Sex & Relationships

Sex Toy Recycling? It Is Time to Think About Dildo Disposal

When hiding them all under the bed is no longer an option.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

I recently tested a truly heinous “oral sex simulator” sex toy for a magazine. The contraption involved 10 chihuahua-sized plastic tongues that swirled furiously, pinwheel-fashion, slapping at my most delicate bits while whirring furiously, like a peeved lover who wished I would just have a damn orgasm already. I can only imagine what it would do to an errant pubic hair.

I used the thing because I am a serious journalist, but what was I supposed to do with it afterward?

It seemed wasteful just to throw it away, not to mention the embarrassing tarting up of my weekly garbage. And right now there are no blue recycling bins where one can toss one's toys after they've put in their time.

How is it that old sex toys have no dignified resting place? It's for a variety of reasons, one of them being that they're sex toys, ergo, ewwww. Some recycling facilities won't take them because they consider them biohazards. Recycling is also tricky because toys can contain problematic and/or toxic materials like batteries, motors and weird-ass “jelly” materials.

Money is also an issue. It's just not profitable (yet) to deal in used Fleshlights. “The biggest issue is the mixed polymers. This is an export-only item, mostly to China. The market for mixed plastics has been quickly eroding since 2008,” said a recycling industry expert, who wished to speak anonymously because... sex toys. “But if there were large quantities available on a consistent basis, I'm confident that there would be a home option available for recycling.”

Even though I have, perhaps, “a lot” of sex toys hidden under my bed (the world's #1 hiding place for sex toys, followed by the nightstand drawer), it's not the kind of large quantities I would need to set up an in-home export business. What are the options, then?

1. Throw them away.

Sure, you can take out the batteries and recycle them, but the rest will end up in a landfill, stubbornly not biodegrading, so our descendants will be well aware of what big pervs we were. This is not ideal.

2. Buy from a place that recycles toys.

Right now that's exactly two places: U.K.-based sex toy company Lovehoney and Come As You Are (CAYA), an “anti-capitalist, co-operative sex shop” in Toronto, Canada. Lovehoney's Rabbit Amnesty Program is the most successful, running for 10 years in the U.K., and now offering recycling to U.S. customers.

"Everything we receive gets checked to make sure it qualifies for the recycling scheme. The toys are then sorted into containers and sent to our nearest WEEE Recycling Plant. They’re pretty used to receiving mountains of colorful phalluses from us now, “ explains Richard Longhurst, co-owner of Lovehoney.

“The unwanted toys get crushed and separated into their different materials. You can see a video of the whole process on YouTube. It’s quite entertaining to see a bulldozer with a shovel-load of sex toys and see rabbit vibrators whizzing round conveyor belts and crushed into little pieces.”

Metals might be made into new gadgets and plastics might go into that container you're drinking out of right now. Pause for spit take.

At CAYA, things aren't quite as advanced, but they are doing their sincere Canadian best.

“We encourage folks to drop off their busted sex toys and give them a 15 perent discount for their efforts,” says Jack Lamon or CAYA Co-operative. “While we can't recycle all sex toy materials, we can deal with abs plastics, silicone and the electronics contained within. The silicone we're hanging onto for a top-secret in-house re-purposing project. The biggest issue for us is the vinyl, rubber and mystery plastics. None of these materials should have ever been in sex toys in the first place, and they certainly shouldn't be in landfills!

"Anything we get that is an antique, we sterilize and keep for our collection," he continued. "We've found some original Fun Factory pieces in the recycling, not to mention Wahl Vibrators from the 1960s.”

Although you are welcome to send your box of worn-out butt plugs to CAYA, Lamon doesn't actually recommend it. “The shipping cost is probably too prohibitive for most folks, and honestly, we feel weird about people shipping stuff to us from too far away—I suspect that the gas/oil and emissions undo the good work of recycling, from an environmental perspective,” he said.

Instead he encourages...

Sex toy swap

“Sex toy swaps are amazing and I would love to see more happen in local communities,” says Lamon. “Folks have tons of amazing stainless steel, glass and leather toys that would be better reused than recycled, and that stuff is so expensive to buy new.”

The thing is, most people have a huge issue with used sex toys, despite the fact that we happily reuse penises and other real body parts all the time. We're so squeamish about it that it's difficult to have a serious discussion about used toys without everyone giggling like a bunch of fifth-graders. When I asked readers of my sex blog—a pretty progressive group—if they'd consider a swap, only one person would admit to it.

Still, a few determinedly green and/or thrifty souls are willing to give it a go.

“I have a small group of friends I trust and am very comfortable sharing intimate things with, and every once in a while we do a toy swap. I know it sounds like a terrible and kinda creepy idea in general, but really, if it's sterilizable and comes from someone I trust, why not exchange that glass g-spotter that I never actually use for an awesome purple silicone dildo that doesn't quite work for my best friend?” posted rhiannonstone on Metafilter.

Reusing sex toys most likely has some historical precedence. As one of my readers pointed out after a post on the early 1900s vibrator hysteria treatments, “I would hazard a guess that the doctors did not purchase a new device for every patient.” (Even if you have no qualms about unknown things in your orifices, you should avoid porous toys and ones made with toxic materials—a decent general rule for new toys as well.)

Go rogue

Some people use them as artistic inspiration. Subtle Dildo, an instillation art project, ponders the presence of plastic in our lives with a photo series, each featuring a Where's Waldo-like hidden dildo.

Lovehoney offers a cheeky list of sex toys hacks including a butt plug light pull, dildo book ends and a sex doll-turned-scarecrow.

And according to a discovery by one dude on YouTube, some folks just toss their used dildos into the empty lot behind the Peddlers Inn, in Ulysses, Kansas (not recommended).

Sell them online

eBay doesn't allow it, but sites like Craigslist, which technically also doesn't allow it, has a small black market, especially for generally unaffordable high-end toys. And the year-old used sex toys subreddit currently has almost a dozen items up for grabs, including the WeVibe 4. New, it will run you about $150, but the seller is accepting offers. “Just doesn't work as expected for the wife,” he explains. 

If the idea of buying used sex toys online skeevs you out, you should definitely not read the National Association for the Advancement of Science and Art in Sexuality's investigation that found “many” online sex toy retailers were selling used toys. To determine that the toys were used, the investigators didn't use some sort of high-tech DNA analysis—they just looked at the stuff!

According to the NAASAS report in a particularly hideous string of words, “Indicators noted in the study to determine if a sex toy had been previously purchased were physical evidence found on the actual sex toys inside their packaging such as human body hair (including pubic hair), vaginal and anal secretions (including fecal matter), saliva, finger prints, lubricant residue, animal fur, lint from clothing and more.”

Jill Hamilton writes In Bed With Married Women (www.inbedwithmarriedwomen.com). Follow her on Twitter @Jill_Hamilton.

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