The Second Coming: How to Resell, Repair, and Recycle Your Sex Toys

As the sex toy industry grows, so does the waste. Here's how—and why—to properly dispose of yours like a good, horny Samaritan.
sex toy recycling illustration
Illustration by Ian Mackay

Where do all the used sex toys go? “I have visions of the old Butter Mountain or the Wine Lake, and I think, ‘The sex toy one must be much, much bigger than any of those,’” says Lisa, the co-founder of the first-ever secondhand, sterilized sex toy website, Squeaky Clean. Together with her partner, Dan—they both requested to go by pseudonyms for privacy reasons—they want to help horny people realize that getting rid of used toys doesn’t have to mean throwing them in the garbage. “We’ve told very few friends, to be honest,” Dan says of their operation, which started in 2021 and now has over 3,500 users and 17,000 monthly visitors. “The general reaction is sort of, ‘Huh. Wait, actually, that's a really good idea.’ The market is certainly there and growing.”


In 2021, forecasters estimated that there were 42.9 million sex toys in use worldwide—a number they projected to more than double by 2025. As someone who reviews sex toys for a living, I’ve noticed recent changes to sex toy aesthetics and branding as their marketing aims for a bigger audience. People in the industry have started using the term “sex tech” in lieu of “sex toy,” for example, as part of both a universal leveling-up in quality and an attempt to destigmatize the topic. Companies’ designs become more upscale, gender-inclusive, and brand ethos-driven. A bigger audience means more toys—and more toy waste. 

We don’t know exactly how much trash our discarded Pocket Pussies and strap-ons are adding to the Great Pacific garbage patch, but we know it can’t be good. That’s why, in 2018, Blush Novelties launched a biodegradable bullet vibrator made out of starch-based bioplastic, and why Womanizer launched a biodegradable clitoral toy in 2021. This convergence of interests in human and environmental health is happening in the industry, but the relatively small number of decomposable toys are a drop in the ocean of a market that is expected to hit a global value of $80.7 billion by 2030. 

Another trend is sex toys that are safer for consumers, with both newer, Gen Z-oriented brands like Unbound Babes and legacy sex toy companies, such as the luxury Swedish sex toy brand LELO, highlighting their toys’ body-safe materials. But sadly, what’s better for consumers' genitals isn’t always better for the environment. When Alexandra Fine co-founded the (very aesthetic) sexual wellness brand Dame eight years ago, she says, there were plenty of body-unsafe PVC jelly toys on the market that included phthalates, toxic chemicals linked to cancer and hormone imbalances, but these toys were almost all off the market by 2014—and largely thanks to consumer demand, not consumer protection agencies. There has been an improvement to sex toy manufacturing standards, she says, but those changes are mostly around hardware, thanks to guidelines from the International Standard of Organization (ISO) that outline best practices for toy construction but not materiality.   


“It’s an industry that is at once massively mainstream, but it’s not mainstream, so [sex toy waste] is not talked about.” —Dan, co-founder of Squeaky Clean

So… does any of that make recycling the toy any easier? As Joshua Goodman, the Deputy Commissioner of Public Affairs & Customer Experience at the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) tells me, “[the DSNY] will happily accept rigid PVC,” which is hard enough to be used in drainage pipes and wall claddings, for recycling. Sex toy silicone, however—while sometimes recyclable—is not considered “rigid” and thus not recyclable by DSNY standards. Even if it was recyclable, there may be additional materials and parts that can’t be removed by users, which brings us to another Sisyphean gag ball: batteries. 

Ye old vibrators traditionally used alkaline batteries that needed replacing all the time, which sucked for me, a lazy person, and sucked even more for the planet. Today, I would say that the majority, if not all of the aesthetic sexual wellness brands out there—think, Maude, Dame, LELO, JimmyJane, Je Joue, Unbound Babes—favor an overmold construction that encases rechargeable batteries that can’t fall out or be removed by a consumers, making it a safer and more hygienic product. But, says Fine, this also poses a trade-off for better toy disposal. “You can’t take it apart, and that makes it really hard to break down [at a recycling facility],” she says. Goodman agrees, stating that rechargeable batteries “are one of the biggest red flags we have.” In New York, putting them out in your regular trash or recycling is actually illegal. 


All of this is pretty overwhelming and boner-deflating—which is why more and more sexual wellness platforms are trying to help people learn more about how to properly throw away, recycle, repair—and, now, resell—their used sex toys. You’re a hot and busy person, so we spoke with a variety of industry experts to give you a breakdown on how to ethically, or at least, not illegally, put your sex toys out to pasture. 

Recycling sex toys

When in doubt, read the fine print about your toys’ materials (and if the material list is not readily available, they probably suck). According to Goodman, stainless steel is “a big, enthusiastic yes” from the DSNY and one of the easiest materials to recycle. That’s not the case with borosilicate glass, a heat-resistant glass that’s unlike bottles and jars (which are very easily recyclable). Goodman says borosilicate glass is “unsuitable for most commercial applications—and, frankly, challenging to recycle from a molecular standpoint.” ABS plastic can be processed without any issues, he says, but “it is not the most sought-after type of plastic for recycling like PET and HDPE.” Recycling departments are like snowflakes, so just contact your own to see what they suggest.

There are also sexual wellness sites that will recycle sex toys of varying materials. Come As You Are is a self-described anti-capitalist, feminist sexual wellness co-op that has been running a sex toy recycling program off and on since 2013 from Toronto, Canada, and will accept silicone and ABS plastic toys (as well as binders). Eden Fantasys is an Atlanta, Georgia-based company whose recycling program lets you send in as many battery-free toys as you like with the purchase of a $5 voucher. 


If what you have doesn’t fit into any of these categories, you can always mount your old sex toys above your bed like a big game hunter. Just don’t pitch toys blindly in the trash; if it’s a choice between the back of your closet and the landfill, step up to the storage plate or consider one of the following options.

Repairing sex toys 

Then there’s the concept of service-based toy care. Love Not War, also known as LNW, is a British sustainable sex toy company that makes a broad range of vibrators and offers to repair them. The startup even collaborated with Lovehoney, one of the world’s largest sexual wellness sites, on a range of service-based vibrators. Regarding its future in sustainability, Lovehoney also told me it will be revisiting “recycling and other measures in place soon,” and offering a variety of toys and lingerie made with sustainable materials in the interim. 

When I asked LNW CEO and cofounder Will Ranscombe if he thinks the brand’s repair initiative could be easily adopted by other sexual wellness sites, he was pretty frank in explaining that companies would have to turn their models for production on their head and start designing their sex toys modularly, with servicing in mind from the very start. “It’s a bit like the relationship we have with our cars,” he says, “A car’s an investment; you want it maintained and running healthily. A sex toy is an investment in your personal pleasure, and in order to enjoy it fully, for years to come, we have to take care of it.” 

Reselling sex toys 

Finally, there’s the growing market of reselling used sex toys. It’s the most environmentally-friendly option for purging your sex toy pantry, you can make a buck, and you can make someone’s day by offering luxury toys at prices they can actually afford. You can either go the route of selling your maybe clean/maybe cum-crusted toys on Reddit, Craigslist, and Facebook, or you can resell your used, cleaned, and sterilized toys through the aforementioned Depop of dildos, Squeaky Clean. The latter accepts a variety of toys and has established various processes for verifying toy sanitation. “We handhold users through the process,” Lisa says. “The more we learn, the more we want to be purpose-led. We want to help people move on with their sexual development.” Sellers can actually chat with shoppers about their toy expectations, which also helps the site function as a moderated community board for people to get the specs they want about the toys they might be dropping big money on.