With the abundance of contraceptive products available, many have begun to examine the environmental ramifications of their birth control. The fear of condom wrappers clogging our landfills and birth control hormones afflicting our waterways has caused many to reassess their options in the quest for the most eco-friendly birth control.
According to Slate's Nina Shen Rastogi, in 2008, 437 million condoms were sold, resulting in 2.75 million pounds of used-condom refuse in landfills nationwide.
Given that the condoms represent only about 0.001 percent of the 152 million tons of trash American households produce annually--and that we still need a lot of research into the precise effects that pharmaceuticals are having on our water supply--condoms seem to be the greener choice.
The Blog CafeMom provides the following environmental considerations about condoms:
* Avoid condoms made of polyurethane, a plastic material that will not break down. And no one is recycling condoms at this point. Condom boxes can be recycled. Yay!
* For the most friendly condom disposal, DO NOT flush condoms down the toilet. Simply
wrapping the condom in a paper (not plastic) bag, tissues, or toilet paper is probably your best bet.
Planet Green's How to Go Green: Sex edition breaks down the condom debate.
For safer, baby-free sex, nothing beats a latex condom. Vegans looking for a latex option (though derived from trees, most latex has a milk enzyme added) can check out Glyde condoms. The jury is still out as to whether latex condoms are biodegradable and what effects additives and lubricants have on biodegradability. According to most sources, lambskin condoms are biodegradable but are only effective against pregnancy, not STDs. Polyurethane condoms are essentially plastic and not biodegradable. Used condoms are best sent to the landfill.
French Letter Condoms is the first condom company in the world to pay the Fair Trade premium for latex rubber. The rubber plantation's workers are provided workers benefits and appropriate wages to produce the biodegradable, vegan condoms.
While buying condoms in bulk can minimize excessive packaging, the diaphragm, the cervical cap and the intrauterine device (IUD) serve as reliable, reusable birth control. Slate's Rastogi champions the IUD as the most environmentally sound contraceptive choice.
Among the nonpermanent forms of contraception, the one that is least wasteful and most effective--that is to say, the greenest--is the copper intrauterine device. The copper IUD is hormone-free; made from a small amount of a cheap, plentiful metal; and can last up to 10 years. It's also 99 percent effective in typical use, as compared with 82.6 percent for condoms and 91.3 percent for the pill. Nevertheless, less than 2 percent of contraception-using women in the United States use copper IUDs.
There's widespread concern among eco-friendly experts that birth control pills could be the least green form of birth control. The Daily Green examines the problem behind the Pill.
One of the common culprits is estrogen [...] released into sewers through the urine of women taking birth control. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that human breast cancer cells grew twice as fast when exposed to estrogen taken from catfish caught near untreated sewage overflows. "There is the potential for an increased risk for those people who are prone to estrogenic cancer," said Conrad Volz, lead researcher on the study. What may be more troubling is the mixture of contaminants and how they might interact to cause health problems. "The biggest concern is the stew effect," says Scott Dye of the Sierra Club's Water Sentinels program. "Trace amounts of this mixed with trace amounts of that can equal what? We don't know."
While the debate over the greenest birth control options continues, one thing is for sure, any form of birth control still trumps the environmental resources necessary to support a human life.