As patron expectations evolve, the onus lies with architects to create solutions that satisfy modern needs. Today, due to new legislation and changes in preferences, providing feminine products for free is increasingly seen as an expectation, not just a courtesy.

To support the health and comfort of students, public schools, in particular, are using feminine product vendors that require no monetary payment. Some private and retail establishments are using free vendors to build stronger connections with their customers.

The prospect of offering free amenities may concern building operators and facility managers, who may consider the long-term cost of the amenities. However, token-operated vendors are one of the specifiable options that can help facilities control consumption rates.

As laws and consumer preferences prompt facilities to provide free access, designers and manufacturers alike are responding by treating access to feminine hygiene products as a design amenity and are researching solutions to meet the needs of facilities.

A Lesson in EquitySeveral states and municipalities have enacted legislation requiring free feminine care products in public schools, which can improve student health, reduce absentee rates and promote focused learning.

In 2016, New York City passed a law requiring free feminine hygiene products to be available in all public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities. In 2017, the Illinois State Legislature passed a law requiring bathrooms in schools with grades six through 12 to make tampons and sanitary napkins available for free. In 2018, a new law took effect in California requiring public schools in which 40 percent of students fall below the poverty line to stock at least half of their bathrooms with free feminine products. And in Wisconsin, a legislator has reintroduced a bill that would require free tampons and sanitary napkins in government buildings.

With other localities currently considering similar legislation—and social movements, such as Free the Tampons, gaining traction—it’s clear that the trend of introducing free vending machines is becoming mainstream.

Health and Dignity Architects and designers striving for equitable design may consider free vending machines not only to satisfy the law but also to create a more inclusive experience.

Facilities looking to meet the expectations of their female occupants should consider how common it is for women to have their period begin unexpectedly in public. According to the Free the Tampons Foundation:

  • 86 percent of women need access to supplies while in public.
  • 34 percent went home immediately to get feminine supplies.
  • 48 percent only carry feminine hygiene products when expecting or experiencing their period.

These takeaways underscore the importance of increasing public access to feminine care products. When users don’t have the supplies they need readily available, work and school attendance can suffer.

Great restroom design requires more than just attention to aesthetics and economical operation. For architects and their clients, restrooms are an opportunity to reinforce culture, display compassion, and create an equitable experience. For those reasons, “free” delivers real value.

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