They are the most popular methods of birth control, widely known for being convenient, common and very inexpensive. They average at between $1 for the male condoms and $2 for the female condoms, with some health clinics, bars and other venues offering them for free.
The purpose of a condom is to hold and contain semen, preventing pregnancies and protecting oneself from sexually transmitted infections such as deadly HIV. Once used, they have to be discarded safely, but what most people do not care to remember is the effects of condoms on the environment. This article will address such concerns.
Are Condoms Biodegradable?
Yes, and No! The real answer is dependent on the material making the particular condom.
Most condoms are made from latex, which is biodegradable, as it an all-natural substance made from the sap of rubber trees. Latex and lambskin condoms can be broken down, or are biodegradable. However, the process becomes a bit complicated if the condoms are coated with a personal lubricant or spermicide. These products make it harder for condoms to decompose.
Some condoms, like Sustain Natural, make eco-friendly and toxin-free condoms that use fair-trade natural latex and contain no nitrosamine, which is present in many condoms and has been identified as having carcinogenic effects. The brand is also packaged in recyclable paper, making it completely biodegradable, including its packaging.
Most female and polyurethane condoms are made from a plastic material, meaning they are not biodegradable at all. These condoms are the best alternatives for those who might be allergic or sensitive to latex.
Polyurethane is a type of non-biodegradable plastic that requires petroleum to manufacture, which is a major contributor to global heating greenhouse gases. They are carbon-intensive and a great source of waste. Although they are technically considered plastic, do not place these polyurethane condoms in your recycling bin alongside water bottles and other plastic items. The best way to trash them is to wrap them in tissue paper, which is biodegradable and then throw them in the trash can.
Both latex and polyurethane condoms may also be laced with stabilizers, preservatives and hardening agents, which may further impact their decomposition once they have been used and disposed of. Additionally, regular condoms often contain casein, an animal by-product derived from dairy or goat’s milk, meaning they are unsuitable for vegans and are not cruelty-free either.
Are Latex Condoms Biodegradable?
Yes, latex condoms are biodegradable. The majority of the condoms in the market are made from latex, which is a biodegradable product. Latex can be naturally derived from trees, although typical latex condoms are not manufactured with 100% pure natural rubber.
This is done so that the condoms become as thin and comfortable as possible. It also means the condoms may contain a blend of natural rubber-derived latex and synthetic latex called polyisoprene, which is also not biodegradable.
Are Condoms Recyclable?
That is a big No!
In the most literal sense, both male condoms and female condoms cannot be recycled, meaning each condom can only be used once. There actually is no recycling program in existence for condoms as they are designed to be used once and then thrown away.
This is primarily why most condom manufacturers are starting to make environmentally-friendly condoms as well as making them in an environmentally responsible way so that once they are used and discarded, they decompose and cause no harm to the environment.
So, instead of trying to recycle or reuse condoms, simply wrap them in a little tissue paper/toilet roll and throw them in your regular rubbish bin . As much as sending them to landfills is frustrating for an environmentalist, it is the best way to dispose of used condoms and is safer than flushing or composting them.
There is however one major exception: the female condom. Internal condoms can be reused! A study conducted in South Africa that included 50 women who washed, dried, re-lubricated, and reused internal condoms up to 7 times, found that the condoms met FDA standards for the amount of pressure they could take and the strength of their seams. This means the condoms were used a total of 8 times.
Comparisons of reused and new condoms showed no differences in results for seam strength and minor variations for pressure. Their overall conclusion was that “while it is preferable to use a new female condom or male condom, a reused female condom may be an acceptable next choice in situations where this is not possible.”
How Long Do Condoms Take to Decompose?
The majority of the condoms are made using adulterated latex, meaning their decomposition process is slow. Despite the latex or rubber being naturally biodegradable, composting condoms could take an incredibly long time.
Non-latex condoms, on the other hand, are made using polyurethane, which is a synthetic non-biodegradable plastic, meaning they will never break down at all. Sending them into water will not help as well as there aren’t enough decomposition microbes around, meaning the condoms end up bobbing around for years.
Unfortunately, there exists little research on this topic, and it is not completely known how long it takes for condoms to break down when they end up in landfills. It is possible that after very years, upwards of a thousand years, and with the right conditions, a latex condom will biodegrade because, again, it’s mostly made from a natural material, despite the adulteration.
Despite this, condoms are safe for the environment and their primary purpose, preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, far out ways the results of not using a condom.
