Recycling a treadmill, elliptical, or exercise bike can be a challenge. These expert tips will help you decide the best way to dispose of a machine you no longer need.
By Kevin Loria
But sometimes, for one reason or another, a machine goes unused or just ends up broken down and no longer functional. It’s not easy to get rid of a huge, hulking machine like a treadmill, however, and keeping it around as a giant clothes hanger is not an aesthetic most people go for.
First, don’t assume that a treadmill you’re done with is worthless. If it’s in good working order, you may be able to resell or donate it, says John Galeotafiore, associate director of product testing at Consumer Reports.
Getting rid of machines that don’t work anymore is a harder task. And most manufacturers don’t have take-back programs to collect nonfunctional equipment and recycle it.
“Exercise equipment falls under this category of household appliances that really don’t have great recycling and takeback markets,” says Shelie Miller, PhD, a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. “These are larger appliances that have a lot of high-value materials, including the equipment itself and the electronics. You have a lot of stock out there but not a whole lot of guidance for consumers to figure out what to do with these things when they’re done with them.”
Exercise equipment is categorized by the Environmental Protection Agency under “other miscellaneous durable goods,” along with items such as luggage. In 2018, waste generated in this category totaled 22 million tons, with only 440 thousand tons recycled, a recycling rate of about 6 percent. That’s similar to the recycling rate for small household appliances like toasters and hair dryers, but far below the recycling rate for major appliances like refrigerators and stoves, with about 60 percent recycled, and even below electronic waste, where nearly 40 percent is recycled.
“That represents a major opportunity to reclaim these materials,” Miller says. “We need to come up with a better infrastructure to have companies take these materials back.”
Good Enough to Sell or Donate
If you’ve still got a functional treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical, or other piece of fitness equipment, you can probably still sell or donate it, Galeotafiore says.
“In general, a treadmill that is worth trying to rehome should be under 10 years old and not have had any heavy use,” he says. “If the treadmill has any issues with the motor, belt, or electronics, it’s probably best to dispose of it.”
Check with organizations such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or local schools or community centers to find out whether they’ll take exercise equipment donations, he suggests. You may be able to sell your item on a site like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or Nextdoor, though you’ll have to be comfortable with strangers coming to your home or garage to check out the equipment.
Anyone buying a used machine should have a plan to transport it. If you’re on the buying end of such a transaction, be sure to test out a machine to listen for any odd sounds like squeaks or clunking, and check a treadmill belt for fraying on the ends or misalignment.
How to Recycle or Dispose of Your Exercise Equipment
Consumer Reports contacted five companies that make treadmills and other exercise equipment to ask about recycling options. The two who responded said they were not aware of any large-scale recycling initiatives for these sorts of machines.
Anyone trying to figure out how to get rid of equipment should first make sure an item truly isn’t functional, Miller says. (Test it out if you just haven’t used it as anything but a clothes rack in a while.) In some cases, an item may still be usable or easily repaired—potentially even under warranty—and could be donated. Many treadmills have lifetime warranties on the frame and motor, and three to seven years of coverage on parts. But if you’re outside the warranty period, you may not want to invest in a potentially costly repair for a treadmill you don’t want.
If the equipment really is no longer functional, contact the manufacturer to ask if it has a take-back program, Miller says. Even if these programs don’t exist now, consumer interest could promote their adoption in the future.
If the manufacturer doesn’t have a recycling program, as is likely, Miller says that you should contact your city or municipality to see if there’s an electronic waste (sometimes called e-waste) recycling program that will take equipment and recycle the components.
If not, some cities offer bulk trash pickup. If such an option isn’t available, you may need to contact a junk removal company that could take it out of your home for a fee, Galeotafiore says.
In Europe, some countries have started to require manufacturers to have a plan to take back and recycle equipment at the end of its life cycle, Miller says. This type of program, known as extended producer responsibility, started to apply to exercise equipment in France last year.
Similar regulations don’t exist in most of the U.S. yet. “Manufacturers need to do a much better job about coming up with a plan for the end of life of these appliances,” Miller says.
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