Andy Warhol once joked that dying was the most embarrassing that could ever happen to a person. Many people give careful thought to what they want done with their assets after their death, even going as far as to spell out what should be done with their digital properties, but few think about some of the more embarrassing details of having been alive.
In a column for the New York Times, Joyce Wadler reflects on the existence of a vibrator an old boyfriend gave her that she still has in the depths of a closet somewhere.
But now, with the old beau's surgery looming, the toy — rather its disposal — was on my mind. This was a problem. It was not one of those unused household items you can donate to Housing Works; they don't even take sheets. I'm an environmentally conscious person, but I couldn't see taking it to old electronics day at Union Square. I could put it into the appropriate recycling bin on my floor, but then the neighbors might figure it out: It's her. All day, all night, I hear buzzing coming out of that apartment. No wonder she's always smiling. I might try to dispose of it with the kitchen garbage, hiding it with coffee grounds and dead things from the back of the refrigerator, as I do old tax reports, but then I'd be in violation of the recycling law.
But disposing of sex paraphernalia — actually all those embarrassing items you have stashed around the house — is something every boomer should be concerned about. The days are dwindling down to a precious few and some of you have a nasty cough. Do you want the people clearing out your house, particularly your children, to find those feathery, metallic, rubbery, polymer blend items you ordered one drunken night a few months after you'd been forced to take early retirement? Do you want them to know their big, tough construction worker dad liked to dress up in heels and a boa and sing "La La La" from "No Strings," one of Richard Rodgers's weaker efforts?
[ ... ] I know no one likes to think about death. But just as the responsible person designates someone to make medical decisions in case he or she is incapacitated, we should all have designated, let's call them Eradicators, to come over and clean the house after we expire. Remember Marilyn Monroe. Not that I can prove anything, just saying. Your Eradicator should be given house keys, a list of items to be destroyed and their hiding places — you don't want to be in intensive care screaming, "Back of the sock drawer!" They'll just increase your meds.
After reading the piece, one of my dearest friends offered to be my eradicator. I asked him if he'd live-tweet my pleasure trove — if he wasn't willing to do that, no deal. He told me I didn't get it. I think I do get it, but I'm in the business of de-stigmatizing pleasure, so I have no interest in hiding the things that make me orgasm, alive or dead. I want people to think, "well, she had one of those, maybe it's worth trying!"
I know that's not for everyone, of course, but just before I could offer to be my friend's eradicator, I became consumed with curiosity about the proper disposal of sex toys. Magazines, books, DVDs — if anyone other than me still has them, I know what to do with them (check them out and see if I want to keep any and recycle the rest) but what about sex toys themselves? There is no reusing here, no matter how good the friend. I had no idea how to properly dispose of sex toys in an environmentally-conscious way.
The question, it turns out, would be far more difficult to answer than I ever anticipated.
First, I called up the sex toy shop Good Vibrations in Oakland. They have a vibrator museum — surely they would know everything there was to know about their disposal! I was very surprised to learn that the chain doesn't have a sex toy recycling program. The customer service representative I spoke with told me that they simply strip vibrating sex toys and recycle the motors as one might any electronics.
To see if there were any more details I could get about recycling motors, I called the Mountain View Department of Public Works, which is closer to me than Oakland. I was sternly told by a woman on the line that "those [sex toys] go straight into the garbage, ma'am." You'd think Silicon Valley would have the recycling of electronics down to a science, being, you know, the hub of technology in the nation. But, no, Mountain View apparently doesn't want your motors if they were created to go inside you.
I thought I might fare better in Los Angeles, what with Porn Valley being right there and everything, so I rung up the Pleasure Chest in West Hollywood, where a sales assistant told me this was a very good question, but had no answers to offer me. The Pleasure Chest doesn't have a recycling program for sex toys and they don't strip them for recycling. The woman who spoke with me suggested I call the West Hollywood Recycling Center and ask them what to do.
As expected, the people working at the WeHo center were very understanding and didn't make me feel like I was asking them about what to do with the vibrating equivalent of Trinitite (though come to think of it, I bet most cities do have programs at the ready for properly disposing of anything radioactive). Unfortunately, the one person at the center who'd be able to answer my question was not around, so I was directed to voice mail. I left a message. I will update this if I get a response.
Still curious, I rang up Babeland to see whether New York City or Seattle had a better solution. I was told to check specific stores to see if they offered recycling options, as there is no store-wide program in place for the recycling of sex toys.
An internet search turned up 69AdultToys, which in 2010 offered a recycling program on Earth Day at their facility in Tarzana, California. I contacted them to see whether this had become an annual event, but received no answer. I'm not even sure if the site is still being run.
Another search brought me SexToyRecycling.com, a site that claims to represent a program that turns old sex toys into new ones. The site says that they have bins at major sex toy stores, but none of the ones I contacted seemed to know about them. Lacking a phone number on their site, I used the contact form to send an e-mail requesting more information. If they respond, I will let you know.
The sleuthing eventually paid off, though. After what felt like a million clicks, I stumbled on ScarletGirl.com, a green toy retailer based out of Portland, Oregon, that offers recycling for old sex toys of all kinds. Their site has all the instructions you need on how to package your old toys and send them in. As an incentive, they give out a ten dollar discount on their online store to people who recycle.
I contacted their headquarters to make sure they were still offering this option and spoke with Regina, the general do-it-all at Scarlet Girl, who told me that they very much are still recycling and welcome toys from anywhere in the country. She told me they weren't opposed to people shipping from outside the United States, though the higher shipping cost and hoops erected by customs probably made looking for an option closer to home a little saner.
I told Regina some of the responses I'd gotten from recycling centers here in California and she laughed. When Scarlet Girl set up the program, this was something they dealt with a lot, even in a city as green as Portland. I can't say I was embarrassed asking about sex toys, but I did feel a little ridiculous after hearing so many people tell me to just throw them in a landfill, so it's nice hearing from someone in the business of recycling personal pleasure products that this is common no matter how environmentally evolved the city.
So there you go — whether you're doing some end-of-the-year cleaning or been anointed "eradicator" by one of your friends — now you know what to do with those old toys: spare the planet and turn them into a discount for some pleasure for yourself.
(PS: I'm currently only accepting requests to play eradicator from close friends.)