“Food and soda vending machines made some major technological advances over the years. Some allow mobile payments. Others can customize soda flavors.
Sanitary napkin and tampon dispensers, however, have been stuck in time.
Most of the dispensers found in women’s bathrooms in department stores, offices and public venues were designed several decades ago. They still require quarters. They often get jammed, or sit empty because no one has manually checked the supply levels, leaving women who forget their own supplies without a basic necessity.
Manufacturers have begun making some improvements, but critics say they have a long way to go to add modern features such as electronic payments or real-time inventory tracking so that janitors can restock when products run low.
“The tampon dispenser hasn’t changed in decades,” said Stephanie Loffredo, who works in the advertising industry and is developing a modernized machine. “It’s a forgotten-about technology no one is thinking about. It hasn’t evolved at all.”
A “Free the Tampons” campaign, led by advertising veteran Nancy Kramer, is advocating for free access to tampons and pads, arguing that they are as necessary to women’s hygiene as toilet paper or soap. Some states, including California and New York, have adopted legislation mandating that schools that meet certain criteria provide students with free tampons and napkins.
“This is becoming a new requirement for schools,” said Nilofar Yagana, business director for accessories at Bobrick Washroom Equipment Inc., of North Hollywood, Calif. “Nobody pays for paper towels. It makes business sense for us as well.” The new laws also have led dispenser makers to make upgrades.”
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