Are Condoms Eco Friendly?
Yes, and No. Again, the true answer is dependent on several factors
1. They are not recyclable
Condoms are designed to be single-use only, and there exist no programs for recycling them. It means once they are used, they end up in the environment. How they affect the environment depends on the material making the particular condom, and its biodegradability.
2. They are not 100% biodegradable
Most condoms are made using non-biodegradable materials, like polyurethane. Some may be made using the biodegradable latex, but have to contain some form of impure rubber so that they become as comfortable and thin as possible. Others are made using a blend of rubber- derived latex and synthetic latex called polyisoprene, which is not biodegradable.
3. Other stuff in the condoms
Both biodegradable and non-biodegradable varieties may also be laced with stabilizers, preservatives and hardening agents, which further impairs their decomposition and makes them less eco-friendly.
1. Most are completely biodegradable
Most condoms, especially the latex variety are biodegradable and should decompose shortly after being deposited in landfills. They have minimal to zero effects on the environment and as such, are eco-friendly.
2. Indirect eco-friendliness
Condoms are an eco-friendly choice for the planet as they help control the population. In the words of Sustain Natural, a synonymous condom brand, “helping people prevent unplanned pregnancies can seriously help save our planet given that humans are the number one threat driving our ecological crisis.”
Additionally, “diseases aren’t sustainable for the planet or for you” meaning condoms are an effective solution to prevent unknowingly spreading an STI. Humans are the number one threat to the environment and preventing unplanned pregnancies can be incredibly important for the environment.
3. Some manufacturers make eco-friendly condoms
Brands such as HANX, which is a gynecologist-approved brand, make vegan and biodegradable condom brand using fair trade rubber. Fair Squared, is another vegan condom brand that also uses natural latex and fair-trade rubber. In fact, Fair Squared has been tested to the highest possible international standard (ISO 4074), which is a guarantee of their condoms’ safety and quality
Various Ways to Dispose of Used Condoms
1. Wrap it in tissue
The best way of disposing of a used condom is to wrap it in tissue paper and then throwing it away in the trashcan. A used condom is just that, it’s used, it’s old, it’s done. Wrap it up and throw it away!
2. Before throwing it away
Make sure you remove the condom correctly. It defeats all the purposes of using a condom since the fluids will spill, making a big mess, and risking unwanted pregnancies or infections. After carefully removing it, tie the condom off the same way you would a balloon. Make a loop near the opening, and pull the ring of the condom opening through this loop to seal it off. Doing this helps to odor as well as spillage
3. Do not flush it
Flushing a used condom seems to be the quickest solution to getting rid of it. However, most condoms do not break down and end up clogging your pipes. This brings about an awkward encounter with your plumber once they clog up your pipes. Take a minute, and before using that condom, read the instructions on the condom boxes; the manufacturer discourages flushing the condoms in the toilet.
4. Be responsible, and of course, safe individual
If you are in a car, do not throw away the used condom outside and speed off. Put it in the ashtray until you get home or until you find a trashcan. If you are on a boat, do not throw it away overboard. Instead, put it in an empty coke can or beer can until you find a trash can. There are no limits as to where one can use a condom. However, after you are done enjoying yourself, be a responsible citizen of the planet and dispose it of properly.
5. Do not throw used condoms in the recycling bin
Well, it would be the silliest decision of your life, to put a used condom in the recycling bin. They are designed for single use only and are not recyclable or reusable. Although many companies and people are developing tools to see through condom recycling, technology is not quite there yet.
6. Condoms and water
Just do not throw used condoms in the water at the beach or in the lake at the park. Used condoms float and they always wash up on shore, and no one can tell who will meet up with the used condom. It could be someone who is getting married on the beach or a child. Also, an aquatic animal or bird could ingest the used condom and it could affect it severely, including clogging its insides and leading to its death.
7. Do not throw it outside
Again, with throwing condoms anyhow. Throwing condoms outside is littering and they could end up being seen by kids or even your grandmother. What a shame! A pet could also bring it back inside and try to eat it, causing health problems.
8. Do not compost biodegradable condoms
First of all, condoms take an incredibly long time to breakdown. Secondly, they can attract animals, both domestic and wild, and ingesting them could result in serious harm towards the animal. Thirdly, although some condoms are biodegradable and can theoretically be composted, the potential problems created by using condoms for compost makes them unsuitable for most situations.