Saturday, 29 March 2008

Recycling Condoms

Recently, a Mr Science Show reader, let's call him Scott, asked a question regarding the recycling of condoms. How does one do this?

This is a very good question, and one I need to tackle during this recycling challenge. In general, condoms are made of latex and are not recyclable. It is probably better to dispose of your used condoms in the rubbish - where they will eventually end up as land-fill - than flushing them down the toilet - which not only wastes water but puts them out into the sewerage, where they eventually wind up in an anerobic digester and reduced to sludge.

It may be constructive to look at the steps we should take when being environmentally friendly - reduce, reuse, recycle:
  • Reduction - so how should red-blooded males go about reducing their condom use, without reducing their sexual activity? The answer may lie in alternative methods of contraception - although, there is nothing out there as good at preventing STDs as condoms. So unless you are in a loving STD-free relationship, keep using them! Let's have a look at a few contraceptive alternatives:
  1. The Pill: The Pill, a combination of estrogen and a progestin, is one of the most popular methods of contraception. It is a female contraceptive that limits fertility by preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs. But is it environmentally friendly? As opposed to condoms, there are no waste products that need to be thrown out (bar the packaging, which can be recycled). But the process of making The Pill I do not imagine is particularly environmentally friendly. Some of the contents of The Pill are synthetic organic compounds and others are isolated from natural sources (or at least made using biological processes). They all come together in an organic lab, and organic solvents and other chemicals are used in its making. These chemicals require specialist disposal and are more often than not incinerated. Any leaks into the ecosystem can be deadly and catalytic metals need to be mined out of the ground. This does not paint a positive picture, but as a chemistry graduate (albeit it in Physical / Theoretical Chemistry - see paper and patent), I am all for the advancement of science and human knowledge, even if it comes at a small cost. Such advancement may one day solve the problem of plastic in our oceans, so whilst this may not be environmentally friendly, I am all for organic labs.
  2. The Catholic Method: "Withdrawal", "getting off one stop before Central station"; it has many names and simply doesn't work. Not to mention the fact that you are vulnerable to STDs (as you are with The Pill), and it is sexually ungratifying. It only takes one scare to let you know that it does not work as pre-ejaculate fluid means there is never a good time to pull out.
  3. Abstinence: The biggest environmental threat on the planet is us. There are too many humans on Earth. Housing and transport deplete our natural resources and pollute the environment, especially given the exponential population growth in developing countries that are hardly environmentally friendly. My personal viewpoint however is this: If you are intelligent, don't use condoms and breed. This will bring more intelligent people into the world who may eventually solve our problems. If you are dumb, use condoms and create plastic waste - hopefully the intelligent offspring of others will remedy your condom use.
  • Reuse - this is definitely not going to happen, but it's not unheard of. The following video comes from a Filipino documentary on how prostitutes recycle condoms - go down this road if you dare....

Listen to this show here.


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