If you or someone you know gets injured, it often means stocking up on medical gear such as crutches, braces, boots, and walkers. And while you’re usually elated once those devices are no longer needed, what to do with them after the injury heals can be a bit of a head-scratcher.
Reader Sara Wise posed this recycling query to us on Facebook after her grandson recovered from injuries sustained during a car accident. If you’ve also wondered about what to do with old medical gear, read on for a few recycling solutions.
Before we get into individual items, it’s worth noting that there is an abundance of online marketplaces (such OfferUp, Nextdoor, and Craigslist) that you can use to donate or even sell products you no longer need. With the rising costs of healthcare, don’t be surprised if you can actually make a few bucks selling your medical aids.
Crutches are largely made of aluminum, one of the most valuable materials you can recycle. As a result, most scrap metal recyclers will accept them and pay you a small fee. But before you take that route, a surprising number of organizations will gladly take your gently used crutches and distribute them to others in need.
Crutches 4 Africa, an international project of the Mountain Foothills Rotary Club in Evergreen, Colorado, collects gently used crutches and distributes them to those with physical challenges (such as polio survivors) in Africa. The organization also accepts canes, walkers, and wheelchairs, and they’ve distributed more than 171,000 devices to 24 African countries and 14 developing countries so far.
Based in New York City, the nonprofit Crutches 4 Kids collects both child- and adult-sized crutches and gives them to physically disabled children around the world. The organization offers drop-off locations for used crutches in New York, New Jersey, and soon, Massachusetts. And if you’re feeling extra generous, you can ship them from any FedEx store for $20.
San Francisco–based ReCares collects used durable medical equipment, such as crutches, canes, wheelchairs, and walkers, and gives them to low-income elderly residents. The organization offers collection points in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Rafael, California.
World Crutches offers an extensive list of organizations that are happy to receive crutches and other mobility equipment. Most of these organizations offer the equipment to people who need it for no charge, and some sell the equipment for a reduced fee.
If none of these organizations offer drop-off locations near you, look into local secondhand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Other possible donation options include hospice, churches, and senior centers. Just be sure to call ahead first so you don’t waste a trip.
Wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters
Wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters are in high demand, and many people who need these items cannot afford them — meaning you can make a big difference with your donation.
A service for residents of Massachusetts, REquipment accepts gently used durable medical equipment, ranging from wheelchairs and scooters to sling lifts and shower chairs. They make minor repairs as needed and help get the equipment into the hands of adults, children, and elders who live in the state.
A Disabled American Veterans chapter in Minnesota established a local service called the Donor Connect Program to connect people who have used medical equipment with veterans who need it. This program does not accept electric scooters or wheelchairs.
The Wheelchair Foundation maintains a list of nearly 20 other organizations that will accept used wheelchairs. In most cases, they will be refurbished and donated, and pick-up can be arranged.
For other nationwide options, try your local Goodwill or Salvation Army location. They will gladly accept wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters, as will local churches, community centers, rehab facilities, and shelters.
If your wheelchair or scooter is electric and no longer works, you can likely recycle it via a local e-waste recycler. Walkers are made primarily of aluminum, so scrap metal recyclers will generally accept them and pay you a small fee.
Boots and braces
Boots and braces are typically less durable than other medical supplies and come in much closer contact with the skin — making them more challenging to donate. Some nonprofits will not accept used boots and braces for these reasons, but you can still find a way to keep them from going to waste.
Two national organizations will accept orthopedic supplies, including boots, braces, and slings: Samaritan’s Purse and MedShare. In both cases, you can ship materials, but you’ll need to fill out a donation form first to confirm acceptance.
You can also try donating your used boots and braces to a neighborhood church, senior center, community center, or shelter, or stop by your local Goodwill or Salvation Army chapter.
There aren’t really any viable recycling options for boots and braces because they don’t contain enough metal and the contact with human skin limits the recycling markets for the plastic and fabric elements.
This article was originally written by Mary Mazzoni on Dec. 9, 2013. It was updated by Trey Granger on Feb 23, 2018, with additional updates added on Dec. 6, 2021. Feature image courtesy of dmitri_66.