Let’s Get Sustainable

Family planning is an important topic when talking about the environment and climate change.  According to the UN Population Fund, the battle against global warming could be helped if the world slowed population growth by distributing free condoms and made family planning resources more readily available. This idea might at first sound a little obtuse, but consider the following: each year Earths population grows by about 80 million people, each one of these people will require resources and produce their own carbon footprint.  The distribution of condoms could help control this population growth, since a large amount of pregnancies are unplanned, especially in areas without access to birth control.

Of course, condoms have sustainability issues of their own.

According to Global Industry Analysts Inc., by 2015 the global condom market will reach 27 Billion units. A large portion of condoms, over 10 Billion, are made in Asia and Malaysia (Malaysia is currently one of the world’s largest natural rubber producers).  About 90% of condoms are made from latex (natural rubber) and other common materials for condoms include lamb skin and polyurethane.

 On their own, latex and lambskin are biodegradable. Unfortunately lamb skin does not protect against STIs, and additives and lubricants can affect latex condoms ability to biodegrade. Polyurethane is not biodegradable. Another issue with the afterlife of condoms is that even though most condoms have the ability to degrade at some degree, their packaging may not.  Due to the nature of the product, condoms cannot be reused or recycled, but that doesn’t mean packaging shouldn’t be. Newer niche brands like Sir Richards and French Letter are focusing on making their condoms eco conscious by using sustainable materials and fair labor and manufacturing practices.

As I mentioned earlier, a large portion of condoms are made on the Asian continent and are then distributed worldwide. Though many of these condoms are bought by the UN and then distributed for free, the practice of importing/exporting condoms such large distances in unsustainable. The Brazilian Government, which is the largest single buyer of condoms in the world, created a policy in 2008 to reduce their import dependence along with creating jobs, and protecting the rain forest.

The process for tapping for rubber in Brazil is extremely sustainable. Tapping does not hurt the trees, allowing Brazilians to make profit off of the forest while preserving it at the same time, de incentivizing deforestation. The program will provide an income for 550 families, and the factory built to make the condoms has the ability to produce 100 million condoms a year.

Whether or not you believe that the free distribution of condoms will have a direct impact on global warming (or that you believe in global warming), it is pretty clear that the use and distribution of condoms will have an effect on the environment. Not only are condoms an effective tool for population control, but by protecting against the transmission of STI’s, condoms can reduce the use of antibiotics, which can accidently contaminate our waterways. Also, because so many condoms are “consumed” a year, it is important to consider the environmental impact not only of the condom itself, but also of its packaging and distribution.


Condom Packaging via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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