This Group Gives Unused Fitness Trackers Second Lives

RecycleHealth collects old wearables, then donates them to studies focused on underserved populations.

Fitness trackers

Photo by Jamie Ducharme

You know that five-year-old Fitbit languishing in your desk drawer? Lisa Gualtieri wants it.

Gualtieri, an assistant professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine, is the founder of RecycleHealth, a nonprofit that collects unused activity trackers and gives them meaningful second lives. When Gualtieri founded the group in spring 2015, it was to address two issues simultaneously.

“I was struck by the fact that the people who were the heaviest purchasers [of trackers] were the youngest, and therefore the healthiest, segment of our population,” Gualtieri says. “At the same time, there was one study that showed that a third of people stopped using them within six months. When you looked at the sales, that was conservatively millions of trackers sitting in people’s drawers.”

RecycleHealth is collecting as many of those forgotten trackers as possible—so far more than 600, donated by private citizens, wearables manufacturer Withings, and the lost-and-found bin at Canobie Lake Park—and giving them to people who can put them to good use. Most go to groups that serve minorities, low-income families, and senior citizens, and that are studying how wearables can increase physical activity among those populations. Recipients fill out behavioral surveys to help determine the trackers’ impact on physical activity levels, but otherwise the wearables are theirs to keep, no strings attached.

“We hope that through the research we’re doing, that we open people’s eyes to the ways in which they can be increasing their activity,” Gualtieri says.

It’s a simple goal, but one that could have a lasting impact on both the research community and the lives of study participants.

“It takes a long time before you go down a size in your clothes or the needle on the scale moves,” Gualtieri says. “For you to get that immediate feedback that you’ve taken a walk, look at how many steps you’ve done…is actually very, very helpful to people.”

To donate your wearables, print a mailing label here or visit one of these drop-off locations.