The Tampon Dispenser Dilemma: Why It’s Not As Complicated As You Might Think

Updated on May 3, 2023

Women and people who menstruate know the feeling all too well. 

You’re at school, on the daily commute to work, out for dinner with friends, or at the gym getting in an afternoon workout when Aunt Flo comes knocking unannounced. 

Your period is a few days early and suddenly your mind is laser-focused on where to find a tampon – because there isn’t one in your bag.

You go into the public bathroom – at work, school, the subway station – but the vending machine in the restroom (if there even is one) is empty, out of order, or simply unusable because it’s the 21st century and no one carries coins anymore. 

This is the tampon dispenser dilemma that many people who menstruate have experienced at least once in their lives. 

But do things really need to be this way?

Today, we now have modern tampon dispensers with free period products. 

Yet, on the other end, businesses and governments see the tampon dispenser dilemma as more of a money problem. If they start distributing free tampons and sanitary napkins, won’t that require a big budget? Won’t people just take all the free tampons or pads (sanitary napkins) home with them?

In this article, we explore the tampon dispenser dilemma and all the reasons why it’s a simple choice; yes tampon dispensers should be available with free period products in public restrooms. 

We review governments and businesses that already have these policies in place and the positive effects they are having. 

Plus we break down the costs of installing a free-vend tampon dispenser (spoiler alert: it’s not much). 

Why do women and people who menstruate need tampon dispensers in public bathrooms?

If the scenario we posed above doesn’t have you convinced that tampon dispensers need to be available, well-kept, and free to use, then perhaps some scientific studies will.

Having access to period products is of a huge benefit to not only the person having the period but also to schools and businesses because: 

  • In schools, offering free period products increases attendance
  • Offering free period products in the workplace increases productivity

And those statements aren’t mere speculation. There’s a lot of data available to support them. 

The State of the Period report from 2021 showed that a whopping 84% of people in the US have either missed class time or know someone who missed class time because they did not have access to period products.

Young people are missing out on education because these basic health products are not provided to them. And it’s not just those in school who are missing out, it’s people in the workplace too. 

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A Free the Tampon report shows that when women get their period unexpectedly, 34% of them immediately go home to get period products.

This leads to absenteeism from work, lowering productivity and also putting women’s positions in the workplace at risk. Women in many roles already have to compete with gender biases, so having to leave work to go home in search of a tampon can damage their reputation or make them look unreliable to their managers.

When periods become a barrier to education and work opportunities it becomes obvious that there is a problem that needs to be solved. And it’s also often the most vulnerable menstruators in our society who experience these kinds of barriers. 

Free-vend tampon dispensers: new solutions to old problems

Tampon dispensers present a possible solution to this period problem. But the way they are currently used is outdated and unhelpful. 

Free the Tampons report shows that only a shockingly low 8% of women say that in their experience tampons and sanitary napkin dispensers in public restrooms work all the time. And if they aren’t working, they can’t help anyone. 

So, what are the options left if your period arrives and the dispensers aren’t working or are empty? 

A staggering 79% of women have improvised by “macgyvering” – essentially creating a make-shift tampon or pad out of toilet paper or whatever else is available to them. Doesn’t that sound horrible? That’s because it is – and no one should have to find themselves in a situation where they need to do it. 

Not only do tampon dispensers need to be readily available, and free to combat the issue but the stigma around periods also needs to be addressed. The Free the Tampon report also showed that 57% of the women surveyed would feel embarrassed if they were caught in public without the period products they needed. 

When women feel embarrassed to talk about their periods, they go on suffering in silence. By removing the stigma around periods we can help to give women and menstruators the confidence and reassurance that their voices will be heard when they breach these ‘taboo’ topics. 

So how do we defeat the tampon dispenser dilemma that we have found ourselves in? The answer is easier than you might think.

Tampon dispenser legislation in the US

Legislation is a growing part of the solution to the tampon dispenser dilemma but is still woefully slow to pass and not fully encapsulating the problem. 

Every state has different legislation about period products. Some have none at all, while some require them to be provided for free in certain locations, some remove sales tax, and others do not. 

For example, in California, all public schools and universities are mandated to provide free menstrual products in their restrooms, and in Maryland “School boards of education ensure each public school provides, at no charge to students, period products via dispensers in women’s restrooms.” But not every state has this type of legislation, and what about the people who need tampons and aren’t in school? 

