In the spirit of Earth Day and of loving this little spinning rock we live on, let us be real. We celebrate and champion sex positivity because sexual health is connected to overall health, and our health is connected to the planet we live on.
Although we’ve celebrated Earth Day for quite some time, something in the messaging hasn’t stuck, since we’re now looking at a rough expiration date of 12 years for comfortable sustainability, unless we turn things around at breakneck speed.
If time on our planet is of the essence, then it’s past time normalize the responsible disposal of pleasure products. We should start a discussion about recycling sex toys. We want you to vibe for generations to come.
SAVE THE (SELF) DATE
What happens when our vibrators die? I asked a bunch of random women on the internet what they do to ditch their toys in an environmentally sound manner. No one said anything besides, “I just threw it in the garbage.”
Four years ago, Gizmodo took a stab at breaking apart a “cheap vibrator” and observed the following:
Sure, you can unscrew the hot pink bottom to insert two AAA batteries, but there’s no easy way to pull the molded battery unit out of the clear plastic casing. The vibe is billed as being waterproof, and apparently the most cost-effective way to get there was to paint every inner surface of the case with glue. I had to wrap that plastic suppository in a towel and hit it with a sledgehammer a bunch of times to get it open. Apparently, the manufacturers were expecting this thing to take some punishment.
With soft plastic, hard plastic, glue, wires, a motor, and batteries, there isn’t much about vibrators that is biodegradable.
SEXY, SEXY SCIENCE
I have a friend with a master’s in Environmental Management who helped with this piece, and she said that sex toy disposal wasn’t widely discussed when she was studying. She did, however, inform me that a new idea called “cradle to cradle” (C2C) is entering the mainstream, rather than the more established idea of “cradle to grave” (C2G).
With C2G, the consumer is responsible for the byproducts of an item, from its source materials through its final disposal. C2C takes the concept a step further, ensuring there is zero byproduct, and that anything remaining has an immediate value for something else.
These concepts focus on what the California government’s website defines as e-waste, “Electronic products nearing the end of their ‘useful life.’”
The silicone used in many personal pleasure accessories is body-safe, but not always planet-safe. Standard curbside recycling programs don’t often accept silicone-based, post-consumer products because not all silicone is biodegradable.
Mineral quartz, which is currently plentiful, is used to make the silicon base, but making silicone from mineral quartz requires hydrocarbons that come from either petroleum or natural gas, and the methods used to harvest and process these materials have environmental concerns.
The tailored recycling programs offered by some pleasure-product producers come with restrictions and no guarantee. But even still, at the time of publication, no such services are currently available in the United States. In fact, no programs exist outside of the UK, Australia, and Canada, and it’s difficult to find information on the topic at all.
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
Why aren’t there more programs for safe and environmentally responsible waste management of sex toys in the United States? Why isn’t there more information on this issue as an environmental topic?
We already have thriving recycling programs for cell phones, laptops, and many other electronic devices. It follows that the lack of recycling for sex toys in the U.S. could be related to the fact that sexual education is required to be medically accurate in only 13 out of 50 states. There are components in sex toys (motors and batteries) that are appropriate for e-waste, but perhaps customers are dealing with apprehension over bringing in such an intimate item.
The lack of information about recycling pleasure products could also be related to the fact that California has “no clear definition for e-waste” of all kinds, for instance whether microwave ovens and other similar appliances should be grouped into the category.
So, is it safe to dismantle your old toy into its recyclable parts? Reputable sex blog Lioness dedicated a post to safely tearing down a Rabbit Pearl vibrator, and a handful of YouTube tutorials exist on vibrator disassembly. But until sex toy companies create wholly sustainable products, we’re stuck with a mountain of dead vibrators that need to be taken apart and repurposed by their owners, and a serious lack of accessible and public information about how to do so.
EARTH: DON’T KILL MY VIBE
In lieu of sweeping industry change, there are little things we can do as individuals to help reduce waste. When you can, purchase toys that are USB rechargeable. If the toy of your dreams requires lithium power or alkaline varieties, I suggest rechargeable batteries. Both options also save money in the long run.
Anything worth doing is a challenge, and as a society, saving the planet is our biggest challenge yet. Let’s heed that call. We owe it to ourselves and each other to keep this place jumping with sustainable life. And what’s life without a good old toy sesh?