Once upon a time, many nursing mothers couldn’t afford a breast pump even if they wanted one, because of their high price tag. Under the Affordable Care Act, breast pumps are now supplied to new mothers at no charge to them under most health insurance plans, making it easier than ever to maintain a continued breastfeeding relationship even if a mother needs to be away from her child for work or travel. The new laws haven’t been in effect long enough to determine whether that will translate to more breast pumps in circulation, but one might assume there could be a bit of an uptick. That leads to an important question: What does a mother do with a breast pump she no longer needs? Enter Medela’s recycling program…

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Although many baby-related items can be donated to thrift stores and community programs, breast pumps aren’t typically on that list. The reasons for that are pretty simple: not all breast pumps are designed to be used by multiple mothers, and they all have a lot of accessories and moving parts that make it challenging to ensure they are safe, hygienic and in good working order. Some parts of breast pumps, like tubing, can be tossed in household recycling bins for municipal collection, but the machine itself cannot. Fortunately, there are other options.

Medela, a leading manufacturer of breast pumps for over 50 years, recognized a need for a program to help keep used breast pumps out of landfills, where they were likely to end up if a mom couldn’t find somewhere to donate it. The company launched Medela Recycles after a lengthy pilot program. The program accepts used hospital-grade, multi-use breast pumps through a postage-paid shipping program, and then uses a third-party to recycle the breast pumps and parts so they purchase new hospital-grade breast pumps for families benefiting from Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC®). Since the program began, 6,127 breast pumps have been recycled to benefit families in need through the Medela Recycles program.

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For mothers who chose another brand of breast pump to support their breastfeeding relationship, other recycling options do exist, sparse as they might be. Hygeia, a maker of multi-use breast pumps founded in 2007, accepts used breast pumps for recycling under a program called “No Pumps In Dumps.” The company states on their website that they may recycle the pump and its parts, or they “might refurbish it and provide it to a mom in need or work with an agency that can accept used pumps,” depending on the age and model of the breast pump.

For other electric breast pump manufacturers – like Avent, Ameda, Spectra, and so on – moms can contact the company directly to ask about recycling options, but no formal programs seem to be in place. A quick review of posts on parenting forums demonstrates that most nursing mothers are willing to invest a great deal of energy to keep an old breast pump out of the landfill. We think it’s easy to argue that they shouldn’t have to, so hopefully Medela’s example will inspire other manufacturers to create easy ways for old breast pumps to become just another way to support other families in need.

+ Medela Recycles

Lead image via Medela Twitter