Feature

The Pill versus Condoms

G Magazine

What's the most eco-friendly form of contraception?

Condom foil in back pocket

Credit: iStockphoto

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In recent years, women in the developed world have been given a plethora of contraceptive options, including intra-uterine devices (IUDs), rod implants, hormonal patches and injections, diaphragms and femidoms, the tying of tubes and the ever controversial rhythm and withdrawal methods endorsed by the Catholic Church.

However, the pill and the condom are still the most popular contraceptive choices around the globe. So of these, which is better for the environment?

Production

Condoms are most commonly made from latex (otherwise known as Indian rubber), which is derived from rubber trees - a renewable resource.

Plantations for latex have resulted in some land clearing in China and the Amazon.

There are also synthetic (and fossil fuel-derived) alternatives such as polyurethane condoms, but these are less common.

The process used to convert latex into rubber can release toxic effluents into waterways, and is also water-intensive (as is the condom quality testing procedure).

The pill, like any pharmaceutical product, requires a lot of energy and water to manufacture, but exact figures are hard to come by.

Pills sold on the Australian market are often manufactured in Europe, accumulating more transport miles than condoms manufactured in Asia, although their compact packaging means more units can be shipped per trip.

Use and packaging

It is estimated that 10 billion condoms are used each year in their role as a contraceptive and a barrier against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

This compares with 100 million women using 1.2 billion packs of the pill.

Durex estimates that, globally, people have sex an average of 103 times per year, so assuming the most efficient way to buy condoms is in a pack of 12, you would require about 9 boxes of condoms a year.

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