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Green is the New Black

by Jaclyn Clark on March 19, 2014

As climate change continues to rock the 21st century, the world is going green. From cars to plastic bottles to your favorite hair-gel, green is the new black and there is no going back. Everyone wants to save the environment, making the small changes in the day to day to save the planet in the long haul. With Earth day a month away, now is the perfect time to investigate our love for the Earth- and the waste that all our loving produces.  Between oral contraceptives and condoms, what is the greenest way to fornicate?

According to the Guttmacher Institute, oral contraceptives and condoms remain the leading nonpermanent birth control methods of the sexually active in the United States.  While protecting love-makers, each takes a toll on the environment.

You won’t find the Pill itself clogging landfills or collecting on beach boardwalks, but our favorite daily prescription has other ways of impacting the environment. Oral contraceptives work through manipulating the two female sex hormones, estrogen and progestin. Combination of the two works by preventing ovulation, while altering the uterine lining and mucus at the top of the cervix to ultimately prevent pregnancy. Estrogen and progestin are known as endocrine disruptors. Women who take the pill pass some excess endocrine disruptors in their urine, which ultimately pass through our wastewater systems, infiltrating our rivers and streams. In most environmental investigations of oral contraceptives, estrogen has been blamed for the feminization of male fish downstream from sewage treatment plants. Although they appear normal on the outside, inside, the endocrine disruptors are wrecking havoc on the sexual development of male fish. This destruction threatens the future population of fish, disrupting sexual patterns and development. The Pill cannot be responsible for all the blame though, since all female urine contains estrogen, regardless of oral contraceptives. However, urine from a woman on an oral contraceptive shows relatively higher percentages of hormones than regular urine. And unfortunately, endocrine receptors have effects at extremely low concentrations, showing little hope for our intersex fish population.

Heart-shaped bird nest in hollow trunk

Aside from the devastation of our fish friends, oral contraceptives are no strangers to the destruction of pharmaceutical waste. From the clear, plastic dispensers to the lengthy leaflets, each new month comes with a new pile of waste. Our dumpsters and our landfills are littered with the packets and containers discarded into unsuspecting trash bags and garbage cans.

So, what about condoms? Condoms are a barrier device commonly used during sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In the United States, most condoms sold are made of biodegradable latex, a naturally occurring substance from rubber trees. However, they also contain stabilizers, preservatives, and hardening agents, thus making it very difficult to break down in a landfill. Polyurethane and synthetic rubber condoms will never breakdown nor are they are recyclable. According to Laura Eldridge, a women’s health writer, condoms “are just with us forever”. Now, in 2005, over 10.4 billion male condoms were used worldwide. This number is expected to grow, reaching 18 million condoms for low and middle class countries alone by 2016. This equates to one large pile of sex junk.

Condoms, however, contain less pharmaceutical waste than oral contraceptives. A normal NYC-brand condom weighs 0.1 ounces in the wrapper, a significant amount less than the pamphlets and packaging of the Pill. When bought in bulk, the condom waste becomes even less by cutting down on the packaging. Without the hormone effects and obnoxious packaging, condoms reign supreme as the greener choice of leading contraceptives.

Whether using condoms or oral contraceptives, Mother Earth wants you to be safe. Regardless of your choice, a diaper-wearing, fossil fuel-burner is more environmentally hazardous than a river of hormones or a landfill of latex. So keep Mother Earth happy, hug some trees, and put a rubber on it.






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