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Earth Day Reminder: Birth Control is Green!

Worried about the environment? Ditching your birth control is not the answer.

Kirsten Moore is a consultant for the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP).

It’s almost Earth Day and you’re thinking about what you can do to help the planet. An article blaming your birth control pill for a plethora of environmental woes, from intersex fish to male prostate cancer, shows up in your twitter feed. So, in honor of Earth Day, you’re reconsidering your contraceptive of choice.

We applaud anyone who wants to use an eco-filter when deciding on a contraceptive method. But before you ditch your pill, make sure you have the facts right. And remember: Any birth control is better than no birth control when it comes to helping the planet.

First, the facts:

The notion of unsuspecting Americans drinking water filled with birth control hormones may get headlines—but thanks to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, we know it doesn’t accurately describe the state of the science. The study debunks the myth that birth control pills (and other estrogen-based hormonal contraceptives like the patch and the ring) are a major contributor to the presence of estrogenic compounds in waterways and concludes that EE2, the active ingredient in birth control pills, is minimal or nonexistent in drinking water.

It makes more sense to focus on agricultural and industrial waste. The volume of endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) from livestock alone should cause pause: the total yearly volume of veterinary estrogens is more than five times that of oral contraceptives. In addition, estrogenic compounds are found in common herbicides, like Atrazine and Roundup, as well as in common industrial chemicals, like the plastic additive bisphenol-A (BPA).

A word of caution: it can be tricky to compare the impact of different EDCs since some are more potent than others. For example, industrial chemicals have lower potency than EE2, but they are often present in much higher volume. Surfactants, a type of chemical used in detergent and other products, are one of the most frequently detected EDCs in surface water. But most people aren’t giving up on laundry, now are they?

Now, the action:

While birth control pills aren't to blame for all the EDCs in our environment, that doesn’t mean EDCs in the environment aren’t a problem. EDCs have been linked to early puberty, infertility, and developmental defects. Scientific research strongly suggests that reducing EDC exposure is critical to protecting reproductive health.

Unfortunately, current laws aren’t doing enough to keep estrogenic chemicals of all kinds out of the environment. So instead of ditching your pills or whatever birth control method you use, make a difference by buying organic when you can (to reduce the use of synthetic crop fertilizers) and telling Congress to support chemical policy reform with the strongest possible public health and environmental protections.

And if you’re a purist and want only the greenest contraceptive, consider the copper IUD. It’s hormone-free, long lasting (up to a decade, epitomizing the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra), made from small amounts of cheap, plentiful metal (copper), and 99% effective. The copper IUD is a great birth control option—but if it doesn’t seem like a fit for you, choose another method rather than going without. When it comes to having sex, the greenest thing you can do is use birth control.


Kirsten Moore has more than twenty years experience working in family planning, gender, and reproductive health policy both in the U.S. and internationally. From 2002-2012, Ms Moore served as President and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a national nonprofit advocacy organization that works to ensure every women has access to the safest, most effective and appropriate technology for promoting her health and fertility. Ms. Moore is co-author on a number of peer review articles and has served on advisory panels for research organizations, pharmaceutical drug and device manufacturers, and government agencies. She is a board member of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington and Ballot Initiative Strategy Center and holds a BA from the College of William and Mary and an MPA from Princeton University.

The fact that I have a lighter period only once every three months means fewer tampons/pads. That adds up to so much packaging and waste.

2012-04-21 04:14:00 UTC

Diana

I used to be on the NuvaRing and disliked all the plastic/metal waste, even if the Ring wasn't the cause of most environmental estrogens. So here's what I do to minimize my repro tract's impact on the earth: * Mirena IUD--no estrogen, very little progesterone, and no packaging after the initial handful of wrappers! * Cloth pads * Menstrual cup (which I used for years before getting my IUD, though I don't feel very confident using it with the Mirena). * Applicator-free OB tampons (thanks to the Mirena, cup and cloth pads, one box of 36 has lasted me two years!) * Lube with recyclable bottles (and lube that's paraben and glycerin free, for what it's worth).

2012-04-26 07:15:25 UTC

SuperDaisy

The greenest contraceptive would be a Fertility Awareness Method to be fair. Copper can actually act like estrogen in the body and produce some of the same side effects as hormonal birth control. Also, as an ecofeminist, how we treat women's bodies is, I believe, interconnected to how we treat the planet. Eco-feminism argues that the insistence of dominion over women is connected inextricably to Western patriarchal capitalist culture’s oppression of the natural environment. Eco-feminism demands that a co-existing environmentalism is essential for women’s liberation. This assertion is founded in the history of oppressed races and classes, not only women, being associated with concepts of “Nature.” Their oppression is historically justified by this connection. Eco-feminists believe that until we accept and nurture our human link to nature, especially the strong connection of women through the lunar cycle, we cannot prevent and overthrow the dominion over women. Working with, instead of against nature, is the future for humanity and resistance to this will only lead to destruction. It is argued that as nature is approached like a machine, women and men are manipulated as though they too are machines, all in the pursuit of capitalist progress. Amy Sedgwick, founder of the eco-feminist collective Red Tent Sisters, developed the ‘Green Your Birth Control in 30 Days’ online seminar series that embodies the democratization of fertility awareness and body literacy. In an article titled ‘Coming Off the Pill: The Final Frontier for Women Pursuing Holistic Health’ she speaks to those women who eat organic, avoid chemical-laden products and see themselves as eco-conscious, “Aside from “the pill is making me crazy” the most common reason I hear from women choosing to switch to natural birth control is that the pill no longer fits with their values.”

2013-04-22 20:09:29 UTC

Holly Grigg-Spall

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