I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but babies grow up fast, and before you know it, they’ve outgrown those infant car seats you spent so long researching. Then they’ve outgrown their toddler seats and boosters, too. This presents a constant dilemma: What do parents do with their old car seats when they’re done with them — especially if they’ve reached that all-important, not-to-be-ignored expiration date?
For many parents, the answer ends up being something like “let that chunk of plastic sit in the corner of your garage collecting dust until you figure out what to do with it.” Then, eventually, you cave and toss it, and it sits in a landfill with countless other car seats.
Sure, throwing it away seems the easiest option, but we have a couple of better ideas for what to do with old, expired car seats: recycling and trade-in programs.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do with a car seat: donate or sell it if the car seat is expired, recalled, or has been in an accident. The plastic that protected your child so well won’t do so anymore if it’s been broken, cracked, or degraded by the elements. The last thing you want to do is risk another child’s life.
That said, here are a few things you can do to end that expired car seat’s life nicely.
Target car-seat trade-in event
From September 13-September 26 this year, stop by any Target store’s Guest Services desk, and you’ll find a box ready to accept your used car seat for recycling. If you’re enrolled in the free Target Circle rewards program (you can sign up there or just go here to create an account) a Target employee will then hand you a 20 percent off coupon for a new car seat or car-seat base, OR select baby gear. That includes strollers, play yards, high chairs, swings, rockers, and bouncers. The coupon can be combined with other offers, but it expires on October 3, 2020.
“We’re always looking for ways to make the lives of our guests easier and we’re proud to be able to help them reduce household clutter in a responsible and environmentally-friendly way,” stated Michelle Wlazlo, senior vice president of apparel and accessories at Target.
According to Target, the company has recycled 1 million car seats since the start of its trade-in program in 2016 — keeping 14.4 million pounds of materials from ending up in landfills. So, keep your eyes peeled for trade-in events like this one.
Other trade-in programs
Walmart has offered a similar deal in years past, but they haven’t yet announced what they’re doing for 2020. We’ll report it here when they do.
If you happen to have bought a Clek car seat, the company will recycle it for you in a slightly convoluted way. You’ll have to buy a shipping label from the site for $39.99 and use your own box to send the seat back to them. Then you’ll get a credit for $39.99 to use toward a purchase on the Clek site.
Earlier, we discussed not selling or donating a car seat if it has been in an accident, is expired or was recalled. However, you can reuse or pass along the seat if it’s still in good condition and doesn’t fall into any of those aforementioned categories. To find out if your car seat qualifies for reuse, answer the questions on Consumer Reports’ website.
According to Recycle Your Car Seat, curbside recycling programs do not typically accept children’s car seats, even if you take them apart first.
Currently, 12 states have recycling options for car seats; you can find a list of programs on RYCS’s website. If a program doesn’t exist near you, you can still recycle as much of the seat as you can yourself. But before you begin dismantling, ask your local department of public works if the plastic from the seat is accepted in the local recycling program. If it is, then get to it!
Consumer Reports compiled the following list of tips from the recycling program in Ann Arbor, Michigan:
First, 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.
Discard the fabric, foam padding, straps and mixed metal-plastic pieces and small plastic pieces.
Mark the plastic as expired or unsafe.
Recycle the bulky plastic body and all-metal pieces.
Have someone else do the recycling for you
There’s one more option for the truly dedicated environmentalists out there: You can pay Terracycle to recycle your car seat and other baby gear. Buy a box from the site, with prices ranging from $94 for an 11″x11″x20″ box to $214 for 15″x15″x37″ box, stuff your used baby gear inside, and ship it off. This is not an ideal solution, but we are at the whims of manufacturers and recycling plants, most of which are still located in China. You may instead just want to hold onto that seat until the next free car-seat trade-in program next year.
A version of this story was originally published in September 2019.
You can also reduce waste by buying toys made from recycled materials, like those made by some of these great toy brands.
Launch Gallery: The Toy Brands to Shop When You Want to Vote With Your Wallet
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