Intimate choices made easy: EU Ecolabel upgrades sustainable hygiene offering

From baby diapers to menstrual items, choosing hygiene products that are best for our health, wallet and planet can be a headache. The EU Ecolabel is here to help – now also with a reusable option. 

The EU Ecolabel has just updated and extended its offer of certified hygiene products, including stronger criteria for diapers, tampons and pads, as well as brand new criteria for reusable menstrual cups. 

The label is a certification of sustainability for non-food products and services, including cosmetics, paper products, detergents, textiles, furniture, electronics, and tourist accommodations. Amidst a proliferation of green marketing that is too often misleading, the EU Ecolabel stands out for its robustness and reliability. It is run by the European Commission and its criteria are developed in collaboration with environmental and consumer organisations, as well as national authorities, who also verify companies’ compliance. 

What’s new 

The new EU Ecolabel criteria set the bar higher for sanitary items by introducing stricter environmental provisions for the entire life cycle of products, from the sustainable sourcing of raw materials to the reduction of waste, including packaging. Polluting emissions, for instance from bleaching fluff pulp, and energy consumption during manufacturing are reduced to a minimum. 

The new provisions also ensure safer and fairer labour conditions for workers on the production line. 

Moreover, the new requirements set higher standards to safeguard consumers’ health by excluding or tightly restricting many hazardous substances, such as endocrine disruptors, phthalates and heavy metals. Fragrances and lotions, which can spark allergies, are also banned from EU Ecolabel tampons, pads and nappies. This is particularly important as these items come into close and prolonged contact with our bodies. The final products must also be tested for hazardous substances which are not added intentionally but may be present because of contamination during the manufacturing process. 

The reusable game changer

On top of updating the requirements for single-use hygiene products, the EU Ecolabel is making a groundbreaking expansion by including, for the first time, reusable menstrual cups. 

Integrating reusable menstrual items is a key development, as disposable sanitary products represent a major source of waste and pollution. In 2017, consumption data showcased alarming figures: the EU and the UK consumed more than 49 billion units of menstrual products, generating around 590,000 tonnes of waste. Additionally, they used approximately 33 billion single-use baby nappies, resulting in 6,731,000 tonnes of waste. 

These numbers are particularly concerning as hygiene products are mainly made of plastic, and rank among the primary sources of single-use plastic pollution found on beaches and littering the ocean, as European Commission’s data show. 

At the same time, single-use sanitary products can weigh heavily on our wallets. Zero Waste Europe estimates that menstruators use, on average, 14,000 disposable menstrual products over their lifetime, which cost up to €4,500 – a price that one out of five cannot afford in the EU. In stark contrast, the cost of reusable alternatives ranges between €100 and €210 over a lifetime. 

This contributes to the raising popularity of menstrual cups: a EU survey on consumers’ willingness to shift from disposable to reusable showed “menstrual cups were the most used reusable option due to them being environmentally friendly, comfortable and a good value for money as they can be used for five to ten years.” 

The EU Ecolabel offering of reusable hygiene products may further increase soon, as other options such as reusable diapers, pads and period underwear could be covered by revised criteria for EU Ecolabel textiles. 

Making choices easy 

By constantly upgrading and expanding its offer of eco-friendly products, the EU Ecolabel provides us with items we can trust and helps make important choices easier. Yet the label is much more than just a guide for consumers. 

In a market where customers are increasingly on the lookout for sustainable options, manufacturers who choose the EU Ecolabel to prove their green credentials can get an edge over competitors and enhance their brand image. Moreover, complying with the label’s strict environmental criteria to reduce energy use, water consumption and waste generation helps companies to optimise production and eventually save costs. 

At the same time, since its launch over three decades ago, the EU Ecolabel has served as a benchmark for other EU policies – from promoting Ecodesign and the right to repair, to combating greenwashing and greening public procurement. 

This is why environmental and consumer NGOs call on EU policy makers to keep developing the label, include more product categories, and reinforce its role as a robust method to substantiate green claims and reward sustainability frontrunners.