As a Sex Educator, I sometimes find myself on the phone with a complete stranger saying something like, “eh, I have kind of an unusual question…” A few days ago I uttered those words when I called my local Water Reclamation Manager. I asked him if he would take me on the journey of a flushed condom.
When I give a condom demonstration in the community, inevitably I have someone say, “why would I throw my used condom in the garbage when I can flush it down the toilet?” Here’s why:
When you flush a condom, there’s a chance that you could clog your toilet. It might come back up immediately or when you least expect it, like when your boyfriend’s mom is over for dinner. (It could also damage your septic system, if you don’t have city sewer.) If you are lucky enough for the condom to clear your toilet, it is going to start traveling towards a water reclamation facility (WRF). My source tells me that they rely on gravity and a downhill flow of the pipes to get the waste at least part of the way there. Because many of the pipes stretch for miles, a pump is usually needed to get the waste all the way to the WRF. This is potential problem area #2 (no pun intended). Non-organic waste (condoms, diapers, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, cotton swabs, reinforced paper towels, etc.) often gets trapped in these pumps and someone has to go REMOVE IT BY HAND. Ewww. If the condom does make it through the pump, there’s another filtering process at the WRF, but my source says that sometimes, stuff gets through that process too. He says that occasionally, you can find condoms and tampon applicators on the fields where reclaimed water is used to irrigate! Double ewww. I mean, who wants their delicious Florida strawberry growing inches away from a used condom?!
Here’s what you should do instead: wrap your used condom in toilet paper or a tissue and put it in the garbage. Latex is biodegradable, but not in water. The Water Reclamation Manager says that if you put it in the garbage, it will go to a landfill and/or be incinerated. When they remove non-organic waste from the pumps or at the WRF, it also ends up at the landfill and/or is incinerated. Here’s what should go down a toilet: #1, #2, and #3 (vomit). We really don’t need taxpayer money replacing pumps all over town because people refuse to dispose of condoms properly.
An aside: When the Manager told me that the non-organic waste has to be removed by hand from the pumps, I told him that they aren’t paid enough for what they do. “Actually,” he said, “this is a great career and we make a decent living…tell that to your readers.”