Wie nachhaltig ist nevernot?

“Bio-degradable” or “climate-neutral” – these terms come to mind when we think of sustainability. But like nature and its ecosystems, the topic is much more complex.

We often think of our actions to be ecological while unconsciously harming the environment. As an example: many of us think glass containers are a sustainable form of packaging. While this might be true for reusable glass bottles, glass containers which are only used once have an even worse environmental impact than plastic.

Every human activity – be it private or commercial – has some impact on the environment. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to evaluate specific actions as 100% right or wrong in the fight against pollution and climate change. At nevernot, we don’t assume the right to call ourselves sustainable. In order to achieve the highest possible transparency with our customers, the following text provides a summary of our ideas and approaches to the sustainability of nevernot soft tampons as well as nevernot as a company.

From plastic to renewables

Currently, nevernot soft tampons are made from polyurethane foam which is based on mineral oils. Unfortunately this means they are non-biodegradable and have to be disposed of in domestic waste. Due to the degree of the material’s contamination, used soft tampons should not be thrown into the recycling bin, even though this is promoted by some of our competitors.

However, before a plastic product is thrown away at the end of its lifecycle, its production already has an impact on the environment. Roughly 8% of the fossil oil extracted globally ends up in the manufacturing of plastics.

Nowadays, a variety of technologies allow us to produce plastic from renewable raw materials. These resources are sometimes accused of taking away from the food supply chain, as produce like corn, potatoes and others become less available to feed people.  

Moreover, the farming of plant-based materials requires land, the usage of energy, water, fertiliser and pesticides – meaning it can harm the environment in a multitude of ways. Particularly, cotton – which is the main ingredient of conventional tampons – consumes 10.000 to 17.000 liters of water per kg of produce. The amount is even higher for the ever-praised organic cotton. In comparison, the production of plastic on requires an average of 10 litres of water per kg.

At nevernot, we are working on alternative materials allowing us to reduce the usage of mineral oils as well as the CO2 emissions in our production and operational processes from early 2022 on.

Unpackaged is not a solution

In terms of packaging, consumers increasingly demand a reduction of plastics or for a replacement through more sustainable alternatives. This does make sense for many products. Yet, for others, the elimination of packaging can do more harm than good. This is because, apart from marketing, there are some very good reasons to use plastic in the packaging of certain products. These include the protection of perishable food staples or hygiene requirements for certain goods. 

The latter is the case for nevernot soft tampons. While many organic tampon brands come in paper wraps, this is not an option for soft tampons. The foam material is highly sensitive to UV radiation and requires a special foil so it doesn't lose its quality within weeks. If all our customers had to throw away their unused soft tampons every two months – and we had to get rid of all our inventory, this could certainly not be described as an environmentally-friendly practice. The comparably small amounts of plastic used in our packaging can be considered to create less harm.

When sourcing our current packaging materials, we always make sure that these can be easily recycled – because contrary to common beliefs, this is not the standard. A majority of products are packaged using so-called composite materials – a combination of different types of plastic. It is usually very difficult or uneconomical to re-separate these materials in order to achieve the purity required for recycling. We therefore focus on the usage of pure plastic types in our packaging materials which allow for an easy processing by common recycling machinery.

Nevertheless, we are working high-speed on introducing our first biodegradable packaging units by early 2021 while keeping up the high quality and security standards required by our products.

Regional and climate-neutral

Ranging from production to packaging and fulfilment we are keeping our supply chain within Germany and its neighbouring countries. This not only allows us to ensure a consistently high quality, but also helps us keep our carbon emissions low. To offset any remaining CO2 emissions caused by our operations we collaborate with the organisation ClimatePartner. (For more information about the climate projects supported in the context of our collaboration, please check out the following link.)

Recycling Champion?

Even at the end of the product lifecycle, recycling paths are more complicated than they seem. Many of us have in mind the vast quantities of plastic floating around the ocean while others are already celebrating Germany’s high percentage of recycled waste. Once again, the truth lies somewhere in between.

In fact, Germany’s waste separation systems process more recyclable material than anywhere else in the world, but what happens afterwards is a little bleaker. According to a Greenpeace report, only 15% of the collected plastic actually gets recycled. A large part of it ends up in thermal recycling, i.e. it is used as a combustible for industrial or district heating plants. At least in the developed world, most of these plants have filters good enough to avoid any pollutants leaking and these processes only leave us with small amounts of ash which is temporarily stored in old mines until a solution for its further handling has been found.

The major problem, however, is that Germany (like most industrialized nations) sells a large proportion of its garbage to countries in Asia and Africa, where the recycling industries are hardly regulated and landfill sites often unsecured, prone to damage and leakage. This is how German plastic can still end up in the ocean and uncontrolled incineration pollutes the breathing air of people who are especially vulnerable and unable to protect themselves.

The much-praised biodegradable plastics are too good to be true as well. To really biologically decompose these materials, it takes an especially moist and warm environment which rarely occurs in nature or landfill sites. Even though communal composting plants provide the right conditions for these processes, most of the biodegradable plastic doesn’t even end up there. The sensors used in these facilities cannot distinguish between normal and biodegradable plastic and simply reject both materials which then end up in the mainstream plastic waste processing as described above.

To offset any potential harm caused by the plastic we use in our products and packaging, nevernot supports the project “Plastic Bank”. The NGO currently counts more than 21,000 members from coastal communities in Haiti, the Philippines and Indonesia who collect plastic from the beach to then sell it to the organisation. As such, Plastic Bank not only benefits the environment but also provides a source of income to the residents of underdeveloped coastal areas.

Wellbeing first 

The bottom line is that sustainability is important in every part of our lives and should be a long-term goal for every company. Yet, we should all be aware that the female hygiene industry is nowhere near the biggest polluters. Much bigger impact could be created by a policy shift in the fashion, oil or server industries.

With many people acutely suffering from their menstruation their wellbeing should come first. Menstrual cups, reusable pads and period underwear are a great solution for many. Yet, no one should feel ashamed if they don’t get on with these products or simply perceive them as unhygienic.

Menstruation is a highly intimate topic which is experienced differently by every person who menstruates. This means that the choice for your ideal period product must stay individual. nevernot simply offers another option to make the period more comfortable and to give more freedom to all people who menstruate.

Do what you want. nevernot.

P.S.: We are happy about every kind of support we can get. In case you have any helpful ideas or hints about how we can make our products more sustainable, please send us a mail to support@nevernot.de.

October 29, 2020 — Anna Kössel