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Ask The Green Mama: Can I recycle my baby’s carseat?

Dear Green Mama: My friends and I swap, reuse, and hand-down everything from baby clothes, toys, and books to cribs, tricycles, and information.  What do we do, though, with our old car seats?  These days, the car seats come with expiration dates, yet I can’t seem to find a carseat recycler.  Any ideas or connections that would help in this endeavor?

Distressed green driver

Dear D.: Carseat recycling is possible and of course it is preferable to throwing the plastic, metal, and material into the garbage where it takes landfill space and can leach flame retardants, plasticizers, and even heavy metals.  Unfortunately, the alternative is recycling and there are few places that recycle them.  I called one of these places and spoke with the founder about what we can do to recycle our carseats if we DON’T live in Colorado, Oregon, or one of the other few places that have programs.

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“Help people to get recycling programs going–Chicago is a natural place to get something going grass-roots.  It’s not the most green thing to ship these across the country,” says Bill Flinchbaugh of Colorado Children’s Automobile Safety Foundation.

“Okay. Okay,” I said, “but what about in the meantime”

“Depending on your level of motivation: you can deconstruct the carseat (yourself) and then find a place to recycle the plastic (which are usually #2 or #5, durable polyethylene.” He did also mention that there are some fledgling programs as nearby as Wisconsin, so if you contact him he might give you the inside scoop.

Really, though, it seems that reducing would be best in this case.  So I asked Bill about some of the best minimalist carseat options out there.  Reiterating that SAFETY is first and making sure that a carseat is well fitted to a car and to a child are crucial, he went on to say that Integrated Carseat Systems like what you can still find in a Volvo are very safe and never expire and you don’t have to recycle them.  If you aren’t in the market for a new car, there are companies like Safeguard Go which has a longer life than the average 5 years of a carseat, uses minimal plastic, and is easily portable.  He also mentioned that Sunshine Kids and Britax make systems that are heavy duty and thus can last a little longer.  He was decidely not a fan of the non-213 compliant harnass-only, plastic-free system that I have been eyeing from GrandmaKnows.org.   Unfortunately, we can not look to our European neighbors in this regard because even though they have more stringent standards than in the U.S, most European carseats are not 213 compliant. “The result is often, better products that are illegal to use in the U.S.,” says Bill who has had over 20 years experience in the industry. “We are the most lenient country in the world that has a standard. We have more children dying in car crashes than any other country in the world.”

If you want to keep it legal, keep it safe, and reduce your waste, the best idea is to borrow, trade, and hand-down among friends.  Bill reminds us that we don’t want to get a used carseat whose history who do not know (because after a crash they are no longer safe and effective), but borrowing a seat from a reputable company or from a friend is a great way to have your carseat without having the burden of disposing of it.