Are condoms environmentally friendly?

by Tze Yu (Joanna) Tung on March 28, 2014

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As part of society’s advancement, humans have developed methods of contraception through scientific research to prevent diseases or unplanned parenthood. The most prevalent and accessible method in communities is the male condom.

A cave painting in France’s Grottes des Combarelles shows a man using a condom-like covering — reportedly animal skin — for sexual intercourse.

The history of the male condom can be traced back to the oldest claimed representation of the condom in a painting of a French cave, Grotte des Combarrelles, which is approximately 12,000–15,000 years old.

On a closer timeline, prior to the 19th century, chemically treated linen and animal tissue (intestines or bladder) appeared to be the most common, based on documentation.

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Rubber became mass-produced, leading to the creation of reusable condoms.

In 1839, Charles Goodyear invented the rubber vulcanization process, which led to the production of the rubber condom in 1855. 

The most popular type of condom on the market today is the latex condom. Even though latex rubber is biodegradable, latex condoms are usually made along with other additives which won’t biodegrade in water. Biodegradation is the dissolution of chemical through bacteria or other microorganisms. This material will eventually break down, so if we were to flush them down the toilet, not only would it clog water pipes but they also will not be able to decompose properly.

For those who are allergic to latex, there’s another option of polyurethane condoms, which is composed of soft plastic. It is thinner, stronger, and less constricting than a typical latex condom. However, these condoms are not biodegradable and will still clog the water pipes if flushed down the toilet, therefore less eco-friendly. Another option is the polyisoprene condom, which is a synthetic latex material that is thinner and more expensive. However, since they are not biodegradable, they are not environmentally friendly either.

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“L.” is a company that produces condoms to support women globally with a focus on women’s sexual empowerment. They distribute condoms in areas highly impacted by HIV/AIDS prevalence through partnership with non-profit organizations with peer-to-peer outreach. L. also created a program for women to be trained as health workers and earn income through distribution of condoms in their communities. This development not only provides job opportunities for women, but also creates a long-term channel through the community for distribution of condoms for safe sex practice. Another interesting program they have is called “Student to student.” Students order condoms at discount rates and the company will donate the same number of condoms to students in Africa for sex education, since they are as likely to be sexually active as a student in the United States, but have relatively less resources to provide them with condoms.

L. values sustainability, and produces condoms made from high-grade natural latex while being vegan-friendly. They are made extremely thin, durable, and with significantly less protein to be more sustainable and biodegradable.

 

We use condoms for the purpose of preventing sexually transmitted infections. At the same time, condom use is also significant in controlling global population. If global population were to skyrocket, the environment wouldn’t be able to supply the population with the sustainability we have today. Obviously, there are many other contraceptive methods aside from condoms, such as: female condoms, abstinence, IUD, pills, shots, patch, and diaphragm. However, since the condom is the most accessible relative to other methods, it has a greater impact on the environment especially because of the biodegradable latex. This will give the majority of people more reason to utilize it and be more eco-friendly.


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