What makes it a “green” sex toy?

When we saw that the latest issue of “Curves” magazine had an article on “green” sex toys, we just had to buy it – you know, in the interest of science. Now, before you roll your eyes, we don’t believe that the fate of the world hinges on the composition of a vibrator. But the article does provide a fun opportunity to  think about how a commitment to sustainability may impact every aspect of life.

And, as you’ll see, it provided us with a good opportunity to think about “greenwashing.”

Greenwashing is the use of deceptive marketing to mislead consumers into thinking a company’s products or practices are environmentally friendly. Greenwashing is also the use of sanitized language to make unsustainable and even dangerous things sound better than they are (remember the Clear Skies Act, intended to roll back environmental safeguards?). It can include symbolic greenwashing that encourages consumers to think that by taking a symbolic action (such as purchasing a particular product or turning off the lights for one hour) they’ve made a more significant impact than they really have.

Following are some of the author’s claims about what made a sex toy “green” in her eyes, and our response:

  • Durability – The (plastic and electric) Hitachi wand is very durable and doesn’t use batteries. Lelo and Jimmy Jane sex toys are made of durable silicone and are waterproof.

Durability is a great quality, but we’re not buying this as an environmental claim. Plastics and silicone are not biodegradable. It might be good that they last “longer” but frankly, they are still going to go into a landfill where they will continue to exist for eons. And plugging into a wall outlet is not all that green unless you’re off the grid.

  • Rechargeable – Many of the featured products have accessible batteries that are rechargeable. One can recharge from the USB port in a computer.

Still not buying it as green. Since when does recharging from a USB port mean low energy use? Unless you are using a solar battery recharger, you are still using non-renewable energy. Even rechargeable batteries give out eventually and then where do they go? They still contain toxic chemicals.

  • Sustainably farmed wood – Yup, NobEssence is crafting some beautiful, personal sculptural pieces from sustainably farmed wood.

Hmmm, no electricity, renewable resource and biodegradable earns this product a thumbs up from us. Note: Wood is porous so not necessarily a “safer sex” product, but NobEssence says they seal their products with an impermeable polymer coating so it is waterproof. How does that affect the biodegradability? That’s not discussed on the site.

  • Use of recycled materials – Cherry Bombin Restraints produces toys made from recycled bicycle inner tubes.

This one also sounds like a winner in the reduce/reuse/recycle category.

  • Organic – A number of body oils and lubes advertise that they are made from certified organic ingredients.

Organic is good for the environment in which it’s grown but where exactly was that? If that exotic ingredient had to be flown halfway across the globe, you’ve just added significantly to its carbon footprint.

  • Earth-friendly packaging – Sliquid gets points from us for using 100% recyclable bottles and labels printed on partially recycled paper stock. Excess packaging is one of our biggest pet peeves so we love it when companies think about the packaging. (We can’t tell, from the website, how much packaging surrounds the bottle.)
  • Biodegradability – In this case, the biodegradability of condoms. The article featured Glyde (vegan) condoms.

This product deserves more attention. According to Wikipedia, more than 1.5 million condoms are used every day in the U.S. alone! That is a tremendous amount of waste. So what’s the scoop on environmentally safe condoms? The website Go Ask Alice had this to say about the materials used to make condoms:

Latex is biodegradable… It is an all-natural substance made from the sap of rubber trees. Latex condoms are not composed of 100 percent latex, however.

Lambskin condoms are biodegradable, but do NOT protect against sexually transmitted infections or HIV. Lubricant and/or spermicide may alter the decomposition potential of both of these products. No one has studied that.

Condoms made of polyurethane, a plastic, do not break down. And, Alice says, “it comes as no surprise that there is not a lot of interest in recycling them!”

So what qualities really add up to “green”? Like the low-fat label on food, marketers want us to think green means GREAT! But the truth is, the claim might just mean slightly less harmful – or it might mean nothing at all.

To be fair to the manufacturers of these products, they may not be the ones marketing their product as green. This was a magazine article and maybe it was their twist on it. But it’s a good reminder that, as consumers, we need to use a critical eye whenever we see environmental claims for products.

About thinkofitasanadventure

We are a 50-something couple living in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. We attended a sustainability conference at our local high school in November 2010, with keynote speaker Richard Heinberg from the Post Carbon Institute. What we heard shocked us deeply. We finally understood the need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We immediately began to change the way we live. We joined together with other folks in our neighborhood to learn more, to do more and to have fun doing it! We're part of Transition Longfellow. We're choosing to change now and to "think of it as an adventure." If you are on this journey too, we'd love to hear from you.
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