At least 12,000,000 child passenger safety car seats end up in landfills in the United States every year! That is tons of plastic that will sit for decades in our already overburdened landfills. What, if anything, can we do about it? Plenty.
Car seats end up in a landfill for various reasons. The most common reasons are:
- Recalls (you can check your car seat for recalls at https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls)
- Car seats damaged in car accidents
- Child safety car seats which are simply of no use anymore.
Overall, approximately 180 million pounds of useful substance end up in landfills. Thankfully, this situation can be remedied. We have several solutions for you to peruse and hopefully take advantage of instead of tossing that old car seat away.
Better still, you don’t have to wait as long as a year to take part in a major baby gear trade-in event. You can recycle your child’s old car seat with little effort, any time of year. There are options all over the country and it is very inexpensive or free!
However, before we dive right into these solutions, what should you avoid when getting rid of your old unwanted carseat?
Avoid donating or selling your car seat if any of these is the case:
- The car seat is past its expiration date.
- In a case where there is a recall
- The car seat has been in an accident, even minor.
Please be aware that in any of these situations, it is very unsafe and irresponsible to donate or sell your used car seat to another family. The plastic may have begun to degrade if it’s too old, or pieces or portions of the seat may be worn out, which would prevent it from working as it should in the unfortunate case of a car accident. The recalled seats shouldn’t be trusted to protect children as expected, and a car seat involved in even a minor accident needs to be replaced and not reused.
Where To Recycle A Used Car Seat
According to the Recycle Your Car Seat website, most curbside recycling programs do not generally allow children’s car seats. It doesn’t matter if you take them apart first and separate the cloth and padding from the hard plastic parts. They still do not accept them generally. This may not be the case in some areas, so you can call your local waste management and ask if your recycling program happens to accept them. The information will usually be available on the website as well.
Presently, 12 states provide recycling possibilities for car seats. Check out the Recycle You Car Seat website to find out about these states. For example, Colorado, California, and New York, among several others, offer drop-off locations for used car seats throughout the state. Each state’s program is a little different, but usually there will be a designated drop-off location. You will also find a list of programs providing recycling options for these car seats.
If you hit a dead end with your local recyclers and city waste management, then check out our section on Mail-in options and other retail drop-off events below.
Why Recycle Your Car Seat?
People know recycling is important, but why exactly? Reducing the burden on our landfills is the primary reason, and baby home gear, including swings, strollers, and carseats creates an enormous amount of plastic waste. Trash ends up in the landfill, and hopefully much of it begins to decompose. However, with the hard plastics used in baby travel system gear, that isn’t the case.
The greenhouse gas produced by 45 million car seats sitting in landfills is immense, close to 574,000 tons! This plastic waste will sit and sit in landfills, but there is a solution that avoids this problem while also reducing the need for more raw materials.
Another lesser-known reason to recycle your car seats is to keep kids safe. Car seats left on the curb are often picked up by those in need and then reused. Unlike a stroller, crib, or swing, we often cannot tell if a car seat has been compromised in any way. It could look like it is in great shape but fail when most needed. This is another reason to properly dispose of your expired car seat after an accident.
A newer development in the recycling world is mail-in recycling options. One of the leaders in this field is Terracycle. They offer all sorts of recycling solutions for the more difficult to recycle items in our day-to-day lives and for businesses as well.
The Terracycle company is a great option if you live in an area without more convenient options. They have a Baby Gear zero waste box to accommodate a whole lot of non-electronic baby and toddler things. Items they will accept include: booster seats, car seats and bases, play tables and chairs, diaper pails, changing tables, and more.
Simply choose a box for everything you want to dispose of, pay for the box, fill it, and send it back with the included paid postage. This is a better option if you have several items to get rid of or if you can split the cost of a box with another parent or caregiver.
Another great company bringing sustainable options for eco-friendly consumers is Clek. They have options for just single infant car seats or larger harness car seats as well. With the price of the box, you also receive a coupon to use towards a new Clek product. They will send you a bag and shipping label then you simply drop off the bag at your local UPS store.
