It's Giving... Plastic-Free Plugging: In Conversation With Eco-Period Care Pioneer Susie Hewson (Exclusive)

"We're still a campaigning brand," Natracare founder Susie Hewson tells Green Lovers.

Bianca Piazza - Author

Apr. 26 2024, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

Two headshots of Natracare founder and owner Susie Hewson layered over a light blue background image featuring organic, plastic-free tampons
Source: Natracare/Green Lovers illustration

Today, Gen Z-focused branding and progressive, direct language (aka the word "vagina") dot the period care industry. The new kids on the scene won't use blue liquid in their marketing, nor will they opt for nasty chemicals or wasteful packaging. But before ethical, eco-friendly period care was cool, a feminist and environmentalist across the pond paved the way, bringing natural tampons to the forefront.

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Back in 1989, Susie Hewson — the founder and owner of award-winning sustainable period, incontinence, and maternity product company Natracare (a 1% for the Planet member)— introduced the world's first organic, plastic-free tampon.

"I'm proud to have been radicalized in environmental thinking," Hewson exclusively tells Green Lovers via video interview. The "eco-warrior" has joined environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, using her voice for good.

Headshot of Natracare founder and owner Susie Hewson
Source: Natracare
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For Hewson, launching a line of biodegradable, home-compostable period products free of plastics, fragrances, rayons, dyes, and chlorine is activism in and of itself.

"People ask me things as a business person, and I look at myself and say, 'Am I a business person? I'm an activist,'" she tells us.

In celebration of Earth Day 2024, the theme of which is Planet vs. Plastics, we spoke with Susie Hewson about her disruption of the toxic menstrual product industry.

Susie Hewson took action after learning about the catastrophic impact of plastics and dioxin pollution in the 1980s.

After years of working as a graphic designer in London, Hewson "escaped" to Sweden, where she studied at the University of Gothenburg.

"[There was a brook that] was a different color every day. It was sometimes green, sometimes a murky orange," she explains. After investigating, she learned of a nearby pulping facility as well as a manufacturer of products like baby diapers and sanitary pads, which polluted heavily.

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"Greenpeace was campaigning in Canada against dumping of chlorine gas at sea, which is dioxin," she continues. "I saw a program on TV about dioxin pollution (World in Action) and how it's created and promoted through products made from paper. ...The use of chlorine gas was the go-to process for bleaching."

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Hewson was horrified to learn that fish in waters surrounding pulping industry plants had developed cancer. Hewson says this toxic byproduct is "like Agent Orange."

According to the U.S. EPA, dioxin — a generic term for "a group of 75 related chemical compounds known as polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins" — is "a probable human carcinogen."

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"The industry itself, their idea was, 'There's so little in the end product, it's not going to impact you.' Well, no one's ever measured the toxicological impact," she details.

As a mother of two young boys, Hewson was furious, especially when campaigning got her nowhere.

"That was the point where my activism became action to produce a product."

The manipulative petrochemical-infused tampon industry inspired Susie Hewson to act: "Marketing rules the world."

"The projected growth of plastics production from 2025 to 2050 is to go from something like 445 million metric tons to 590 million metric tons," she says of virgin plastic, highlighting the extraction of petroleum, a nonrenewable resource.

Natracare's leak-proof pad film is a "certified biopolymer made from GM-free plant starch," a renewable resource. "The bioplastics we use are home-compost certified," she explains.

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As for that "world's first" innovative tampon, Hewson felt inspired to wake up and inform menstruators who'd long been kept in the dark.

"The [tampon] product you're using is not cotton, it's made in this way, it's 90 percent plastic, it's full of petrochemicals, super absorbent, there are microplastics."

The Seisen International School notes that petrochemical exposure is linked to a slew of conditions, including allergies, depression, anxiety, birth defects, infertility, sickhouse syndrome, and cancer.

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Natracare tampons are made of just 100 percent organic cotton, its pads and liners feature an absorbent core made of PEFC certified sustainable wood pulp from Finland, and the products are chlorine-free.

Susie Hewson's advice for purchasing menstrual products this Earth Day and beyond: "Ask well-researched questions before buying."

Hewson calls the period care industry "a mine field of absence of full ingredient listing and smoke and mirrors marketing messages." She encourages consumers to "look for validations that are independent and scientifically credible, and not generated by a manufacturer."

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To cut down on plastic, Hewson also highlights reusables like menstrual cups, urging consumers to realize "extra vigilance and concerns need to be taken into account when choosing the best option based on type of silicon, dyes used, and human rights issues."

This article is part of Green Lovers’ 2024 Earth Day programming, It's Giving... Earth Day: A series about the people and organizations who are “giving” Earth Day 24/7. We hope these stories inspire you to embody the spirit of Earth Day all year round.

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