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Why is there a shortage of tampons?

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A shortage of tampons is straining consumers across the country, a consequence of the same forces that are vexing the global economy – from soaring raw material and fuel costs, to labor shortages and a supply chain beleaguered – and experts say little relief is in sight.

Pharmacy aisles, chat groups and social media abound with conversations about frustrated searches for vintage goods, a necessity for the half of the population who are nonetheless covered by federal aid and not tax-exempt in most states. Prices for tampons and pads have soared amid the crisis, at a time when historic inflation is forcing households to pay more for gas, groceries and other essentials.

Karyn Leit, board chair of the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, said the New Jersey-based group – which feeds 600 households a month – also distributes menstrual products twice a month. During these weeks off she has had “clients who have come to me in tears saying they are on their period as we speak and is there anything I can do to help them please.”

She wants more people to understand that menstruation “is a biological process” and that these products should be available everywhere. “When they are not, it prevents people from going about their business.”

Elise Joy, co-founder and executive director of Girls Helping Girls Period, said she saw the first hints of the shortage in early spring, when several agencies started asking if her group could provide them with menstrual products. In April, she was peppered with calls and emails from organizations that also donated tampons and sanitary napkins to those who could not afford them, asking her to fill supply gaps.

Joy hasn’t turned anyone away, but she doesn’t know how long she can keep up. Even its business partners are struggling to keep up with demand.

“I can see supplies dwindling in the warehouse,” Joy told The Washington Post. “We’re doing well at the moment, for the next two months given the supplies I have, but I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen in the fall.”

Data on shortages are patchy, but scarcity and inflation have translated into price increases: the average cost of a pack of tampons has risen nearly 10% over the past year, while a pack of towels increased by 8.3%, according to data from NielsenIQ.

Meanwhile, product recalls hit a 10-year high, according to a recent report from Sedgwick Claims Management Services, with more than 900 million units of stock recalled in the first quarter of 2022.

A CVS Health spokesperson acknowledged that there have been times over the past few weeks when providers have been unable to “fulfill the full quantities of orders placed” for feminine care products in the past few weeks. Walgreens told the Post that it was experiencing “temporary brand-specific shortages in certain geographies.”

Procter & Gamble, the maker of Tampax, said it was working with retail partners to maximize the availability of feminine care products, “which has increased significantly in recent months.”

“We understand that it’s frustrating for consumers not to find what they need,” Procter & Gamble told the Post. “We can assure you that this is a temporary situation.”

Not all brands were affected equally. Kimberly-Clark, the Irving, Texas-based consumer goods giant and maker of U by Kotex tampons, told the Post that it “hasn’t experienced any product or supply shortages” in the United States. United, saying it was “working closely with our business partners to stock the shelves.

According to Vaughn Moore, general manager of AIT Worldwide Logistics, if manufacturers are struggling to keep their products on the shelves, it will only get worse as the year progresses and peak season approaches for shippers and carriers. retailers.

“The capacity will only get tighter as we approach the end of the year,” Moore said. “It’s a really difficult time.”

Consumers have faced product shortages throughout the coronavirus pandemic, from toilet paper and hand sanitizer to cleansing wipes and formula. It’s become “a new normal,” but one that American consumers aren’t used to.

“We’re not used to delayed gratification and not getting instant answers for the things we need,” Moore said.

According to Nirav Patel, president and CEO of Bristlecone, a supply chain logistics company, some of the inventory issues stem from the rising cost of cotton, rayon and plastic. Demand for these raw materials has been squeezed in recent years by the rush to produce essential medical products during the pandemic, Patel noted, and now supply issues are compounding problems for producers.

The cost of transporting consumer goods, for example, has nearly tripled, he noted, whether it’s the fees to bring a sea container overseas or for last-mile delivery. China’s zero-tolerance policies have contributed to port congestion and shipping delays for many large retailers, as have widespread labor shortages.

Shortages could lead to hoarding as retailers slowly restock their shelves, but this will only worsen and prolong the shortage, Patel warned.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, tampons are meant to be used once and then thrown away.

Experts also warn against any attempt to extend their use, as this can make the user vulnerable to infections. Health officials and manufacturers recommend changing them every four to eight hours.

The feminine hygiene industry is expected to be worth over $54 billion by 2028, and the average user will pay around $1,800 in their lifetime if they use tampons, or over $4,750. he uses pads, according to a 2021 study by Pandia Health. Applicators and other waste from menstrual products are a major contributor to the plastic pollution that is choking the oceans.

For those struggling to find tampons in their area, menstrual cups are an affordable and eco-friendly alternative, as is period underwear.

Dignity Period, a St. Louis-based nonprofit, distributes washable and reusable pads to schools, food pantries, libraries, and other community partners across the country.

As tampon stocks have dwindled, Executive Director Angie Wiseman has seen renewed interest in Dignity Period’s organic cotton, reusable tampons. A $12.50 pack contains four, which should last the user 12-18 months provided they are washed according to instructions. In comparison, a year’s supply of the most popular tampon brands would cost $225 to $250.

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