What’s the greenest contraception method?

In honour of International Women’s Day at the start of the week, we’ve had a week of women’s & sexual health themed posts and giveaways. Up until now, they’ve been more focused on the wonderful range of green sanitary options available but I wanted to shift things on a bit today.

I’ve been thinking about the topic for today for a while – I’ve just never had the time to do all the research on the area I’d planned so I thought I’d open it up for discussion instead.

It’s an inflammatory statement that annoys a lot of people but it’s true – one of the worst things you can for the environment as an individual (well, two individuals) is have a child. Even if you do everything you possibly can to minimise their consumption and waste, the child still going to use up a helluva lot of the world’s resources in their lifetime. That’s not necessarily a reason not to have a child – but it’s a reason to be careful to make sure you don’t have them by mistake.

So what’s the best contraception as far as the environment is concerned?

Aside from permanent things like sterilisation or things with a high-failure rate/large will-power investment (such as fertility awareness, coitus interruptus, or abstinence), there are two basic categories for contraception – barrier type things and hormone-based ones – with some other odd things on the side.

Condoms are great in many ways – cheap, easily obtainable, easy to use and protect against STIs – but they’re also disposable – often down toilets (!) so quickly end up clogging the sewerage system/beaches. Properly disposed ones will add to landfill instead. Ditto contraceptive sponges.

Diaphragms are more reusable but they lead to an increased risk of urinary tract infections and to a lesser extent, toxic shock syndrome. They need to be used exactly as instructed too, else failure rates are high – up to 40% in the first year and even perfect use as a 6% failure rate (compared to 2% for condoms and 0.3% for the pill).

Hormonal methods – the pill, patches, rings, injections, implants – don’t create much day-to-day waste but release synthetic hormones into the environment which is becoming a significant problem. For a lot of greenies, there is also the worry about what said chemicals are doing to you personally too.

In addition to those broad categories, there are also two types of coil – intrauterine devices (IUDs). The first kind, the inert copper kind (Paragard in the US, just known as IUDs in the UK), are probably the best contraceptive method from the green point of view – they last 5-12 years (depending on the make) and don’t directly produce any waste during that time. But they do increase menstrual blood loss by 20–50% which is unacceptable to many (and will produce a lot more waste if the woman is using disposable sanitary items) and they don’t protect against STIs so are only suitable for people in long-term monogamous relationships.

The other kind of IUD, known as the IUS in the UK and by the brand name Mirena in the US, is similarly long-term but slowly releases a hormone (progestin) into the body too. It’s a much smaller amount than in other hormonal methods but still, it messes up the environment when it’s peed out. Like the IUD, it doesn’t protect against STIs and like other hormonal methods, it can have annoying side effects like weight gain, spots, mood swings etc – but it is does typically drastically reduce periods, with many women reporting they’ve stopped altogether — and from a green point of view, that’ll reduce waste by a lot.

So what do you think the best option is? What do you use/what would you like to use? Is there anything I’ve missed from this recap? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Ace CC-A photo by teofilo)

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13 Responses to “What’s the greenest contraception method?”

  1. anna says:

    My vote for the greenest goes to vasectomy. Doing the equivalent snip for females is way more complicated medically, therefore my vote for the male snip. Of course it has limitations for usability: the guy needs to be sure he doesn’t want any offspring, and a female relying on this should only have the body to body interaction with the same guy (unless she has a steady supply of these men around, lucky her..). And of course the goo won’t be as easy to clean as with condoms, so you’ll probably end up using way more paper (or I guess reusable towels..)
    By the way: girls who are not into having children find snipped guys extremely hot. :) so even if the relationship would break for any reason, it will increase the (childfree) market value.

    I guess Essure could score high for females – it is easier to do than traditional sterilization, but totally unsuitable for anyone who is (or will be) allergic to nickel, as the tubal inserts are indeed nickel.
    As I’m way too allergic to nickel, and have always plainly refused to have any artificial female hormones, I guess I should limit my comments on condoms and snip.
    Even if the rubbers would be the most packaged and chemical mix ever, they will still waste waaaay less resources than having even just one human more.

    Swinging the other way would also reduce the needed contraception methods, at least for girls.

    • louisa says:

      A friend of a friend’s mum used to actively encourage her then-teenage daughter to have girlfriends instead of/as well as boyfriends. The girlfriends were allowed in her bedroom and to stay over, the boyfriends weren’t allowed to visit her room at any time of day. Her reasoning – which she explained to her daughter – was that she understood the desire for teenage sexual experimentation but girls didn’t get girls pregnant.

  2. Alice says:

    Yeah, male vasectomy is a great solution – totally underrated and under used. I’m so grateful to my male partners who have made this choice.

    I think condoms are quite expensive BTW, especially compared with other forms of contraception. I try to get them free from my local sexual health clinic when I can but they’re only open three hours a week or something.

