady in recent years.
Boise-based business’s tampon alternatives flying off shelves
Saalt, a Boise business that sells reusable menstrual products, has seen demand for its products rise during the shortage, said co-founder and CEO Cherie Hoeger.
Hoeger, a Meridian resident, founded Saalt in 2018 to provide sustainable and accessible alternatives to disposable pads and tampons. Saalt sells its products at multiple national retailers, including Target and Urban Outfitters.
Hoeger said e-commerce sales doubled and retail sales increased by 40 percent in the week after news of the tampon shortage began to circulate. She added that in the beginning of the pandemic, Saalt saw a similar boost in sales.
“It is a national crisis, so I don’t want to not give that the difficulty it deserves,” Hoeger said. “But it does make us happy to see an increased interest in renewables because we think that it’s better for our bodies and planet.”
Although Saalt has been able to accommodate the increased demand the tampon shortage has caused, Hoeger said supply chain disruptions have affected the company as well.
“Everything is taking about four to six months longer,” Hoeger said. “So we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been very prepared with our inventory to make sure that we have enough to satisfy demand.”
What can Boiseans do?
Wright encourages people who are struggling with access to period products to reach out to Boise Period Project. The organization collects donations and distributes products to people in need in the Boise area.
Hoeger said she hopes people will take the shortage as a sign to look into reusable options such as the menstrual cups and discs that Saalt sells.
“We have learned from this that there are a lot of people who’ve been interested in using reusables,” Hoeger said. “What we’re seeing is that they’re taking that leap because of these tampon shortages.”
Saalt already works with the Boise Period Project to provide products, Hoeger said. Wright said people can help support the organization by donating products or money.
“There are so many different needs for folks right now in the pandemic,” Wright said. “I just want people to know that they can help.”