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Inside the business of recycling sex toys

Your typical sex toy is composed of plastic, rubber, silicone and maybe a small motor. It might also contain a computer chip or batteries.

When thrown out, the toy's recyclable components usually end up in a landfill.

"That's a waste," said David Kowalsky, 35, the founder of Dreamscapes LLC, an online sex toy shop run from a spare room of his Wesley Chapel home.

Kowalsky has worked in the online adult novelty business for a decade. In November, he started a new Web site, www.recyclemysextoy.com.

It's exactly what you're thinking.

Used, washed toys are sent to Kowalsky. He and his three full-time employees, including girlfriend of four years, Jean Kozlowski, sort out the salvageable parts to send to recycling companies.

The rubber and plastics will be transformed into park benches, playground mulch and decorative yard fixtures, Kowalsky said. And new sex toys?

"I hope not," Kowalsky said. "The whole idea of reconstituting a product into another toy doesn't sound right to me."

• • •

The sex toy recycling idea emerged about two years ago.

Kowalsky has always offered a satisfaction guarantee on his intimate products, he said. He wants folks to find the right toy for their needs (and he says after a five-minute no-holds-barred conversation, he can tell exactly which toy that is.)

This emphasis on keeping the customer satisfied did well for business but not for the environment. Unwanted toys went straight to the trash pile.

"We threw out hundreds," he said.

Kowalsky researched some companies and found recyclers who said they would work with the toys' plastics, motors and other components.

In the past two months, he has sent more than 200 toys to be repurposed.

Several recycling and environmental organizations, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, did not want to comment on Kowalsky's effort because of the nature of the products.

Off the record, the groups' reps said they hadn't heard of any other sex toy recycling programs in the country.

A similar initiative by the English adult goods supplier LoveHoney made news in November when six boxes of used sex toys bound for the recycler were stolen, according to the Bath Chronicle.

Worried the thieves would try to sell the used goods, LoveHoney officials warned British pleasure seekers not to buy unwrapped novelties.

• • •

Kowalsky is currently operating his recycling program at a loss, but there's the potential for income if he can recycle mass quantities of toys. His next target is the porn industry.

"They use a lot of their stuff once," he said. "They'll shoot a scene, use it, and throw it out."

Any profits made from recycling would go to earth-friendly causes, Kowalsky said.

The adult novelty market raked in more than a billion dollars in revenue, according to the Free Speech Coalition's 2007-2008 industry report. Women have emerged as the fastest growing demographic of consumers.

On his toy Web site, www.vibratorshopping.com, Kowalsky features products for men, woman, singles and couples of all sexual orientations.

When he talks about sex, he talks about romance and respect, discovering the human body and sharing emotions.

"There's a lot more to sex than just sex," he said.

• • •

About 30 miles away from his home office, Kowalsky's recycling efforts have at least one skeptic.

"This can't be serious," said Jennifer Seney, recycling coordinator for Pasco County. "It's certainly not recyclable material in my book."

Seney questioned whether the toy's plastic and rubber could even be recycled.

She thinks used sex toys should be incinerated like biomedical waste. Although, she imagined some bacteria would be eliminated in the recycling and remanufacturing processes.

"It involves a lot of heat, which is a good thing in this case," Seney said. "But there's a lot of handling that goes on between the use of the (toy) and the end recycled product."

Research: Shirl Kennedy

Inside the business of recycling sex toys 01/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 2:26pm]

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