Major sex toy companies have made numerous highly visible and vocal attempts to go green
Yet even the most eco-conscious makers and retailers often gloss over the topic of toy disposal. At best, most stress that their toys are durable, and thus should last users years. But
“Holy shit, so many plastic sex toys are filling our landfills, polluting the ground,” says
This gap in the green sex conversation largely reflects the fact that it’s shockingly hard to recycle sex toys — especially in America, one of the epicenters of the adult industry but also a nation with a
Though some cheap, iffy sex toy materials, such as jelly-like plastics,
In 2007, the United Kingdom-based toy mega retailer Lovehoney actually launched
But in the United States, Queen explains, even a toy made solely of one eminently recyclable material “isn’t recyclable under ordinary conditions.” Most recyclers just don’t want anything to do with items that have been in contact with sexual fluids; they view them as a biohazard, and are under no legal obligation to process them. “Even while wearing protective gear, handling used sex toys is just unpleasant,” admits
Many modern sex toys are also made of a mixture of materials, which most recyclers don’t want to deal with, as breaking them down is time- and labor-intensive and they are
Eco-conscious consumers can try to break toys down themselves, but
Even if you know your local recycling program processes the materials you’ve extracted from a toy, and sterilized to hell and back, you can’t just pop it into a blue bin and have faith that it will get recycled. As Truelove explains, American recycling relies heavily on automatic sorting systems to keep costs low, and those systems are usually built to process common and fairly standardized items, like aluminum cans or cardboard boxes. Sex toys are rare enough, and so diverse in form, that they’re not really on most recyclers’ radars, and thus aren’t accounted for in many automation systems. So, during sorting, toys or their deconstructed parts may still get diverted into a trash pile instead of processed for recycling. In the worst case (
“Right now, the term recyclable doesn’t really mean anything.”
So, Truelove cautions against putting too much stock in company hype about a product’s so-called recyclable materials. (A few sex toy makers and retailers do use this as a selling point.) Because in-theory recyclable products are often not recyclable or recycled in fact.
“Right now, the term recyclable doesn’t really mean anything,” Truelove stresses.
A good idea while it lasted
In the late aughts, ambitious toy companies and independent startups decided to get around these thorny issues by creating their own toy recycling programs, either for their defective or returned toys or for public use.
However, when the adult industry reporter
Lamon suspects that even those that managed to bypass the limitations of recycling systems just couldn’t make their programs work economically. Come As You Are runs a program like this in Canada, sending ABS plastics to a commercial recycler, electronic waste to its local municipal processing system, and saving loads of silicone for an undisclosed future store project. Lamon says he’s never counted, but he estimates that the program gets about 20 items to recycle per week. However, he admits that they still have to throw a few of these toys out, because they’re made of unrecyclable materials. “It is amazing to me that in 2022 a lot of people actually still don’t know what their sex toys are made of. It’s actually pretty scary,” he said.
Lamon freely acknowledges that Come As You Are loses money on the project — which he is happy to do in the spirit of social-environmental service. But few businesses are willing to make that bottom line sacrifice. The adult
One of these programs,
Taylor Sparks of the
“As someone who lives in the southern U.S., I don’t see many people prioritizing recycling,” Felicity, the sex toy reviewer, agreed. “My apartment complex doesn’t even have recycling.”
“Also, there’s no public relations benefit in programs like this, because sex toy recycling sounds to the general public too much like ‘reselling used sex toys,'” says Lamon. That’s actually an issue in some shady corners of the adult industry, he stressed, so no one wants the association.
However, even a fully-functional, industry-wide program would still have severe limitations. Truelove points out that prices for recycled materials fluctuate wildly, so there’s no guarantee that any buyers the industry finds for its old toy materials will stick around for a meaningful amount of time. There’s also no guarantee that the folks they sell materials to won’t
Which, of course, is not ideal.
Go with the flow
Rather than attempt to invent and control an industry-specific recycling system, in recent years a few toy makers have started developing toys that attempt to work with the current state — and the constraints — of the American recycling system. Most of these toys are modular, and thus easy to break down for maximal recycling within the limits of a local system’s materials and sorting rules and standards.
5 biggest sex toy myths debunked
“The development took around two years, because finding the right material wasn’t easy,” says Johanna Rief, Womanizer’s head of sexual empowerment and spokesperson.
However, modular toys only reduce some friction in recycling efforts;
This advice flies in the face of most recycling experts’ caution about not putting anything that your local recycling system can’t process into a bin, for fear of processors treating it like a contaminant and trashing the whole lot.
“Are bioplastics the perfect long-term solution” to sex toy waste and recyclability, Rief asked hypothetically. “Probably not until the government or companies build more of the needed special [processing] facilities. But it’s the best solution that we could come up with for now.”
Eco-conscious sex toy reviewers do not seem impressed with this solution, or other supposedly biodegradable toys. In a review of the Eco, a toy critic who goes by the name
“What is the point of touting this as ‘fully recyclable’ if none of your customers can do so?”
“I think it’s a marketing tactic rather than an actual environmental commitment,” says Felicity.
Toward a greener, sexier future
Rief argues that solving the sex toy industry’s sticky end-of-life issues will require “the overall mindset of society regarding environmental issues and recycling” changing. Truelove agrees. He stresses that we need better laws and incentive structures to make sure that we actually can and do recycle as many in-theory recyclable materials as possible, and design products with their post-use fate in mind. But that sort of social and legal change will be a long, arduous process.
In the short term, everyone Mashable spoke to for this story agreed that the best thing the sex toy industry can do to tackle waste is… pretty much what it’s been doing for years now: Make toys durable. Cut back on excessive packaging and make shipping as efficient as possible. Limit waste in manufacturing processes and use as many sustainably recycled materials as possible in products. These mundane, often semi-invisible tweaks don’t attract much fanfare, but they make a real difference. “Recycling ranks rather low among possible actions to tackle waste and climate change,” argues Foster of The Natural Love Company. “Reduce and reuse take precedence.”
There’s a constant stream of new waste reduction initiatives flowing out of the adult industry at all times. Recently, for example, the British toy maker Love Not War started a program where it will attempt to repair any broken toy returned to it. This month, added Love Not War co-founder William Ranscombe, they’re also launching a new bullet vibe, The Maya, “made from 99 percent recycled aluminum,” one of the easiest to recycle, and most reliably recycled, materials out there.
“You do have to start somewhere,” Truelove says. “I appreciate companies that are trying.”
Consumers need to take a little ownership over and initiative in managing their own toy waste, too. Some have attempted to do so by participating in used toy exchange or resale programs among friends, in their local communities, or via online marketplaces. But as
The best thing most consumers can actually do is to simply buy fewer new sex toys. “Too many people buy sex toys they never use, or use once and then throw away,” Sprinkle, the ecosexual activist, points out. “Novelty is nice, but it doesn’t have to come in the form of an adult toy… If you have three sex toys you really love, that’s usually enough.” You can care for them well, keep them alive for years or decades, then replace them only when they are beyond any hope of repair.