So you are smart enough to practice safe sex (preventing both pregnancy and STDs) by using a condom correctly. But what do you do with the condom when you’re done with it? Here are some tips on how to dispose of condoms in an environmentally friendly way.
First of all, never throw away condoms! Washing condoms is not the way to deal with them. Condoms can clog the pipes in your home (or pipes wherever you are). This can be an expensive and embarrassing situation. If the condom makes it through your septic system, it will only end up with solid waste. This means that someone has to take it out of the sewage treatment, which is not pleasant for anyone. The condom could even go through the treatment plant. This is not good because it means it could end up in the water supply and the last thing we need is more pollution in our rivers, lakes and oceans.
Not all condoms are made the same. Most condoms are made of latex, which means they will biodegrade. Latex, however, does not biodegrade when underwater, so throwing away used condoms is not good. However, condoms are not made entirely of latex and the other things in condoms (spermicide, lubricant) can affect biodegradability. The best option seems to be to send them to a landfill and see how they stand the test of time.
Some condoms, including all female condoms, are made of polyurethane, a type of plastic. These will not biodegrade. However, there is no other option except to throw them away, because your local recycling depot will not recycle used condoms. They won’t even recycle new condoms.
Other condoms are made from lambskin. These are completely biodegradable condoms. However, don’t run out of lambskin condoms just yet! Lambskin condoms do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Lambskin pores are small enough to stop sperm and thus prevent pregnancy, but the pores are large enough to let STDs and infections pass. This option is only viable for people in monogamous relationships who have been screened for sexually transmitted diseases. If this is the case, you might consider an even more environmentally friendly form of barrier birth control, such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, or protector. Ask your doctor what is best for you.
Regardless of the condom material you use (latex, polyurethane, or sheepskin), you will have to get rid of one wrapper. These foil wrappers will not biodegrade and cannot be recycled. This simply has to be thrown away.
Even if your latex or lambskin condoms are biodegradable, it’s best not to try to compost or bury your condoms. Animals will smell human scent and try to dig up what you have buried. This means that there will be unsightly used condoms. Burying your condom is equivalent to littering – and there are better ways to handle your available condoms.
So in the end, what is the best way to get rid of your condoms? It’s best to wrap it in some toilet paper or paper towel (or any other biodegradable material – think paper bases like paper bags) and then throw it away. Do not wrap the condom in plastic, as it certainly will not biodegrade. The good news is that the semen and vaginal fluid from the condom will certainly biodegrade and may facilitate the biodegradation of the condom.
And lastly, remember … never reuse a condom. Although reduce, reuse and recycle is the motto of environmentalism, you should put your health first in this one. Don’t minimize your use of condoms, don’t reuse your condoms, and it’s too bad you can’t recycle them yet. To think on a broader environmental scale, condom use is environmentally friendly because it prevents the spread of communicable diseases. It is also preventing conception, and children have been documented as consuming embraces of global resources.
Hopefully we can soon find a green way to practice safe sex. Until then, we will settle for what we can and continue to use condoms.