Dear Recyclebank: How should I dispose of baby or child car seats that I can’t use anymore?
Dear Reader: Since car seats are comprised of plastic, metal, and other recyclable materials, it seems a shame to send them to the landfill.
“Car seats can be recyclable. But it’s a labor of love,” says Kimberly Christensen, Program Manager with Old Car Seat, New Life. She should know: She estimates she has taken apart nearly 150 car seats to see how possible it is to separate the metal, synthetic fabric, plastic, foam, and other components into recyclable materials.
“The difficult part is that they’re being manufactured to not fall apart, since you want the child as safe as possible,” she says. Newer car seats often include steel inserts attached to the plastic via hard-to-remove rivets that make the seats safer and extend their usable lifespan,.
Old Car Seat, New Life, a collaboration between Zero Waste Washington and CoolMom, serves as a connection point for consumers to find car seat recycling programs in their area. These programs include Legacy Health in Portland, OR, and a program in Utah that burns some of the non-recyclable waste from the car seats to generate energy. In addition to the Old Car Seat, New Life’s comprehensive list of recycling programs, you can also watch for occasional programs run by retailers. For instance, earlier this month, Target partnered with Terracycle for a car seat recycling drive in certain locations. If you’re in an area with no local programs, there is a mail-in option — BabyEarthRENEW — but you do have to pay for shipping.
If you’re stuck without a nearby recycling program and want to follow Christensen’s lead, you can get out your tools and try to break down your old car seat into recyclable components that can go either in your curbside program (first double-check that it’s accepted!) or to a collection point for hard-to-recycle materials. Christensen says the soft foam and fabric are not usually recyclable, but some places will accept the hard foam. According to Kate Clark, PR Manager for Britax, the plastic used in their seats is Code 5 plastic (polypropylene), which is accepted in some curbside programs.
Clark cautions that if you are dropping off the whole car seat on your curb for recycling, consumers must cut off the webbing, cut the cover, obliterate the serial number and manufacture date, and write “Trash, do not use” on the car seat shell to ensure others don’t scoop up and use an unsafe seat.
If your child has outgrown your car seat but it’s still in usable condition, it’s tempting to follow the “reuse” rather than “recycle” missive. But Clark urges parents and caregivers to use caution when using secondhand seats. She says you should only use a car seat if the following information is known:
- The expiration date, date of manufacture, and model number (in case the seat has been recalled)
- Whether the car seat has been involved in a crash
- If the seat has all of the original parts
- If any parts are cracked or damaged
“Even if the purchaser of the secondhand car seat knows all of the above information, Britax maintains a position that the risks of a secondhand car seat significantly outweigh the cost savings,” she says. In fact, since this week is Child Passenger Safety Week, it might be a good time to check that your car seat is in good condition, secondhand or not!
With the difficulty involved in recycling car seats in mind, is it worth the effort? Christensen believes that consumers should advocate for more easily recyclable car seats by still attempting to recycle the seats and by asking manufacturers about how the car seats can be disposed of.
“The more parents are asking about recycling car seats, the likelier we are to be driving the market,” says Christensen. “Hopefully we will force manufacturers to think about how their products can be recycled. After all, 20 years ago, who recycled their TVs? It’s not going to get there if we just give up. ”