sex toy sustainability

scan of a monstera leaf and a pink clit suction toy

By large, sex toys are made of (often body-unsafe) plastic, which, as we all know, is quite rapidly killing our dear planet. On top of that, buying a sex toy often involves a lot of extra packaging and shipping materials, as well as the carbon footprint of the production and shipping itself. Obviously, sex toys are not the main culprit behind climate change and pollution, but they’re undoubtedly part of it, and it’s important to bring the lens of eco-friendliness into our sexy shopping choices too.

So, almost a week after the last Earth day, let’s dive into the complicated topic of sex toy sustainability!

Recycle recycle recycle – but where?

Like any other electronic product, sex toys have a certain lifespan, after which they’re vibrating, thrusting, or massaging powers are gone. Such a toy, unless you’re me and use sex toys for visual art, is quite pointless to have around, so what do you do then? Some of us might chuck the toy into the bin without a single further thought, but others might want to look into options of recycling it.

Unfortunately, very few sex toy manufacturers and sex toys offer the option to return your used toys once they’re broken. Because toys are often coated in a single piece of plastic/silicone to ensure a smooth surface, it’s impossible to get inside and dissect them to separate all the plastic, electronic, and metal parts and dispose of them separately. Even if the toy is plastic on the outside, you cannot just throw it into the recycling bin, so in the end, you end up doing the same thing as the aforementioned group of people who paid no mind to recycling and just threw it straight away, ending up surrounded by tons of other non-recyclable plastic at heaping landfills, chilling there for centuries.

So what’s the deal with “biodegradable” sex toys?

Releasing new toys from biodegradable plastic (usually based on cornstarch) is currently probably the biggest trend in sex tech. Sounds great, right? I too got bamboozled by the promise of “greener orgasms” when I saw a biodegradable toy for the very first time – I even promoted it! But because I have a curious mind, I decided to do a bit more digging, and quite rapidly changed my view on these toys.

While this is not the usual case of greenwashing — the toys really are made from “greener” plastic made of cornstarch, — the biodegrading process is where a lot of issues arise:
1) Specific recycling conditions
To achieve the biodegradation of these bioplastics, very specific conditions must be achieved – conditions that are not YET possible at most recycling plants. 
2) Cross-contamination
When bioplastics end up in either regular bio trash (food, plants, etc) or regular plastic, the whole batch of waste can be spoiled. This often happens because there is not enough clear information on how to properly dispose of bioplastics.
3) More than just bioplastics
Again, most of these toys still have other parts (electric motors, metal battery slots) yet very few can be fully taken apart to separate the waste by type. Refer to point 2 why this cross-contamination of materials is an issue.

I don’t know about you, but I am very reluctant to call these toys actually sustainable, and rather view them as a smart but deceitful marketing targeting the rising group of “conscious consumers.”

Modular toys = toys of the future

Wipe your tears and rejoice, there are some eco-friendliER toys out there! According to Modality’s report “Recycle My Vibrator” (highly recommended!), the future is modular. That means toys that can be disassembled, paired together, and refurbished. One such example is Je Joue’s line Ooh, which offers two sizes of motors and different silicone add-ons, significantly reducing the amount of electronics: you can literally have up to 4 different toys with just one motor and one charging cable. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any brand offering modular toys so far, but I hope for more to come!

Make it last

Apart from the added sensation of extra weight and possibility to partake in temperature play, many toys from hardy materials like glass, steel, porcelain, or wood have the advantage of being incredibly durable and sometimes even recyclable. One way to make more sustainable sex toy shopping choices is to reduce the amount of products we buy and invest in those that are long-lasting and high quality, which the aforementioned examples certainly are.

Even if you’re not a fan of hard toys (wink wink), you can take steps to make your silicone or plastic toys last longer:

  1. Clean them after every use with sensitive soap and warm water and allow them to fully dry afterwards (moisture is a very common toy killer!).
  2. Make sure not to get any water into the motor/battery compartments when cleaning/sterilizing your toy by boiling (only do that with non-motor-operated toys).
  3. Inform yourself whether your toy is waterproof or splashproof (there’s a big difference), and how much water it can take.
  4. Store your toys in a dry, cool, dark place, preferably each toy separate in a silk/satin bag or the package it came in.
  5. If you have any porous toys, do not let them touch each other – the interaction can literally make them melt.
  6. Take out batteries after each use.

Some more tips

Reduce shipping

If you can, try shopping at a local sex shop in person. If not, try to research which companies are based in your country or nearby to reduce the carbon footprint of the shipping. For example, I have decided to significantly reduce the amount of promo toys from outside of Europe I agree to receive.

Normalize toy swapping and gifting

Listen, we all do the sexy sexing, so why still act so grossed out by the possibility of something potentially touching our genitals? A lot of s3x toys can be fully sterilized by boiling, making them as good as brand new, whilst others can be cleaned thoroughly or even used with an extra condom as protection. Because each body reacts to stimulation differently, chances are you will at some point with a toy you don’t vibe with (pun intended). Instead of letting it catch dust in your drawer (that’s why you should put your toys in fabric bags), why not find a new, happy owner? You can swap or gift it to your pals, with your local kinky community, or just send it to sex educators like me (with their consent, ofc) who can use it for educational or artsy purposes.

Modality Group – Recycle my vibrator? The Case For S3x Tech Sustainability Metrics
Green Living Blog – Bioplastics: Pros & Cons and are they the Future?
Current Opinion in Food Science
Volume 38, April 2021, Pages 122-130 – Starch-based biodegradable plastics: methods of production, challenges and future perspectives
Mod Bettie – Sincerely, Bettie: How to Eco-Friendly Your Sex (Toy) Life