Illustration by Elena Scotti/Fusion

Last week we set the record straight that you should definitely NOT flush tampons down the toilet—unless you want a sewage overload and the subsequent responsibility on your hands.

Then, lo and behold, a new study this week revealed that tampons can actually play an important role in sewage systems. When used strategically, those little cotton wads can help detect pollution in rivers.

Advertisement

Before we proceed, let's just be clear: This study in no way endorses flushing tampons down the toilet. The trash bin is right there, ladies. Use it. And besides, I happen to think that yelling “I BID YOU, ACCEPT MY SACRIFICE, MOTHER EARTH!” before tossing feminine hygiene products in the trash is more fun, anyway.

Now then. In the study, researchers from England's University of Sheffield discovered a MacGyver-like solution to detecting sewage pipe leakages in natural waterways. All with the help of the tampon and a UV light.

As Gwen Pearson at Wired explains, towns and cities usually support two separate sewer systems: "Sanitary sewers" process the stuff we flush down the drain (which hopefully does not include tampons), transporting our waste to a water treatment facility. "Storm sewers" collect rainwater, then dump that water into natural waterways such as streams or rivers. Sometimes, however, "waste water" finds its way into the storm sewer system.

Advertisement

Normally, tracking down faulty piping and sewer pollution requires a lot of work. But the tampon’s absorbent powers have proven delightfully useful for soaking up "optical brighteners," the additives found in cleaning products like detergents that sometimes make their way into the storm sewer system—and provide a telltale sign of contamination.

"Tampons are about the only kind of cotton you can get cheaply that have no optical brighteners," study co-author and professor of environmental engineering David Lerner told LiveScience. How do you know when optical brighteners are present? They glow under UV light.

The resourceful researchers stuck tampons in 16 surface water sewers, attaching them to bamboo poles. After three days, they removed the tampons and inspected them under UV light. Sure enough, they found that some tampons glowed, indicating that optical brighteners had found their way into some of the tested waters.

Lerner and his co-author, Dave Chandler, intend to spread the word about this affordable way to detect pollution by teaching locals how to dip tampons in water sources and flash UV lights on them.

Saving the environment is not the only non-menstrual use of tampons. You might also consider these other uses:

  • Nosebleed stopper (thanks, Amanda Bynes)
  • Crude water filter
  • Fire tinder
  • Emergency fishing bobber
  • DIY glowsticks (just dip 'em in optical brighteners)
  • Earrings
  • Cat toy
  • Nail polish remover
  • Endometrial cancer detector
  • Replacement chess pieces (the applicators may stand up better)
  • Finger puppets
  • Flapper dress
  • Paintbrush/painting sponge
  • Makeshift gauze for when you get your wisdom teeth pulled
  • Bicycle handle streamers
  • Pin cushion
  • Eyeliner remover
  • Soil aerator
  • Voodoo doll (see pin cushion)
  • Handkerchief (for mopping your brow)
  • A very effective string around the finger to help you remember something
  • Anti-vampire ammo (just soak them in holy water)