Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Report

Memorandum by the National Bag It and Bin It Campaign (EL 03)


  The Bag It and Bin It campaign is an environmental awareness initiative that aims to encourage people, particularly women between the ages of 15-45, not to flush items such as sanitary products, condoms and cotton buds down the toilet, but to bag them and bin them instead. Despite the investment in sewage treatment by the Water industry, these items are still sometimes able to pass through sewage treatment works, ending up polluting riverbanks and beaches.

  It is estimated that 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million sanitary towels and 0.7 million panty liners are flushed every day.[1]

  The disposal of these items into the waste water system causes problems for operators through blockages, increased need for sewer maintenance and increased loads to treatment works. It also impacts on the environment via overflow discharges and escape through filtration screens.

  The Bag It and Bin It campaign is "steered" by a National Group, whose members include:

    —  Water UK.

    —  Women's Environment Network.

    —  Surfers Against Sewage.

    —  National Households Hazardous Waster Forum.

    —  Marine Conservation Society.

    —  Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association.

    —  EPC Environmental Services.

    —  Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

    —  Environment Agency.


  By raising public awareness through media activity, a web site, campaign office, newsletter and by encouraging the use of the logo on packaging, the campaign has contributed to the 60 per cent reduction in sewage related debris on Britain's beaches (Marine Conservation Society/Reader Digest Beachwatch Surveys 1996, 1997, 1998).


    —  Over 700 media features.

    —  Over half a million leaflets and stickers distributed.

    —  Support from all leading retailers and key manufacturers.

    —  Awareness went from 0 per cent to 13 per cent in the first eight months alone (MORI).


  Manufacturers and retailers are encouraged to support the campaign by including the campaign logo and/or correct disposal massages on products that consumers might flush.

  Currently, the type of products that carry the logo include: tampons, sanitary towels, panty liners, condoms, nappies, razors and cotton buds. The logo is printed on over 100,000 toilet stickers, 700,000 disposal units, 45 million products and packaging for 80 million disposal bags and a wide range of manufacturers and retailers back the campaign including: Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Safeway, Co-op, Johnson & Johnson and Smith & Nephew.


  The success of the campaign is measured through evaluation of the key messages in the target media, the number of "hits" to the web site, the number of requests for information and through the MCS/Reader's Digest Beachwatch Survey.

  However, the Bag It and Bin It campaign has not yet researched the impact of the logo on packaging compared to the other communication methods.


  Unfortunately, a number of the largest manufacturers of sanitary protection do not currently back the campaign. In fact the messages on the packaging can led to confusion e.g., Tampax respects the environment, Tampax Satin tampons, applicators and wrappers are biodegradable and can be flushed down the toilet if there is not litter bin.

  University of Abertay, Wastewater Technology Centre is currently involved in research into lifecycle analysis of these types of products. The only information that exists into "biodegrade time" is held by the manufacturers. The National Bag It and Bin It campaign would argue that having used tampons on beaches and riverbanks at all is not acceptable even if it is only from the time it takes for them to biodegrade.


  Aside from sanitary protection, the other problem is the cotton bud. Because of their size and shape, cotton buds can pass through screens at sewage treatment works and out into the environment. Many cotton buds are made of polypropylene, which persists in the environment. The rigid stems can also damage screens enabling larger items to pass through.

  The best known brand in the cotton bud market, Johnson and Johnson and the leading own-label supplier, Toiletry Sales, support the campaign through the use of the logo on their products.

  The Bag It and Bin It Campaign has contacted manufacturers to discuss the use of the logo and/or changing to a biodegradable material for the stems.

  So far the response has been poor. Despite the technology existing to make the sticks from cornstarch, there is little incentive because of the increased cost. The campaign recently contacted a retailer, who had changed from paper sticks to polypropylene. Their reasoning was that the paper sticks in the damp environment of a bathroom could harbour dangerous microbiological organisms.


  The leading manufacturers of sanitary protection have in-school programmes during which young girls are taught about menstruation, however, there is little evidence to suggest that when teenagers are taught about menstruation they are taught about correct disposal.

  In order to have a long-term impact on the flushing habits of the national, the campaign would ideally include a strong educational element. However, budgetary constraints currently restrict this.


  A joint research programme, undertaken by the Wastewater Technology Centre at the University of Abertay, Dundee, in association with the three Scottish Water Authorities, the Universities of Westminster and Coventry and Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, has been investigating the relative sustainability (in a holistic sense) of disposal via the solid water route compared to the waste water route. The results of this study will be available in January.

Dr Stephen Bird, Bag It and Bin It Campaign Chairman
Sarah Harris, Bag It and Bin It Campaign
Dr Nicola Souter, University of Abertay
Samantha Pollard, Marine Conservation Society
Chris Hines, Surfers Against Sewage
Ann Link, Women's Environmental Network
Phillip Barnes, Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association
Gareth Morgan, National Household Hazardous Waste Forum

1  Source: University of Abertay, Waste Water Technology Centre (see also "Think Before You Flush, People's attitude and a methodology for change" University of Abertay October 1998.) Back

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Prepared 18 February 1999