Recycling Breast Pumps : Why We Should and How to Create Your Own Recycling Program

Recycling Breast Pumps : Why We Should, and How to Create Your Own Recycling Program

In the United States, approximately 4 million people give birth each year. An estimated 83.2% of them start out breastfeeding. Many of those who have a health insurance plan get a breast pump covered at no cost to them. Research is lacking in this area, but approximately 95% of breastfeeding families pump or have pumped during their breastfeeding journey. From these numbers we can estimate that around 3 million breast pumps are obtained each year. That’s approximately 16.5 MILLION POUNDS! 

Many breast pumps obtained by families are electronic devices containing batteries, metals, plastics, and more, which classifies them as electronic waste. When thrown away, these materials sit in our landfills, polluting our soil and water with toxic materials. These toxins can cause many health issues such as lead poisoning, central nervous system damage, kidney damage, and even cancer. Electronic waste is a huge problem, not only with breast pumps but other electronic devices such as laptops, televisions, and cell phones. It is estimated that only 12% of electronic waste is recycled, leaving much of the waste to be burned at incinerators, destined to sit in landfills, or even shipped to Asia. 

Can I buy or use a used breast pump?

We hear this question often! Pumps can be expensive which can make used pumps seem appealing. They are often listed on eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook sale groups. Maybe a co-worker or friend has offered to give you the pump she used for her last child. Many breastfeeding families want to help others who may not get a breast pump covered by insurance by donating or selling theirs to them. This is a kind gesture, but there are a few concerns. 

  1. Breast pumps obtained through health insurance benefits cannot be legally or ethically sold to another person.
  2. Consumer-grade breast pumps are single-user only, even when they are a closed system. The manufacturers state this, as the motor and power of the breast pump is only meant to last as long as many families pump for which is usually from 1-2 years (usually the length of the warranty). When a pump starts to wear out, it doesn’t suddenly stop working. Instead, the suction and cycling mechanisms very slowly start to break down and work less efficiently. Eventually, you realize that you aren’t pumping as much milk, and the suction doesn’t feel as strong (or perhaps feels too strong).
  3. Consumer-grade pumps are often not closed systems like a pump you might rent from the hospital. Open system breast pumps can be contaminated with bacteria, mold, and viruses and are not able to be sanitized even if you use new tubing, flanges, bottles, and membranes. There have been cases of severe infections making babies and breastfeeding families sick, because of using a used open system breast pump from another person. Is this really a risk? There isn’t great research either way. Some bacteria and viruses die within hours or days. Some of them, like tuberculosis bacteria, can survive for a very long time.

The pumps obtained through insurance or purchased at a store are single-user, and should not be shared between people (even closed-system breast pumps). The only pumps allowed to be shared between multiple people are labeled as multi-user or hospital-grade pumps and usually run with a price tag of $2,000-4,000. These hospital-grade multi-user pumps are often found in hospitals, emergency rooms, and some businesses. 

So, consider the source, use your best judgment, and at least buy a new pump kit (membranes, tubing, valves, etc.).

More info about used pumps can be found in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition p.296.


So, what can we do with used pumps?

Since single-user breast pumps that are obtained by most breastfeeding and pumping families shouldn’t be shared, a lot of waste is created each year. This is as a problem for our environment, our health, and the future of the breast pump industry, so some people are starting recycling programs! 

Melanie Horstman from Nurture Omaha shares:

“We want to make a healthier future for our children. Thus, we started a breast pump recycling program here in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. We hold recycling events every month where families can bring their used breast pumps, bottles, and breast pumps parts to be properly recycled. Any bottles and parts in like-new condition get donated to local women and family shelters, crisis centers, and even humane societies or zoos! What is not in good enough condition to be reused gets recycled through the proper channels, thanks to our partner, Trek Electronic Recycling.”

We all know the phrase “Reduce, reuse, recycle”, did you know that this is also the order in which we should do it? When getting rid of an item, no matter what it is, ask yourself – Can I reduce my need to buy something like this? Can I reuse it? And lastly, can I recycle it? This is a great thing to practice in your daily life. Asking these simple questions can help us reduce the amount of waste we create. 


How does “Reduce, reuse, recycle” apply to breast pumps? 


Reduce our need for breast pumps. Breast pumps are extremely helpful to many families who return to work or who cannot feed their baby directly from their breast as they are very convenient and easy to use, but they are not necessary for every family. To reduce our need for breast pumps, we encourage lactating individuals to learn how to hand express. Hand expression can be more effective than using a breast pump, and has been used since the beginning of time! We believe that every lactating person should be taught how to hand express before baby is born or immediately after birth. It is a learned skill and takes practice, but it can increase your milk supply better than a breast pump! 

We also believe that we can reduce the need for breast pumps with increased lactation support and easier access to lactation support for everyone. Check with your local breastfeeding coalition, La Leche League chapter, hospital, or search for skilled breastfeeding support in your area. There are many different levels of support ranging from peer-to-peer volunteers, medical facility-based or private practice lactation support, and non-profit organizations such as LLLI. Everyone who decides to breastfeed should contact a lactation support person if they are experiencing troubles or have questions.


Check “Can I buy or use a used breast pump?” above


Recycle your breast pump. Some manufactures have recycling programs where you can mail your breast pump to them. If your pump manufacturer does not have a pump recycling program, you should search for a local one, such as Nurture Omaha’s. If there are no local recycling programs in your area, start one! 


How can I start a breast pump recycling program in my area? 

With a few simple steps you can try to create a breast pump recycling program in your area! Here’s how:

  1. Identify the need for a recycling program. Meet with local breastfeeding families in your area. Ask them if they’ve ever recycled a breast pump, and if so, where? Educate families on the complications surrounding selling and sharing breast pumps. 
  2. Contact local recycling centers. A quick internet search can show you the local recycling centers in your area. Start by calling or emailing them and ask them what they accept to be recycled. Ask about electronic waste, plastics, silicone (such as bottle nipples and breast pump tubing), and bags/coolers. And don’t forget to ask about costs of recycling or how often items will be dropped off or picked up. Also look into where you are able to donate good condition or non-recyclable items such as breast pump bags and bottles. Many local shelters for women and families, or even animal shelters will accept these items.
  3. Cover the costs. If the recycling center you choose has costs associated with recycling, it’s time to figure out how to cover those costs. You can ask the breastfeeding families if they would be willing to pay the costs or you can contact your local breastfeeding coalition, other environmental advocacy groups, non-profits, or even community centers to see if anyone has grants or funds in place to help environmental and wellness causes.
  4. Plan a time for recycling. When will breast pumps and parts be accepted? Who is in charge of organizing the event and transporting the recycled material? Will you accept only during recycling event times or are you able to have a recycling bin available 24/7? Who will be in charge of answering questions about the event? Do you have an email or a phone number? Is a local business willing to take this on?
  5. Share your event! Get on social media, contact local news stations, and even make flyers to put out at local healthcare facilities or areas where breastfeeding families tend to gather. Provide contact information for when people have questions. Share the importance of recycling and breastfeeding for the environment, and you’ll help to create a healthier community and future for our children! 

Does your community have a breast pump recycling program that you would like to add to our list? Contact us at [email protected]

Article written by Melanie Horstman, IBCLC, RLC, CPST – co-owner of Nurture Omaha, LLC, a breastfeeding and family support small business in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. 


What should I know about buying a new or used breast pump?, KellyMom

Pumping Milk and How do I choose a breast pump?, LLL USA



Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.

Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.


Page updated February 2020