BOSTON – A little more than a year after she founded RecycleHealth, Lisa Gualtieri said the company has already collected and recycled more than 900 activity trackers.
“We’re working at capacity right now so we’re really just taking the time with our participants and studies,” said Gualtieri, an assistant professor at Tufts School of Medicine. Gualtieri said she founded RecycleHealth because she wanted to reduce e-waste and test the hypothesis that the people least likely to purchase wearables may benefit the most from them.
“Studies have found that the abandonment rate for one-third of all wearable activity tracker owners is six months,” she said. “I thought that, conservatively, there could be millions of these devices lying around in people’s drawers.”
Gualtieri said that studies have also found that many people who can’t afford an activity tracker or who wouldn’t be likely to purchase one are actually happy to use one if it was given to them with some training instructions. So, she came up with the idea of connecting the two.
RecycleHealth works with organizations that serve minorities, low-income households and seniors to increase fitness and health. Participants in the company’s studies receive an activity tracker to keep, and are asked to complete periodic surveys so Gualtieri and her team can learn more about the use of wearables and their impact on physical activity and behavior change in different populations.
“What we’re learning is that most people don’t know their daily activity level, but if they had that information, they might increase it,” said Gualtieri. “Our study participants are telling us that using their activity tracker has been very helpful.”
RecycleHealth currently has two studies underway with groups of participants ages 50-75 who have never owned an activity tracker. Gualtieri said the company is also coming up with new studies to look at the impact of physical activity on mental health.
“We want to learn how these trackers fit into people’s lives and what the benefits are of using one,” she said.
RecycleHealth has set up a donation box at several conferences over the past year, and has also received donations of new, older-model activity trackers from some manufacturers.
“The donation part is more than I could have imagined,” Gualiteri said. “People have just latched on to the idea and are asking how they can help.”