Amazon or plastic?
February 11, 2024 12:54 PM   Subscribe

When trying to shop local (walk) and buy less plastic, I look for non-applicator tampons. I can rarely find them in my local stores. So I end up ordering them from Amazon. Which sucks more for the for environment?

I know my personal choices aren't really making much of an impact, but I'm still trying to reduce waste (especially plastic waste) and not give all my money to the Amazon beast, but I rarely find the non-applicator tampons in my local stores. So I end up ordering them which comes with the carbon footprint of delivery and the waste of plastic they package things with as well as the boxes they ship in. So like, should I just buy the plastic/paper applicator stuff from local stores or just suck it up and order for delivery?

Not looking for suggestions of other period products or alternative online delivery sources, just theoretically wondering your thoughts on what's worse, waste vs Amazon?
posted by greta simone to Shopping (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Buying the plastic version at the store is worse than ordering from Amazon. I doubt Amazon uses an equal amount of plastic for packing a product like that and the gas is probably negligible considering they're already delivering to others all around you too presumably.
Plus you're not financially supporting the "plastic version" company if you order.
posted by Liquidwolf at 1:23 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]

If you do have other choices for retailers, then I think buying from Amazon is worse. The company is making lives worse in real-time, and neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals (archived link to 2017 Guardian article).
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:23 PM on February 11

This is largely based on my perspective (and imperfect knowledge) as someone who teaches urban planning near a logistics hub (Inland Empire, aka east of Los Angeles), but Amazon has more negative knock-on effects. Obviously your one package isn't singlehandedly driving the diesel truck traffic and air pollution or causing Amazon to up surveillance on employees, nevertheless I find Amazon more problematic than tampon applicators.

Also Ask Umbra's column at and Lloyd Alter's assignment for students on carbon emissions of various items might be of interest/helpful.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:24 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

(I meant to highlight how we, ourselves, are part of "the environment" when considering the environmental impact of consumer choices.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:27 PM on February 11

Have you thought about asking local stores to carry them? If they are usually sold out, doesn't that mean they're popular?
posted by Marky at 1:28 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]

This is not a direct answer to your question, but have you considered asking a local store to stock the items you prefer? I recommend sticking to purchasing from only that store once you notice they stock the items; they in turn will notice if someone regularly buys the items, and then continue to stock it. (Theoretically.)
posted by samthemander at 1:30 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

I personally square this type of circle by ordering on Amazon, but delivered to an Amazon locker (which I then walk to). I figure the Amazon truck is definitely going to the locker anyway.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:30 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Have you thought about asking local stores to carry them? If they are usually sold out, doesn't that mean they're popular?

Stores don't stock them because they are not a popular item, not the other way around. I have indeed asked my local store to carry and they gave me that answer.

Regardless, again, I'm not looking for answers for alternatives to these two options, just asking for opinions on which is worse. I do appreciate supporting information for one vs the other (including worker treatment, etc).
posted by greta simone at 1:41 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]

Another thing you can do is stock up and buy a lot at once, regardless of whether you get them from a local store or Amazon. If you find them at a local store (or even a not-that-local store that you happen to be passing by), great, now you don't need to worry about it for a while. If you get a bunch of boxes from Amazon at once, you're minimizing some of the impact on the workers and the environment.

You know about how many tampons you're going to need for the next year, and tampons (especially applicator-free ones) don't take up much room in your home, so there's not a lot of downside to buying several months' worth at a time.
posted by mskyle at 1:41 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]

This book doesn't actually answer your question, but you may find it an interesting read nonetheless, based on the fact that you are interested in this stuff. It looks at the actual carbon costs of these kinds of life decisions:

How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything
posted by splitpeasoup at 1:49 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

I’m not sure there’s any way to know which is worse, as we generally dont have access to the details and everything we come up with is going to be pure speculation.