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In Los Angeles, The City Council has approved a pilot program that will provide free menstrual products at six public libraries. In Ann Arbor, legislation has passed that requires pads and tampons be provided to business customers, students, employees, and any other visitors in public restrooms citywide. But these are only a few examples which means there is still a long way to go to ensure all people who menstruate have access to free period products in the US. 

The fact remains that the cost of feminine hygiene products remains high, so high that it can be a barrier to attending school, being at work, and even making the choice between groceries or sanitary pads. 

How much does a tampon dispenser cost?

One of the major oppositions to providing free tampon dispensers is the cost that governments or businesses will incur. 

People who menstruate get a period every month and with an estimated 1.8 billion people across the world menstruating that quickly adds up to a lot of tampons. 

But the truth is that free period products aren’t needed for every menstruator for every cycle. The majority of people who menstruate will be in socio-economic circumstances where they can purchase their own period products. Free tampon dispensers are there for those kinds of uncomfortable situations where a person doesn’t have a tampon available and for those that experience period poverty.

And the cost of providing those free period products is much lower than you might first think. 

Data from the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Public Schools (CPS) shows that the cost of keeping dispensers stocked with menstrual products in schools is $2.48 per student per year. That is a very low figure and shows that free tampon dispensers are an affordable option for many schools. 

Not only did their data look into dispensers but also numerous other period products for which you can see the results below. All data were examined over a three-year period between 2017-2019 and shows that the cost of providing free period products is lower than most governments and businesses think.

 

3-Year Cumulative Total

Average Per Year

Pads

$4,185

$1,395

Tampons

$7,317

$2,439

Waste wrappers

$1,164

$388

Waste receptacles

$2,886

Dispensers

$30,246

The low cost of installing a free tampon dispenser makes them worthwhile in the well-being and feeling of safety they bring to students and citizens.

Still need convincing? Take a look at these 5 reasons why period products should be free

Won’t women take more tampons than they need? 

So how would menstruators use free period products if offered to them? 

  • 66% would only take menstrual products they needed at that moment, 
  • 16% would stock up on what they needed for the rest of the day, and 
  • 6% would take what they needed for their entire period. 
  • Only 2% would also take enough products for future periods.
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A common misconception that makes people overestimate the cost of free tampon dispensers is that people will take more than they need. But we can see from other similar examples that this is simply not the case.

Public restrooms often have toilet paper, soap, and paper towels and you almost never hear of anyone complaining about these being overused. People who menstruate use free-vend tampon dispensers when they need to. Usually, when they are out in public without their own tampons. 

But in the same way that you would not want to rely on toilet paper from a public bathroom to stock your home bathroom, you won’t use a free-vend tampon dispenser for all the tampons you need. 

Beyond the fact that it would be majorly inconvenient, most menstruators also have preferred brands and types of period products whereas dispensers tend to offer only a few options.  

Mounting an Aunt Flow dispenser in the bathroom at your school, business, or healthcare facility demonstrates to your students, employees, patrons, and patients that you care. Plus, creating period positive washrooms will bring you more business! 

Tampon dispensers help people in a moment of need and give them greater confidence to come to work and school when on their period. An unusable dispenser in the bathroom not only makes no sense in terms of business productivity and school attendance but it also puts menstruators at a disadvantage. 

Install a tampon dispenser in your facility’s bathrooms today

Citron Hygiene is supporting period dignity by teaming up with Aunt Flow and advocating that menstrual products are provided and available for free via Aunt Flow free-vend tampon and sanitary napkin dispensers.

66% of women report that they would prefer to spend money at a business that provided free period products over one that didn’t. 

A wall-mounted period product dispenser from Aunt Flow dispenses free products for restroom users. The modern and intuitive design along with free products can help people who menstruate put the tampon dispenser dilemma to rest once and for all. 

Here are Aunt Flows key features:

  • Doesn’t require batteries – dispensers run on a rotator 
  • Can hold  five times the number of products versus other dispensers on the market, and will take half the time to reload
    • Capacity of 50 Aunt Flow 100% organic cotton tampons and 50 Aunt Flow 100% organic cotton pads.
  • ADA Compliant when placed at an appropriate height and place.

The dispenser dilemma is not an ovary-action and needs to be addressed. Let Citron Hygiene and Aunt Flow help you take action to combat it in your facility. 

Find out how we can elevate your washroom experience today.