The production of plastic is a by product of the petroleum industry and includes a varied range of polymers. Its production releases large amounts of toxic pollution into the environment, and its disposal is responsible for much of the accountable damage to marine life and seascape, wildlife and landscape.
About 90% of the materials used to make sanitary pads and liners are plastic and include polyethylene, polypropylene and polyacrylate super absorbents. The extraction, production and manufacture of which contributes Nitrogen oxide, Sulphur dioxide and Carbon dioxide to the environment – ozone depleting gases; human toxins that lead to cancer and birth defects as well as chemicals that cause the acidification of trees.
Every year, over 45 billion feminine hygiene products are disposed of somewhere. Given the very high plastic loading of these products, incineration can lead to toxic releases from stacks and burying them in landfill, which would require holes 300 foot/90 metres cubed, means that plastic persists in the environment for all time.
90% of all superabsorbent materials are used in disposable articles, most of which end up in landfills or are incinerated creating a huge environmental problem made even worse by the petroleum plastics used in such products. Conventional sanitary pads and liners, incontinence pads and baby diapers as well as several "natural" brands of sanitary pads and baby diapers, use polyacrylates to enhance the absorbency of their products.
Commercial production of superabsorbent polymers began in Japan in 1978 for use in sanitary pads. In the 80's, using crude oil derived raw materials, European manufacturers enhanced the polymer so that it now absorbed 30 times it's own weight under pressure. By the mid 90's, production of SAP jumped to a massive 700 million tons. 75% used in diaper production, 10% in incontinence products, 10% in sanitary pads, and the rest in meat trays, etc.
The super absorbents are either scattered into a layer of fluff pulp or are embedded in a compressed airlaid that is composed of fluff pulp, latex, acrylics binders and glue. If you look at the image to the right, you will see that the swollen gel holds the liquid in a solid, rubbery state which prevents the liquid from leaking out.