Can Car Seats Be Recycled?

6 years ago

I've been hearing concerns about child car seat disposal, namely, can they be recycled? Car seats are the only piece of kid gear required by law and, in some places, for kids up to age 8, so one child could have two or three different seats before they graduate to standard safety belt. With four million babies born in the U.S. annually, and each requiring three car seats before age eight, Americans buy as many as 12 million seats a year. And even though 90 percent of the materials are recyclable, where does all that metal, foam, fabric and molded plastic end up?

Why, the landfill, of course.

Image: Chris and Kris via Flickr

Eco-options include giving them away for reuse or sending them to states like Oregon and Colorado, where car seat recycling programs have been implemented. Some feel bad about buying brand new, so what's a green-minded new parent to do?

First off, experts say that the the reuse philosophy is a good one…but not an absolute solution when it comes to keeping your child safe in a car crash. Therefore, you have full 'permission' to skip the guilt about buying a sturdy new car seat. Whew!

But if reuse is still your preference, it's worth noting that the generally accepted guideline is not to buy, sell or use a car seat over six years old. Thanks to perpetual sun and heat, the seat's plastic invisibly degrades. Some seats, such as Graco and Britex, have an expiration date marked on the frame or listed on the manufacturer's website.

And if you do have the opportunity to obtain a used car seat, make sure it's someone you trust. (Don't buy it online.) You'll want to reject any seat previously involved in a car accident, unless that accident was declared 'minor' by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Air bag deployed, vehicle was towed, physical injuries, etc.) Also, before giving or accepting a used car seat, check the NHTSA site to see if the seat was recalled for defects.

As for recycling, here are some options:

In my own fabulous state of Colorado, we have a car seat recycling program that dates back to 2002. Back then, a very frustrated Bill Flinchbaugh started collecting and breaking down the car seat components in his garage after seeing so many thrown away. The Colorado Children's Automobile Safety Foundation (CCASF) now processes more than 4,000 seats a year, thanks to Bill and a whole lot of volunteers and community support.

“Recyclers don’t see the benefits. You pay $100 for the seat [in the store], and now you have 10-15 pounds of plastic that’s worth maybe 10-15 cents a pound. You have to get a lot of plastic together to make it worth their while. If the price of gas goes up, we can’t do it. The margin is that thin."

--Bill Flinchbaugh, CCASF Founder

Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, an area hospital collects used seats for their Legacy Health Recycling Center - often held up as the best car seat recycling program in the nation. Since 2007, they've recycled over 5,000 car seats.

"Throwing these large plastic pieces into the landfill? I knew there had to be a better option."

--Tammy Franks, founder of the Legacy car seat recycling program, quoted in The Oregonian

Otherwise, call your municipal trash team or local recycling collection company, and ask if they will recycle the seat. Better yet, offer to disassemble it yourself since the labor is the biggest hurdle. If you do decide to toss it, you should disassemble it so it is not reused again.

Finally, Earth911 reports that Illinois considered instituting a program but ultimately decided it didn't make financial sense. If your city or state has a car seat recycling program, we'd love to hear about it.


BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE & GREEN; Proprietor, ClizBiz

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