Can you be sustainable if you're on the pill? We ask the experts…
Being on the pill has it problems. The artificial hormones, the side effects and the inconvenience of remembering to pop it every day are all considerations for those taking the daily contraceptive method. But now it seems there’s yet another factor to think about – the potential environmental consequences.
You may remember the headlines a while back all about how the contraceptive pill is turning fish transgender. While somewhat puffed out of proportion, there was a level of scientific fact behind them.
Researchers realised that hormones – namely ethinyl-estradiol, a synthetic form of oestrogen – in freshwater lakes was altering the genes of fish, altering their behaviour. These behavioural changes varied from finding it harder for them to find food and how they interacted with predators, to problems with procreation.
According to Charles Tyler, Professor in Environmental and Molecular Fish Biology at Exeter University, who has been researching the topic for 20 years, the hormonal contraceptive pill is a major contributor to the issue. "The oestrogen in the contraceptive pill is a major player in causing the feminised responses in wildlife, specifically fish, in the UK rivers," he told GLAMOUR.
"I think there needs to be greater emphasis on so-called endocrine disrupting chemicals (chemicals that we discharge into the environment that affect our bodies’ hormone systems)," he went on to say. "Oestrogen is just one example of such chemicals."
According to the recent research, over 200 chemicals can have oestrogen-like effects, as well as other drugs like antidepressants having an effect. But as well as the hormones humans may excrete through urine, there’s also the issue of chucking medication down the loo. "Any pharmaceuticals that are not used should not be disposed of via the toilet, but rather be returned to pharmacies or GP clinics where they can be incinerated," advises Professor Tyler.
While the contraceptive pill provides affordable and reliable birth control to millions of women, and is seen by many as an important tool for women’s sexual liberation, it’s hard to ignore the negative impacts it’s presenting over time.