This City Requires Public Restrooms to Provide Period Products for Free

many new clean tampons and one used bloody tampon - period or menstruation flat lay concept with fake blood

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Key Takeaways

  • Ann Arbor, Michigan passed an ordinance that will make period products free in public restrooms.
  • The new rule comes after Michigan’s Governor signed a bill banning the state’s former “tampon tax" this month.
  • This could break down some financial barriers for people who struggle with period poverty.

Ann Arbor, Michigan on Monday became the first U.S. city to require public restrooms to provide free menstrual products, along with things like hand soap and toilet paper, CNN reported.

The ordinance will go into effect in January, after which violators will be charged with a $100 fine. Advocates hope the new ruling will set a precedent for other local governments to address period poverty.

“Ann Arbor passing this law provides such a clear statement around menstrual equity and equal access to manage one's menstrual flow,” said Dana Marlowe, founder of I Support The Girls, an organization that distributes free period products to people in need. “Hopefully, it will make a statement so that other city councils around the U.S. can pay attention and say ‘we can do this too.’”

Marlowe founded I Support The Girls more than six years ago to restore dignity in people who struggle to pay for their menstrual needs. The organization collects and distributes items like bras, underwear, tampons, and pads to people who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, or other forms of distress.

What Is Period Poverty?

Period poverty occurs when someone is unable to afford menstrual products. It's a relatively common phenonmenon as menstrual products are not cheap and the costs can add up over time. According to an ACLU report, studies have shown that when people cannot afford menstrual products, they may resort to rags, diapers, or even paper.

At least 500 million people worldwide—more than 60% of people who menstruate—lack adequate resources for managing their periods, according to the ACLU report. Women of color are also less likely to be able to afford menstrual products than White women as they are more likely to be in poverty.

Marlowe’s organization mainly supports people who are experiencing homelessness, refugees, incarcerated, victims of domestic abuse and sex trafficking. 

Lack of Menstrual Support

People who rely on public assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cannot use these benefits to purchase menstrual products. If people are caught trading food stamps for tampons, they could be prosecuted.

Of the supplies provided, maxi pads are by far the highest in demand, Marlowe said. That’s because they can be a safer alternative than a tampon for a person who doesn’t have access to an otherwise clean space. Maxi pads can also soak up the most blood, meaning they will last longer than other products.

“It’s not a one day kind of event every month,” Marlowe said. “It's a multiple day multiple product per day event per month. Month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year.”

She added that while some menstrual products are reusable, most are not. People who experience poverty may not be able to hold onto reusable products like moon cups or washable underwear because of sanitation concerns.

Marlowe said she’s not surprised by the Ann Arbor news since Michigan has been working to elevate period poverty. Earlier this November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill to repeal the state’s former tampon tax. According to the bill, families were paying taxes on up to $4,800 of menstrual spending in their lifetime.

I Support The Girls runs branches across the country, including in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Tampon Tax

More than half of U.S. states tax period products, also known as a “tampon tax,” according to the non-profit organization Period Equity. A tampon tax is an additional tax placed on tampons or menstrual products that can be as high as 10% of the product, depending on local rules. Taxing tampons can make them even further from reach from people who are low income, and do not have extra funds to spare.

What Else Can We Do to Demand Free Period Products?

Going forward, Marlowe hopes advocacy groups can come together to address period poverty at a state and national level. This means inviting people who don’t menstruate to join the conversation, too. “That's where change happens,” she said.

The majority of elected officials across all types of government are men, representing more than 70% of Congress. Since some of these politicians don’t go through menstruation themselves, they may have a narrower view of the need, Marlowe added.

Marlowe has two sons, who she said are educated and enthusiastic about discussing periods with their peers. The ease they have when talking about periods should be transferable to an adult male population, she added.

Outside of legislation, groundwork remains to be done in normalizing menstruation and reducing shame associated with it. Marlowe hopes that free period products in a public restroom can be as neutral, accessible, and shameless as toilet paper.

“When they walk into a public bathroom and there's toilet paper in the stall, that doesn't seem to be a point of embarrassment for everyone, that seems to be a point of expectation,” Marlowe said. “Why not think that we can have menstrual products there too?”

What This Means For You

Period products will be free in public restrooms in Ann Arbor, Michigan starting in January. Advocates say they hope this step in fighting period poverty can be followed by actions from other cities, states, and the federal government.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Gov. Whitmer signs first bill repealing tampon tax, drives down costs for families. Published November 4, 2021.

  2. Period Equity. Period equity. Updated 2021.

  3. American Civil Liberties Union. The unequal price of periods: menstrual equity in the United States. Published November 12, 2019.

  4. Center for American Women and Politics. Current numbers. Updated November 19, 2021.

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.