Producing Condoms Sustainably

Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 classic, The Population Bomb, warned of a future of famine, increased global death rates, and environmental degradation. The book spurred worldwide concern over uninhibited population growth, and while many of the book’s somewhat apocalyptic predictions have not yet come to pass, the link between population growth and an (un)sustainable future cannot be ignored. In his chapter of State of the World 2012, Robert Engelman outlines strategies to slow population growth before we reach the projected 9 billion mark around 2050. His suggestions include female education, comprehensive family planning, removing financial incentives to have more children, and quantifying environmental costs and impacts of childbearing, among others. These practices must be integrated into political and cultural systems in order to slow global population growth.

Condoms (Photo via Flickr, by superkimbo)

Family planning, however, is not a costless endeavor. Global Industry Analysts, Inc. predicts that the worldwide condom market will reach 27 billion units by 2015. Indeed, as the world moves through a recession, condom sales have actually increased, as parents are postponing having children until their financial resources become more stable. Asia, and Malaysia in particular, lead the world in condom production, exporting over 10 billion condoms annually. Much of the latex used in condoms comes from cultivated rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, but the Amazon rainforest is home to a huge population of rubber trees that has been tapped by locals for hundreds of years. While rubber tapping is widely considered a sustainable activity–as it does not harm the trees and provides incentive for preserving the rainforest–there is a long history of conflict between rubber tappers and developers, loggers, and ranchers.

The Brazilian government is the world’s largest single buyer of condoms. Brazil has actively promoted condom use as a way to prevent HIV/AIDS, and includes condoms in the basic goods provided to low-income families.

Brazil is also home to a long tradition of rubber tappers who live and work in the Amazon rainforest. In 2008 the government initiated a policy to produce local, environmentally sustainable condoms in order to reduce import-dependence and to increase local jobs and preserve the rainforest. The new condom factory produces 100 million condoms a year, provides jobs for 550 families, and reduces deforestation incentives. Local rubber tappers have enjoyed increased incomes due to the price demanded for their native latex.

While Brazil is thus far the only national government with a sustainable condom policy, entrepreneurs are embracing innovative manufacturing techniques. Sir Richard’s Condom Company uses sustainable packaging and its products recently became available on the U.S. market. Perhaps more importantly, the company promises that for every condom sold, it will donate one condom to non-profits around the world, beginning with Haiti. Another company, French Letter fair trade condoms come from organic plantations in India with good working conditions and high wages. Providing consumers with the choice to buy sustainable condoms is certainly an improvement, offering eco-conscientious couples to even take their values to bed with them. These sustainably manufactured condoms not only help in stabilizing the human population and prevent disease but also help improve local economies and preserve essential rainforest habitat. With all those benefits, these condoms heighten pleasure for everyone.

(Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns)

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