People in need of menstrual products in the United States have been sounding the alarm in recent months, after noticing less packaging of tampons on store shelves, or after learning that their favorite brand of tampons was suddenly unavailable.
The issue really caught the public’s attention when TIME Magazine ran an article earlier this month titled The Great Tampon Shortage of 2022: The Supply Chain Problem No One Is Talking About.
“Over the past few months, I’ve visited stores in New York, Massachusetts, and California with no pads. And it’s not just me,” author Alana Semuels wrote on June 7.
Manufacturers and retailers have acknowledged the problem, saying they are working to restock and restock stores, but women’s rights advocates say that in the meantime people who need tampons but don’t can’t get them — especially low-income Americans — are suffering.
“Not having access to menstrual products when you need them is indeed a crisis,” Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Women and Democracy Fellow at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, told Al Jazeera.
“This may sound like hyperbole, but I would ask anyone…what would you do if you didn’t have a tampon or a pad when you needed them?” she says.
Here, Al Jazeera looks at exactly what is happening:
What is causing the shortage?
The shortage was caused by at least half a dozen factors combined, said Pricie Hanna, managing partner at Price Hanna Consultants, a consulting firm specializing in nonwovens markets and technology.
The first of these are supply chain disruptions related to COVID-19.
Even before the pandemic hit, U.S. manufacturers were importing many of the key raw materials needed to make tampons — namely cotton and rayon (also called viscose) — from Asia and Europe because production was insufficient, Hanna told Al Jazeera.
“Since the pandemic, the flow and timing of global supply chains, both for shipping to the United States and for trucking within the United States, has been highly volatile and unpredictable,” a- she declared.
Meanwhile, the US is experiencing a labor and truck shortage that has disrupted the normal restocking of tampons in US stores. Tampon makers have also been forced to raise prices for consumers as the cost of cotton and rayon has risen dramatically over the past year, Hanna said.
Citing NielsenIQ, Bloomberg reported last week that the average price of a pack of tampons rose 9.8% in the year to May 28; the average price of sanitary napkins increased by 8.3%.
News of the shortage also likely caused women to start stocking up on tampons, Hanna continued, while the final contributing factor, she said, is that with the onset of warmer summer months in the United States, “We are at the beginning of the seasonal increase in the use of tampons in the United States for swimming.
How serious is the shortage?
It’s a bit blurry. American manufacturers contacted by Al Jazeera did not quantify the problem when asked to provide figures or data.
The Wall Street Journal, citing data analytics firm IRI, reported this week that “an average of 7% of tampons were out of stock in U.S. stores in the week ending Sunday.” Arkansas and West Virginia are among the hardest-hit US states, according to the newspaper.
“Elsewhere, several parts of Indiana and the Jackson, Mississippi and Wheeling, West Virginia areas are experiencing shortages, according to IRI.”
What do tampon manufacturers say?
Procter & Gamble, which produces Tampax tampons, told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement that this was “a temporary situation”.
“The Tampax team produces tampons 24/7 to meet the growing demand for our products,” the company said. “We are working with our US business partners to maximize availability, which has increased significantly over the past few months.”
A spokesperson for Edgewell, which produces Playtex and ob tampons as well as Carefree and Stayfree liners and sanitary napkins, told Al Jazeera that “significant labor shortages caused by two separate power surges in ‘Omicron’ have affected production – and therefore inventory – of its products at its US manufacturing facility. in late 2021 and with a supplier in Canada in early 2022.
“We have been operating our manufacturing facilities around the clock to replenish inventory and anticipate a return to normal levels in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson said in an email.
What are US retailers saying?
A spokesperson for Walgreens, a major pharmacy chain across the United States, told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement that the company is “working diligently with our suppliers to ensure we have a supply available”.
“However, like other retailers, we are experiencing temporary shortages of brand-specific pads in certain geographies. While we continue to have product on shelves and online, it may only be in brands specific as we navigate the supply disruption.”
A spokesperson for CVS, another popular pharmacy chain, told Al Jazeera the company was also working with its suppliers to ensure “sufficient supply” of tampons in its stores.
“Over the past few weeks, there have been instances where suppliers have been unable to fulfill all orders placed. If a local store is temporarily short of specific products, we work to restock those items as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.
This isn’t America’s first supply chain crisis during the pandemic, is it?
Toilet paper was in short supply at the start of the pandemic, as many consumers bought large quantities out of panic. A continuing shortage of infant formula has recently caused panic in the United States, as children were hospitalized and desperate families frantically searched for supplies.
President Joe Biden has instructed the Department of Defense to contract commercial planes to transport infant formula from overseas, among other efforts to ease this latest crisis, but shortages persist in many parts of the country.
Is the US government doing something about the shortage of tampons?
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked Thursday whether the tampon shortage was on the Biden administration’s radar and whether it was tracking other potential shortages of other products. “I should check with the team what they are tracking. I don’t have a list for you right now,” she replied, not addressing the issue of tampons.
US Senator Margaret Wood Hassan wrote a letter to Procter & Gamble CEO Jon Moeller this week urging the company to “act quickly” in the face of the shortage. She also condemned “price gouging” and asked Moeller to provide “justifications for the price increases we have seen over the past year.”
“Access to menstrual products should be treated like any other essential good. At the start of the pandemic, rising prices for essentials like toilet paper, cleaning products and hand sanitizer were rightly criticized. as an exploitation of an emergency for financial gain. Menstrual products should be given the same consideration,” Hassan wrote.
It is up to our elected officials to ensure that the cost of this shortage does not fall on the backs of the people who need these products the most.
What does that leave people to do while they wait?
Hanna said women are likely looking for alternatives to their favorite products at the moment.
“They can recalibrate exactly how to provide that protection based on what they’ve been able to buy this week,” she told Al Jazeera. “I think we can see some improvement in shelf availability in retail stores already this week, but honestly, it very much depends on which store you’re looking at and what time you check it.”
Already, many in the United States were struggling to afford tampons, even before recent price increases or shortages.
A 2019 survey of low-income women in St Louis, Missouri found that 64% said they could not afford to buy menstrual products during the month. previous year, while 21% said they had experienced this problem every month. “Almost half of women (46%) could not afford both food and menstrual hygiene products in the past year,” he said.
For years, women’s rights advocates, medical professionals and other experts have lobbied lawmakers to provide free menstrual products to all who need them, and to stock up on tampons, pads and other free products in public schools, prisons and other institutions.
“One of the slogans that a lot of people who have been running this…over the last couple of years is that ‘periods don’t end for pandemics’. And periods don’t end for shortages either. ‘supply,'” Weiss-Wolf of the Brennan Center for Justice said.
“So if we have a supply chain problem and it is more difficult to get products, it is up to our elected officials to ensure that the cost of this shortage does not fall on the backs of the people who need them the most, and for whom not having them will cause the most difficulty.