    The above comment about “swinging the other way” cracked me up – lesbianism is probably underrated too – but men can’t get pregnant by sleeping with other men either, Anna!

  3. Agata says:

    Spermicides are totally green.

  4. Alice says:

    Anna – yes indeed, but this goes for everyone, not just gay men.

    Two men in a in long-term monogamous relationship might choose to do without condoms, the same as anyone else in a in long-term monogamous relationship might. I guess much of this post just doesn’t relate to the rest of us because we’re going to have to use condoms anyway.

    Agata – what are spermicides made of? If they kill sperm, do they not also kill other things when they end up in the sea etc?

  5. Susy says:

    Birth Control That Lasts and Lasts . . . If we speak about green birth control I believe it should be green in the sense that it is 100% natural and 100% accurate and does not interfere with nature and your own body.
    This means for me always 100% without any chemicals or hormones. There are methods out there which do offer to be 100 % green and accurate. These are products you can use for 10 years without having any waste.
    For example fertility monitors such as Lady-Comp and pearly. These are fertility monitors which focuses on the health and wellbeing of women: Without stressful or even harmful intervention in your body’s natural processes, the fertility computers of Valley-Electronics determine your personal cycle and forecast your fertile and infertile days with maximum accuracy.
    These products are green because you do not have any hormones which go into our drinking water and can not be filtered – which will have over the long run an immense effect on all of us. It is already proven that fishes are changing their genitals and are hermaphrodite because the hormones cannot be filtered out. If you think about what you drink everyday – 2-3 Liters of water which has (female) hormones in it. Furthermore do studies already show that this has also an effect on Male fertilty.
    Contraception is important but there are also contraception methods which do not harm the environment and are still accurate – there are 1000 of studies revealing that natural contraception is as accurate as other contraception’s if used correctly. (if you forget to take the pill the probability of getting pregnant is very high on the other hand if you forget to measure your temperature one morning the computer still know if you are fertile or not). If you look at the biological factors within women it can be understood why the daily intake of contraception is actually nonsense:
     Every woman ovulates only once in each cycle. An egg will grow in the right ovary one month and in the left one the next month, always alternating.
     After ovulation, the egg can be fertilized for a maximum of 18 hours.
     On the rare occasion of two or more ovulations, they will occur within 24 hours. The maximum possible timeframe for fertilization after ovulation can therefore be accurately determined.
     The same is true for the time before ovulation: after intercourse, male sperm will remain active and fertile in the female body for a maximum of 120 hours (five days).
     This means that there are six days in every cycle when a woman can get pregnant: five days before ovulation and on the day she ovulates.

    You state that fertility awareness methods are not accurate enough and therefore are not green because the chances to get pregnant are very high is not true.
    Green contraception is contraception which does not influence your body, our environment and still protects for pregnancy.

  6. DJM23 says:

    Latex condoms are compostible…although I’m having difficulties convincing my partner that this is alright… The main issue with condoms, for me, is the price…apart from the lack of sensitivity, but the circumcised amongst you should know all about that.

    I’m still working on my partner to let me get the snip…I’ve already got like 17 neices and nephews, so no urge for my DNA to spread any further… :)

  7. Frances says:

    Neem oil is supposed to work. You will have to read about it in the old ayurvedic literature and take your chances. Don’t hold me responsible if it does not work. If you have a Neem tree you can make the oil yourself. That is pretty green. Its a just like making cheese or dough you grind up the seed mix with hot water and knead out the oil on a sloping board or use a oil press. Neem oil is also supposed to have an effect on HPV. Have not had to try this myself but it does get rid of Molluscum Contagiousa. I and friends have personally witnessed this and there is no other treatment for this horrible water borne infection except burning the lesions off.

  8. Merrick says:

    I’m really glad to see such a high level of enthusiasm for vasectomy. If you add up the scores for environemtnal impact, bodily interference and reliability, it’s the clear winner.

    Many men get squeamish at the idea of a scalpel near their balls, but it is a lot less pain and bleeding than a light period. Others worry about ‘what if you change your mind’, but there’s always adoption or donation.

    Hormonal methods externalise impacts hugely, and are utterly unsustainable. We’re already seeing damage after a generation of widespread use in the rich nations. Imagine if every woman on earth used them, and/or the situation after several centuries.

    But, as Anna says, whatever method you use is nothing like the impact of the resources (including their contracption methods!) used over the lifetime of your unplanned child.

    I had a vasectomy done about ten years ago. Best decision I ever made. I wrote an article about it which I put on my blog here.

  9. Emma says:

    An IUD is very green, if it’s a hormone-free one. OK, it’s made of (mined) copper, but it’s a tiny thread of the stuff, and a much better use for copper than TV sets etc. They last for about ten years and you almost forget that it’s there.

  10. Susie says:


  11. Chris says:

    The solution is Natural Family Planning!! It is outrageous that doctors and pharmacuticals don’t educate the public about a natural, safe and green way. Birth control pollutes a womans body and the environment.


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