I’m one of those people who feel guilty when I throw away things that could be composted or recycled. Even if I don’t always do it, I know that ideally I should have a bin for banana peels and coffee grounds, and bags for paper, glass, and metal. But where do used condoms fit into these attempts at sustainability? Should I feel just as guilty about the carbon footprint of my contraception?
After looking a little further into personal consumption and sustainability, the answer is NO—practicing safe sex is possibly the most environmentally sustainable thing you can do.
Preventing an unwanted pregnancy is far more sustainable than preventing the harvest of one more rubber tree (latex for condoms is partially made from the sap of tropical trees and plants) because every child adds the pitter patter of little carbon footprints onto your own. Condoms even go a step further in carbon footprint prevention, by helping to prevent potential STIs, leading to antibiotics and other medication going through your body and into our waterways. This idea of sustainability through safe sex is taking off as some companies can even work to offset their carbon footprints by supporting worldwide family planning efforts through the group PopOffsets.
Though it’s a given that using contraception is more sustainable than not, some options are better than others.
Condoms are excellent, but like most items in our lives, condoms are not just grown on a farm down the road. It is nearly impossible to buy local when it comes to condoms. Latex is derived from the sap of rubber trees and tropical plants, which grow predominately in the southern hemisphere. Many of these rubber farms are not regulated by the environmental and labor laws governing farming in the US. Condoms are then manufactured predominately in Asia. There are still a rare few American made condoms, with Champion and Envy condoms made in Alabama, but it’s important to remember shipping with all of the international flights carrying latex, and then condoms adding to your carbon footprint.
Only a few specialty brands of condoms are 100% vegan (lactic protein is part of the latex making process), and some brands use more artificial preservatives, spermicide, and wasteful packaging than others. Also, while latex condoms will eventually biodegrade in landfills (not in water ways) their polyurethane counterparts will not.
Despite all of these differences in condom types and sustainability, it is important to remember the most sustainable condoms are the condoms that you or your partners are willing to wear. If a certain brand or type makes the comfort difference between using or not using protection, the wrapper or material should not affect your decision to protect the environment through safe sex.
Hormonal birth controls are great in that they are highly effective, but they have been found to put hormones in our waterways after passing through women’s’ bodies. The IUD or other reusable or long term birth control methods are possibly the most sustainable, reducing waste and shipping while still preventing unwanted pregnancies. Fertility awareness method and withdrawal are also methods with virtually no disposable waste.
For even more green fun, programs including Dreamscapes’ Sex Toy Recycling Program and Sex Toy Recycling offer a way to recycle toys that may have passed their sexual peak, while offering tips on more sustainable replacements. So save some water, shower together, and feel good about the sustainability of safe sex!