Three years ago I finished nursing our third and (most likely) final baby. But while I had my pick of various local charities where I could donate our crib, changing table, glider chair and other baby items, I was weirdly disheartened to learn that I could not do anything besides throw out my Medela Pump-In-Style breast pump.
I understood that my portable pump was only designed for one mother to safely use. Pumps like the one I used have a motor that is open to contact with a mother’s milk particles, unlike hospital-grade rental pumps in which the milk never touches the working parts of the pump.
But that black faux-leather-bagged machine and its satellite dish shaped breast shields and I had been through a lot together. I feel a phantom let down reflex when I see that particular shade of yellow plastic. I can still imitate with great accuracy the sound of the various expression speeds, a useful party trick. I felt that there had to be some way that this contraption that helped me nurture my babies could help someone else. And let’s face it, just tossing a piece of equipment that costs a couple hundred bucks and can just end up as landfill junk never feels good.
It turns out that Medela agrees, and this year it has begun the Medela Recycles program. Now mothers can donate their personal-use, electric Medela breast pumps and Medela will recycle them. Eligible breast pumps are sent to a processing center where they are broken down and most parts are recycled appropriately. (Medela recycles the motor unit, motor housing and carrying bag. The other breast pump kit components that were in contact with milk, such as the connectors, breastshields, tubing, bottles and valves can be tossed into your own recycling at home.) Medela does not reuse the parts for any manufacturing purposes, but the recyclable parts are now kept out of landfills and solid waste is reduced.
These environmental benefits are truly a relief to me, but there’s more. With the donation of our old pumps, Medela is donating new hospital-grade pumps and breastfeeding supplies to Ronald McDonald House Charities. Every time a mother like me donates her pump for recycling, shipping provided by Medela, more high-quality breastfeeding equipment is given to mothers and babies who are staying in a Ronald McDonald House. This way, mothers with babies in the NICU or who are staying at the hospital for other reasons, will be able to pump at the Ronald McDonald House using the same high-quality equipment they use at the hospital.
The current goal is to recycle 12,000 breast pumps and put 24 Medela hospital grade pumps and breastfeeding supplies in Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Now that good ol’ breastpump that accompanied you on the Metro, on airplanes, into restaurant bathrooms and hung with you on many a lunch hour can have a new purpose.
Whether battered or barely used, it can achieve a Velveteen Rabbit-like transformation for good.
Jessica McFadden is a local mother and writer who blogs at A Parent in Silver Spring.
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