Ella’s promotion for the #AxeTheTax campaign. Credit: Ella Daish

January 1, 2021 brought a victory for people who have periods, as the UK Government finally abolished tampon tax, a 20% VAT on sanitary products, however one of the most sustainable options has been forgotten – the period pants.

Period pants are leakproof underwear designed to be worn in place of your normal pants and a tampon or pad. Each brand varies but they can generally hold the same amount of blood as 4 tampons – nearly a days worth, depending on flow.

Period pants and cups – a silicon cup you insert that collects the blood directly – are relatively new sanitary options compared to pads and tampons, but are much more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The period cup was included in the abolition of tampon tax – so why weren’t period pants?

Period pants producer Wuka say that by retaining a 20% VAT on an essential item, the Government is “indirectly encouraging the purchase of disposable period products”.

Single use period products contain plastics that can take hundreds of years to break down, and contribute to more than 200,000 tonnes of waste every year.

Comparisons between period pants and single use period products. Credit: Wuka

Wuka created a petition for the government in July 2020, after the abolition of tampon tax was mentioned in the Budget, for the government to recognise period pants as essential sanitary products, and not a luxury option.

The government responded in September after it reached 18,000 signatures, saying the scope of the new zero rate “covers the supply of any sanitary protection product that is designed and marketed solely for the absorption or collection of menstrual flow.

“This relief specifically excludes articles of clothing such as ‘period pants’. Such exclusions are designed to ensure that the relief is properly targeted.” 

Personally, Im not sure what else period pants are designed to do, other than absorb menstrual flow, its in the name.

Following Wuka’s petition, MP Daisy Cooper began an Early Day Motion (EDM) to ensure all period products are affordable for all, especially eco-friendly options, and that they are seen as essential. 

The Early Day Motion regarding scrapping VAT on period pants, inset: Daisy Cooper MP.

In her EDM, Ms Cooper states that the house “recognises the sustainability and environmental benefits of reusable menstrual products such as period pants.

“[The house] regrets that such products will continue to attract VAT at a higher rate of 20% and will therefore remain unavailable for many.”

The St Albans MP is asking for her peers’ support, as well as encouraging constituents to email their MPs and ask them to sign the Early Day Motion, which has 27 signatures as of February 1.

The plight to scrap VAT on period pants has been picked up by many environmental activists on social media, one in particular being Ella Daish, who launched the End Period Plastic campaign in 2018, asking manufacturers and distributors of period products to remove plastic from pads and tampon applicators.

Ella and a 6ft tampon applicator she made using 1,200 Tampax applicators collected from beaches and waterways in the UK, as part of her End Period Plastic campaign. Credit: Ella Daish

Speaking with Ella, she said: “It is wrong that the UK Government’s abolishment of VAT on menstrual products does not include period pants. They must get behind this call and take action by removing the tax to help make sustainable options economically viable for all who menstruate, so we can stem the tide of unnecessary waste.

“It doesn’t make sense that period pants have been left out, when the VAT on other menstrual products like tampons, pads, and cups has been dropped.

“The fact that period pants haven’t had the VAT removed from them because the Government deem them a garment and not a menstrual product to me is laughable. They are stocked in the same aisle as tampons and pads in supermarkets, and you wouldn’t wear them on a non-period day would you?”

One of the main benefits of the abolition of tampon tax was that free period products could be given out in schools, an enormous win for period poverty.

One in ten girls in the UK cannot afford sanitary products, resulting in time in education being missed and serious detriment to their self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

As well as tampons and pads now being freely available in schools, Mooncup – who are recognised as the first period cup on the market – teamed up with the Department of Education to provide a reusable option in schools across England, free of charge.

The reusable, environmentally friendly options for sanitary products, such as the period cup and period pants, are at first glance more expensive than a box of tampons, which can make them seem inaccessible to those experiencing period poverty or in lower income households, whether children or adults.

However they work out much more affordable due to their reusable nature.

Here is a rough comparison between period products, their cost and how long they last:

  • The Mooncup is £20.95, and lasts up to 10 years, depending on care (120 periods)
  • Wukas Basics Medium Flow pants start at £12 a pair, with heavy flow period pants starting at £22.99, their underwear lasts 2 years (24 periods)
  • Tampax Compak Regular 18 pack is £2.99 at Superdrug (3 days – a full period for some)
  • Always Platinum Night 16 pack is also £2.99 at Superdrug (around 3 days)

Partially due to the removal of VAT from their products, Mooncup are now able to provide their products to children and teenagers in schools across England. Perhaps if the same were to be done for period pants, they too could become more accessible to all.

By Tia Sanders