How many old car seats do you have stored away in your garage? Rest assured, you are not alone. On average, every child will go through three car seats before they are ready to sit independently in the car. With about 12 million car seats sold every year in the United States, unfortunately many end up as waste in landfills. However, by either reusing or recycling our old car seats, we can reduce our impact on the environment.
REUSE OR DONATE
One way to minimize waste is to give your old car seat to either a family member, friend, or a child in need. Keep in mind, though, that a used car seat can only be passed along to someone else if it meets a few critical requirements:
- It can never have been in a car accident. Child car seats are built to withstand only one crash (including fender benders), and should never be used after that even if they appear to be in good condition.
- It should not be visibly damaged. Make sure the seat does not show any signs of wear and tear. Avoid seats with dents, cracks, tears, or missing parts.
- Straps must be intact. Seats should be replaced if the straps have ever been removed and laundered or treated with bleach.
- It must not be recalled. If your seat is recalled, it will either need to be fixed or replaced based on the manufacturer’s instructions. To determine if your car seat has been recalled, please visit this up-to-date government resource.
- It should not be expired. Most manufacturers list an expiration date on the seat. It should be printed on a sticker somewhere on the base of your car seat or stamped directly into the plastic of the base. If you are unable to locate an expiration date, then a good rule of thumb to follow is a six-year limit on the car seat because the materials typically degrade over time. The intense ultraviolet light from the sun shining through the car windows degrades the function and safety benefits of the car seat.
If you are unable to safely reuse your car seats, consider recycling them. Please do not just throw away the car seat because about 90 percent of the materials—including plastic, metal, cloth, straps, and foam—can be made into new products.
Find A Car Seat Recycling Program
It may take some research to locate an active car seat recycling program in your area. Just a few years ago car seat recycling programs did not even exist, but more and more options are popping up across the country as parents become increasingly aware and interested. Recycle Your Car Seat is an extremely helpful resource that provides the latest and greatest information about where you can recycle your car seats.
There are several different types of recycling programs available. A number of organizations offer periodic car seat recycling programs, while others have ongoing collection programs. Some will strip the seats for you and others require you to break apart the seat into its various components. Some states and communities offer local partial recycling by taking some of the seat parts. Unfortunately, curbside recycling programs typically do not accept car seats, even if you take them apart first. The only locations that offer curbside collection of car seats so far include the City of Los Angeles and Howard County, Maryland.
Another option is to find a private recycling program. Baby Earth, a baby product company, offers BabyEarth RENEW, a convenient used car seat recycling program. Simply ship your car seat to the address below, and the company will take care of properly disassembling it and distributing all usable parts to accredited recycling centers. If the seat is in excellent condition, they will even donate it to a family in need.
RENEW Recycling Program
106 E Old Settlers Blvd. Ste D-100
Round Rock, Texas 78664
Recycle Individual Materials
If you are unable to find a car seat recycling program in your area that will pick up the entire car seat, you can still recycle the individual materials. Ask your local department of public works, municipal trash team, or local recycling collection company whether they will accept the various car seat parts and how best to provide the parts to them. You may need to take the car seat apart yourself and drop off the different components by hand.
Consumer Reports provides the following instructions for disassembling your old car seat, which should only take a few minutes:
- Use scissors to cut off the fabric, foam padding, and harness straps from the seat.
- Use a Phillips-head screwdriver to remove as much metal as possible.
- Remove the car seat cover and any padding underneath it.
- Separate the fabric, plastic pieces, foam padding, straps, and mixed metal sections. Discard any pieces that are unable to be recycled. Consider keeping those parts for your own art projects.
- Mark the plastic as expired or unsafe.
- Recycle the bulky plastic body and all metal pieces.
Create Your Own Program
If you want to make an even larger impact, consider organizing a used car seat collection in your community. In order to lead a successful program, Grist Magazine suggests you call your local plastics recycler and ask if they accept disassembled car seats if a certain poundage of material is met. Then you can look for a community organization to sponsor the event. Finally, gather a group of dedicated volunteers, and you are ready to go. For additional guidance, contact current recycling programs that can serve as your mentors.
Whichever reuse or recycling approach you take, know that you are helping to make a dent in the millions of expired car seats that would otherwise end up as trash in landfills.
Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher specializing in parenting, wellness, environmental issues, and human behavior. She enjoys analyzing everyday life using science, humor, and a passion to improve the world. Her blog Happy Science Mom provides a parenting toolkit for raising happy, balanced children. To learn more about her work, please visit www.sandischwartz.com.