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Why is there a shortage of tampons?

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Lack of tampons puts a strain on consumers across the country, an outgrowth of the same forces plaguing the global economy – from sky-high costs for raw materials and fuel, to labor shortages and a difficult supply chain – and experts say little relief is in sight .

Pharmacy visits, group chats and social media are full of conversations about frustrated searches for period products, a necessity for half of the population that is still detected by federal aid and is not tax-free in most states. The prices of tampons and sanitary napkins have skyrocketed in the midst of the crisis, at a time when historical inflation is causing households to pay more for gas, groceries and other necessities.

Karyn Leit, 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, she has had “clients who come to me in tears and say that they are menstruating while we talk and there is something I can do to help them.”

She would like more people to understand that menstruation “is a biological process” and that these products should be available everywhere. “When they are not, it stops people from doing their daily routine.”

Elise Joy, co-founder and CEO of Girls Helping Girls Period, said she saw the first hints of the shortage in early spring, when several agencies began asking if her group could supply them with menstrual products. In April, she was peppered with phone calls and emails from organizations that also donate tampons and bandages to those who can not afford, and asked her to fill the supply gaps.

Joy has not rejected anyone, but she is not sure how long she will be able to keep up. Even her business partners are struggling to keep up with demand.

“I can see supplies dwindling in stock,” Joy told The Washington Post. “We’re ok at the moment, for the next couple of months given the supplies I have, but I do not necessarily know what’s going to happen in the fall.”

Data on the shortage are incoherent, but scarcity and inflation have been reflected in price increases: The average cost of a pack of tampons has risen almost 10 percent in the last year, while a pack of bandages has risen 8.3 percent, according to data from NielsenIQ.

Meanwhile, the recall of products has reached a 10-year high, according to a recent report from Sedgwick Claims Management Services, with more than 900 million units of inventory recalled in the first quarter of 2022.

A spokesman for CVS Health acknowledged that there have been times in recent weeks where providers have not been able to “meet the full number of orders placed for feminine care products in recent weeks. Walgreens told The Post that it is experiencing “some temporary brand-specific deficiencies in certain geographies.”

Procter & Gamble, the maker of Tampax, said they are partnering with retail partners to maximize the availability of feminine care products, “which have increased significantly in recent months.”

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

Not all brands have been affected equally. Kimberly-Clark, the Irving, Tex-based consumer goods giant and maker of U by Kotex tampons, told The Post that it “has not experienced a shortage of products or supplies” in the United States, and that they “work closely with our retail partners.” to keep the shelves in stock. “

If manufacturers now struggle to keep the product on the shelves, it will only get worse as the year progresses and the peak season approaches for shippers and resellers, according to Vaughn Moore, CEO of AIT Worldwide Logistics.

“Capacity is only going to get tighter as we move toward the end of the year,” Moore said. “It’s a really challenging time.”

Consumers have had to contend with product shortages through the coronavirus pandemic, be it toilet paper and hand sanitizer or cleaning wipes and baby replacements. It has become “a new normal”, but one that consumers in the United States are not used to.

“We are not used to delayed gratification and not getting an immediate response to the things we need,” Moore said.

Some of the inventory problems stem from the rising costs of cotton, rayon and plastic, according to Nirav Patel, president and CEO of Bristlecone, a logistics company in the supply chain. The demand for such raw materials had been pushed in recent years by the urgency of producing medical necessities in the pandemic, Patel noted, and now the supply challenges present major problems for manufacturers.

The cost of transportation for consumer goods, for example, has almost tripled, he noted, whether it is the fee for taking a shipping container abroad or for last-mile delivery. China’s zero tolerance covid policy has contributed to port congestion and shipping delays for many major retailers, as well as widespread labor shortages.

The shortage could lead to hoarding as retailers slowly fill up their shelves, but it will only worsen and prolong the shortage, Patel warned.

Tampons are meant to be used once and then discarded, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Experts also warn against trying to extend its use because it can make the user vulnerable to infection. Health authorities and manufacturers recommend changing them every four to eight hours.

The feminine hygiene industry is estimated to be worth more than $ 54 billion by 2028, and the average user will pay about $ 1,800 over a lifetime if they use tampons, or more than $ 4,750 if they use sanitary napkins, according to 2021 research by Pandia Health . Applicators and other waste from menstrual products greatly contribute to the plastic pollution suffocating the oceans.

For those who struggle to find tampons in their area, menstrual cups are an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative, similar to period underwear.

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

As tampon stocks have declined, CEO Angie Wiseman has seen an increase in interest in Dignity Period’s organic, reusable cotton pads. A $ 12.50 package contains four, which should last the user for 12 to 18 months provided they are washed according to the instructions. By comparison, a one-year supply of the most popular tampon brands would run from $ 225 to $ 250.

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