I’d personally buy a ton from Amazon once - less amazon deliveries, only supporting the Bezos machine once, and youll have a couple years of tampons and wont need to worry for a long time.
posted by cgg at 2:25 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]

I searched ob tampons near me and they may be carried at Walgreens, Target, and Walmart. Try that search with your preferred brand. Tampons and any period supplies are critical healthcare so your needs should be a big part of the decision. If you do order online your impact is reduced by placing 1 large order instead of many small orders.
posted by theora55 at 5:56 PM on February 11

whole foods and health food stores have organic cotton applicator free tampons
posted by brujita at 8:12 PM on February 11

Response by poster: For the third time, I’m not asking for alternatives. I understand what the alternatives are. I’m asking about which is worse between the two options provided.
posted by greta simone at 8:42 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]

your thoughts on what's worse, waste vs Amazon?

I have entirely stopped worrying about plastics going to landfill after finally having realized that stable carbon compounds sequestered in a landfill are probably not going to end up being much involved in the fast planetary carbon cycle. As long as we insist on de-sequestering fossil fuels, locking them up in extremely chemically stable forms and then re-sequestering them is among the least damaging things we could do with them afterwards.

Waste plastic is a dreadful problem when not properly managed exactly because it is so chemically stable under almost all environmental conditions; it needs either long-term sequestration or to be used as a feedstock for processes that genuinely displace fossil fuel consumption. So getting an answer to how damaging your own use of disposable plastics is will depend pretty sensitively on how competently run your local waste collection and processing systems are.

The damage done by the worst neo-feudalist corporation operating in the world today is much less uncertain and much less contingent on local conditions. So unless you live somewhere that has egregiously poor waste management practices, my vote is No on Bezos for acquiring anything that you use on an ongoing basis.

That said, I absolutely agree with all the recommendations above for infrequent acquisition of your preferred waste-minimizing option in bulk.
posted by flabdablet at 10:26 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]

I believe they could be very much the same. The tampons are created in a factory somewhere, using materials we all know aren't super natural (the plastic). Who knows the worker conditions there. They are shipped to a distribution center, and maybe another for the store. If it's Amazon, they ship them there and they ship to you. We know their worker conditions aren't great. But if you buy from the store, the product has more plastic and worse, isn't what you want to use.

I think that this question will be tainted in many people's minds here because we know FAR more about Amazon then the tampon companies.

I think buying in bulk the product you want from Amazon lessens the amount of times you order and is the lesser evil. It also is a consumer choice for a product with less plastic. I am sure someone out there violently disagrees with me but that's my take.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:02 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

If you have a food scale, I'd consider doing a simple experiment. Weigh the plastic applicator, multiply it by the number of tampons in the box, you have a baseline weight. Then, place an order for the non-applicator tampons with Amazon, and weigh the plastic packaging used to deliver it. While different kinds of plastics may biodegrade differently, in most cases it will be the raw weight of the single-use plastic that is going to have the greatest environmental effect. Whichever option has the amount of plastic that weighs the least wins.

(If it's delivered in cardboard only, that's a bit of a different matter, but one that you have likely already considered.)

If you live in a reasonably dense neighborhood and regularly see Amazon trucks on your street, it's going to be very difficult to quantify the effects of having it delivered versus walking to a local store. The item is already getting delivered to the store from a warehouse on a truck with a number of items to be shared by various consumers; if there's going to be an Amazon truck in your neighborhood on any given day, there is likely no substantial difference in emissions having an item delivered to your house rather than getting it at a local store where it had also previously been delivered.

We also regularly get Amazon packages via the USPS, and despite my best efforts to cut down on junk mail and use e-statements, we're still visited by our mail carrier every day. If they send the package to you via USPS, and the mail carrier was going to visit you and/or your nearby neighbors anyway, the environmental impact of having it shipped versus getting it at a local store would truly be trivial.

(On the contrary, it's easy to quantify the impact of walking to the store versus driving one's own car to the store, or using a personal delivery service like Doordash where someone is driving to and from the store entirely on your behalf, both of which would create substantially greater emissions than the alternatives. But trying to quantify a shared delivery truck or van in your neighborhood versus a truck or van delivering to the store? Just not worth trying to calculate the difference.)
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 8:01 AM on February 12

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