Using a step-tracking device comes with a pretty defined honeymoon phase. Trying to figure out the device’s impact on your health can be exciting, but after a while, the infatuation may fade.
Lisa Gualtieri knows this experience first-hand. After learning that many step-trackers wind up collecting dust, the Tufts University professor and Fitbit user started RecycleHealth, a program to collect idle wearable activity trackers.
“Even in Portland, Ore., the recycling capital of the US, you can recycle wine corks. But there is no place to put Fitbits,” Gualtieri said.
There are plenty of step-trackers that need a new home. Endeavor Partners, a Cambridge-based tech consulting firm, reported last year that a third of all activity-tracker owners quit using the devices within six months.
Once rejected, they might sit in a sock drawer, hidden from daylight, to avoid serving as a constant reminder that the owner is no longer walking thousands of steps a day. The devices are also likely too costly to just toss in the trash, and should not be thrown out anyway due to the lithium-ion battery.
RecycleHealth, which started in May, has placed donation boxes at Tufts and Forrester Research. Gualtieri said she has collected about 20 devices so far and plans to use them as part of a pilot weight-loss program with the YMCA in Fitchburg.
The goal, she said, is to “provide free, refurbished wearables to people who are not typically marketed to by wearable vendors or can’t afford them, yet may benefit most, as an incentive to participate in fitness programs.”
Gualtieri believes the market for activity-tracking devices will continue to grow, even though holding on to customers can be a problem for the device-makers. Wall Street investors seem to agree, pushing Fitbit’s stock to twice its $20 per share IPO price. Corporate health initiatives may be a driver: Boston College, Adobe, and BP are among the employers that have created worker fitness programs with Fitbit.
“There’s a lot of momentum,” Gualtieri said. “The devices can be particularly beneficial if it’s information you are sharing with a doctor.”