Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… Sex Toys?
Sex toy recycling is an idea whose time has come
For several years, I regularly reviewed sex toys for work. Companies from all around the world would ship me their products, and I’d test them out and report back to my readers to let them know which ones turned my crank, and which ones left me high and dry. It was a fun gig, but after a while I found myself growing bored. Truly exciting toys were few and far between, and most of what I was sent were variations on the same basic theme — variations which quickly began to clutter up my rather small Manhattan apartment.
Eventually, I stopped, which at least kept my collection from growing. But I was still left with a sizable pile of used gadgets that I no longer wanted — and didn’t have a particularly good way to get rid of.
Electronics recycling is a growing industry. If, like me, you live in New York City, it’s not that hard to find a center that will accept your electronic waste. Over the years, I’ve recycled old iPods, broken Kindles, and more cables than I can count — and once it becomes illegal to discard certain electronics in the trash, chances are it’ll be even easier to recycle your consumer goods.
Since, at the end of the day, vibrators are electronics, with many of the same components and materials as other, more demure household gadgets, taking old toys to the electronics recycling center would seem like a reasonable solution. But it isn’t: because they’re used internally, sex toys are considered biohazards, which means standard electronics recycling programs aren’t set up to handle them. And even if they were, they probably wouldn’t be willing to accept the many non-motorized sex toys that end up in landfills every year.
In other words: if we want to responsibly dispose of sex toys, we need recycling programs that are specifically designed with sex toys in mind. We need sex toy recycling.
If you google “sex toy recycling,” the first few links direct you to a program which appears to be defunct. Though I was able to send a number of toys to a Florida-based initiative a few years back, that, too, is no longer operational. I’d heard of a few sex toy distributors in the U.S. who’d been planning on mounting their own recycling programs, but when I checked in, none of them actually had gotten past the planning stages. As I asked around to people in the know, it became clearer and clearer that sex toy recycling operations were few and far between. I was only able to track down two active programs, neither of which were in the U.S. Looking to responsibly dispose of your marital aids? Your choices are Come As You Are, a Toronto-based sex toy co-op, and Love Honey, an online distributor based in the UK.
There’s a simple reason why sex toy recycling isn’t more widespread: it’s a complicated, expensive process (think of it as electronics recycling on steroids, or maybe Viagra), and most people are far too shy about sex and their toys to actively demand a program dedicated to responsibly disposing them.
For Come As You Are, sex toy recycling is only feasible because the city of Toronto handles the actual electronics recycling component — and even then, it’s not a simple task. Everything that comes to Come As You Are must be sterilized (they opt for heat sterilization via autoclave), and then sorted by materials. Some sex toys — like those containing rubbers, jellies, and non-silicone elastomers — simply aren’t recyclable; for those that are (like silicone and ABS), Come As You Are pays out of pocket to have them recycled by a local commercial recycling company. And then there are the stainless steel, glass, and leather items which, though sterilizable and non-toxic, aren’t fit for standard recycling programs. In those cases, Come As You Are does what it can to find the toys new homes, either by donating them to a local group’s sex toy swap or reselling them.
As Come As You Are’s Jack Lamon put it to me, “The whole endeavor is inconvenient and expensive and no company with capitalist intentions would engage in sex toy recycling. We were founded as a co-op to keep us honest and to ensure that no one of us ever personally profited from our business. This allows us to do things other businesses can’t justify doing.”
Things are a little bit easier for the Love Honey program. Thanks to a law known as the WEEE — Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment — UK citizens have a duty to responsibly dispose of old electronic equipment, including vibrators and other sexy gadgets. With a robust national electronics recycling program already in place, Love Honey’s task is much more about combatting shame and encouraging people think of their sex toys as just another form of recyclable gadget (and, too, about sparing people the embarrassment of dropping off a worn out rabbit vibe at the local recycling center).
In places where there aren’t robust electronics recycling programs in place (like, for instance, most of the United States), companies hoping to get in the business of sex toy recycling face all the hurdles (and, quite likely, even more) dealt with by Come As You Are. But hearing Love Honey’s rep talk about the benefits of sex toy recycling (homes powered by energy derived from recycled rabbit vibes!) reminded me exactly why sex toy recycling is so important — and why I desperately hope that someone in the United States finds a way to make a program work (for more than a few years).
In the meantime, I’ll probably be sending my toys up to Canada. It’s not cheap, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay if it means keeping my massive collection of old vibes from poisoning the planet.