Thursday, August 18, 2022

National tampon shortage impacts Greater Lansing area

June 30, 2022
<p>Illustration by Madison Echlin</p>

Illustration by Madison Echlin

Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

Women across the country have reportedly been having difficulty finding tampons in wake of the national shortage, and the Lansing area has been no exception. 

MSU supply chain management professor Jason Miller said one cause of this shortage is a lack of materials, including cotton, which is a key component in manufacturing tampons.

“Looking at the broader paper manufacturing sector (which includes sanitary paper manufacturing), data from the Census Bureau's Quarterly Survey of Plant Capacity Utilization shows paper manufacturers are experiencing unprecedented issues with insufficient supply of labor and materials,” he said in an email. “For example, back in 2018, fewer than 10% of paper manufacturers cited insufficient supply of materials as a reason for operating below full capacity. As of the first quarter of 2022, that figure is up to 50%. As such, material shortages are very widespread.” 

 A possible explanation for this lack of cotton, Miller said, is that the export price has increased.

 “One thing I'm seeing in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Export Price Index for Cotton is that the export price of cotton is up 50% year-over-year as of May 2022,” he said. “This tells me there must be a shortfall of cotton relative to demand.”

Regardless of the cause, the effects have been felt in the Lansing area.

Physiology doctoral student Ariana Zimmerman has struggled with finding the tampons she needs without buying a variety pack full of types she can’t use.

“I’m unable to find the correct ones in the greater Lansing area,” she said. “I’ve had to have my friends from home buy what I need and bring it to me or ship it. I only use regular size and light with plastic applicators and it’s very hard to find those sizes without it being a variety pack including usually a super size which I end up donating or giving to friends because I cannot use them.”

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Helping Women Period, “a non-profit that distributes free menstrual products to those experiencing homelessness and low-income disparity in Mid-Michigan,” has also been seeing the effects of the price increase of tampons.

“Last year, I could buy 500 of those tampons for about $50, and this last time I bought it, it was about $70,” founder and executive director Lysne Tait said. “In a year it's kind of almost $20 (increase).”

Tampon donations to the organization have suffered as well. Tait said they’ve received “about a third less tampons” in May 2022 than they did the previous year.

To prepare, Tait has been making arrangements to get alternative menstrual products in the meantime.

“We've just purchased a bunch of menstrual cups to give away and we've gotten a huge donation of period underwear, so that's where we're trying to get prepared to have other products, but both of those the period underwear and the menstrual cups take some education,” she said.

Some products like menstrual cups appear scary to use at first, Tait said, but they have community events and information cards to provide education on how to use them.

MSU nursing senior Alina Suarez also believes in using menstrual cups during the tampon shortage.

“I think it’s a great time to encourage alternatives like menstrual cups that have a lower environmental impact,” she said. “The cost is much cheaper (an initial investment of 10-20 bucks) and they last forever. I barely notice my period with them; they last way longer without needing to be changed and they feel fresher.”

It’s unknown how long the shortage will last, but in the meantime Helping Women Period is collecting donations of packaged menstrual products as well as monetary donations to help those in need and who have been affected.

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