‘Do not flush feminine products!’ The environmental history, biohazards and norms contained in the UK sanitary bin industry 1960-2020

Camilla Mork Rostvik* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The sanitary bin and warnings such as ‘Do Not Flush Feminine Products!’ have become a feature of women’s public bathrooms throughout Britain. Begun in the 1950s by family- owned companies such as Personnel Hygiene Services and Cannon Hygiene, and developed into large corporate systems, these items and their cleaning structures have expanded into nearly every university, hospital, office, café, school and gym in the country. This article examines the three historical phases of sanitary bin technology and its meanings. First, the pioneering phase when the bin was needed to tackle the problem of flushing menstrual products and unpopular incinerators, and was developed and popularised by creative entrepreneurs. Second, the environmental phase when campaigners, especially the Women’s Environmental Network, boosted the industry as they called for more regulations regarding menstrual product waste in the 1970s and - 80s, leading to the popularisation of the bin exchange and cleaning services now commonplace throughout the UK. Third, the high-tech phase of the 2000s, when the industry sought to reinvent the object by adding no-touch technology, more chemicals, and aesthetic innovations. This article thus presents the sanitary bin in its historical context for the first time, and argues that reveals changing attitudes towards menstruation, the environment, and bathroom politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-579
Number of pages31
JournalEnvironment and History
Volume27
Issue number4
Early online date19 Nov 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2021

Keywords

  • Sanitary bin
  • Menstruation
  • Waste
  • Twentieth-Century Britain
  • Environmental Activism
  • Bathroom Politics

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