Oral contraceptives have become a popular form of birth control in the United States. Recent studies have shown that the Pill may be affecting more than just human fertility, causing male fish to be less fertile and increasing the number of hermaphroditic fish.
When I asked 25 of my female college friends if they knew that the birth control pill could have negative effects on the environment, only three said yes. Most of them answered, "No, I had no idea!"
Hormones like estrogen that are found in the Pill and other hormonal contraceptives, pass through the body and get flushed into the sewer systems. They don't get filtered out at waste water treatment sites and eventually can be carried into rivers, streams and lakes. Synthetic estrogen takes longer to break down than the naturally formed hormone, and fertility issues in fish have been linked to increased estrogen in the water.
Does this mean we should steer away from birth control that contains estrogen?
Contraceptives are not the only source of estrogren
entering the environment. After all, estrogen is naturally produced and expelled by our bodies. Hormones pumped into livestock can be excreted through their feces or be transferred into our systems when we eat that beef, pork and chicken. The hormone can also be concentrated through industrial processes.
The bigger and better solution here may be to improve waste water treatment facilities to remove more hormones and other pharmaceuticals
to prevent them from entering river and stream systems.
Don't throw your birth control out the window.
The whole concept of birth control is green in and of itself. People are the root of the environmental crisis, so by adding more people to an overpopulated world would put more stress on the environment. I definitely do not advocate giving up a responsible method of birth control.
However, if you are interested in birth control with less environmental impact, you might explore some of these options:
- Copper-releasing IUD (intrauterine devices) can be effective for 10 years, which cuts down on extra waste from packaging and discarding the product itself.
- Biodegradeable lambskin condoms (Naturalamb) are made from membranes harvested by hand from lamb's intestines in New Zealand. Be careful -- they do not protect against STDs!
- If the thought of animal intestines disgusts you, try vegan condoms that don't contain any animal products.
- There's always the tried and trusted latex condom. Even though used condoms and wrappers generate waste that goes into the landfill, no hormones or chemicals are put into the water (as long as they don't get flushed down the toilet).
- Of course, the greenest and safest form of birth control is abstinence.
Whether or not you decide to go completely green, make responsible choices to do your part to not add recklessly to the growing number of people on this planet.
I do not have any medical expertise, so consult your health care professional before making drastic changes to your birth control plan.
Photo 1: Laura Early
Photo 2: jdhilger/Flickr