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'Do Not Flush Feminine Products!' The Environmental History, Biohazards and Norms Contained in the UK Sanitary Bin Industry Since 1960

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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 problems 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 1980s, 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 it reveals changing attitudes towards menstruation, the environment and bathroom politics.

Keywords: bathroom politics; environmental activism; menstruation; sanitary bin; twentieth-century Britain; waste

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2021

This article was made available online on November 19, 2019 as a Fast Track article with title: "‘Do Not Flush Feminine Products!’ The Environmental History, Biohazards and Norms Contained in the UK Sanitary Bin Industry Since 1960".

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  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2021) of 0.925. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.902.
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