The next option to discuss is probably the most popular and its trade-in events at retailers. This is an exchange program that allows you to drop an old used car seat or booster seat at your local store. In exchange, you get a discount on a new baby gear purchase. In this category, there are two major stores that participate. Both Target and Walmart offer this helpful service for their customers, but they are a bit different, and we will cover the details of each.
Target Car Seat Trade-In Event
The Target car seat trade-in event began as a way to commemorate Baby Safety Month every September. The event has recently moved to April of each year and only once a year instead of the Spring and Fall. It is still a great success.
Thanks to this event, you do not have to toss out those old baby car seats anymore, and over 2 million car seats have been recycled! That’s 32.9 million pounds of plastic waste kept out of our landfills.
Target currently holds this event every April, and in return for dropping off a car seat, you get a 20% off coupon for new baby gear. It couldn’t be much more simple. Nearly every Target participates in this annual event, except a few select small format stores. There are large boxes near customer service and a coupon code to scan with your Target app to redeem your coupon. The coupon is even redeemable twice and able to be combined with other discounts.
The unwanted car seat gets recycled and made into commodities such as pallets, plastic buckets, and carpet padding. You can rest easy that you’ve responsibly disposed of your child’s old car seat.
What Type of Car Seat Qualifies for a Trade-in?
Any type of infant car seat (including the base), toddler harness car seats, and booster seats qualify for this trade-in event.
When does Target recycle car seats?
Every April, Target will hold its car seat recycling event, and it will usually run for the whole month, with the coupon redeemable through mid-May.
How to recycle car seats at Target?
Simply take in your car seat and drop it in the large box located near the front of the store, and then scan the coupon code if you’re purchasing new baby gear products. Currently, the coupon is redeemable two times.
Walmart’s Car Seat Trade-in Program
Unfortunately, Walmart has suspended its car seat trade-in program, and there has been no update on when they may restart it.
Donate or Reuse a Carseat
We have already mentioned that you should not donate or sell a car seat in certain conditions. So, when it expires, gets recalled, or is involved in an accident, do not sell it or donate it.
Nevertheless, there is the option for you to reuse it or give it out if it is in fair to good condition, does not have a recall, isn’t past the expiration date, and has never been in an accident. It is important to know if your car seat is in good condition to determine whether or not to reuse it. There are options if you’ve determined it is fit to donate. Families in need will greatly appreciate a donated car seat; baby gear is expensive!
Many charities do not accept car seats no matter how great the condition, because it is just too difficult to determine if they have been compromised by a previous accident or not. To err on the side of caution, they simply don’t accept them. If you want a list of organizations that do accept car seats, you can check this reference: https://safeconvertiblecarseats.com/blog/what-to-do-with-old-car-seats/
An easier option is to check within your own network. Your friends, neighbors, or congregation may have someone who could use it. Or consider offering it to your child’s daycare facility as an emergency backup car seat for the children there.
You can also post on the Facebook marketplace and see if there is a parent or caregiver in need. If they are comfortable trusting that your seat is safe and has never been in an accident, then that’s a win-win. You get rid of an old item without it ending up in the landfill, and someone gets a great deal, and it continues to serve a purpose.
Do Car Seats Expire?
Yes, they do. Before we move on, how about we clarify the expiration of car seats? Do they really expire? We discovered that most parents fail to understand that infant car seats have expiration dates. These dates are not marketing strategies. These old car seats really do expire. The plastic begins to degrade, the harness and straps can be compromised over time, and their effectiveness cannot be guaranteed.
Expired car seats need to be disposed of properly. The appropriate way is to strip it of all fabric. Also, cut off every harness and strap. That way, no one can use it anymore.
In addition, inscribe a “Do Not Use” warning on the seat’s shell for good measure.
How to check if your car seat is expired?
Ensure you check the seat’s labels and your owner’s manual. There, you can find out when the seat will expire. Even if you’ve long tossed the owner’s manual, you will find an expiration on the seat itself.
Sell Your Old Car Seat
The reselling of a used car seat is highly discouraged. The issue is safety, which is why we utilize car seats in the first place, so in most cases, selling your car seat is not an option. That being said, if you can ensure that your seat is in excellent condition, not expired, and has never been in a crash, you can attempt to sell it.
If you are unsure if your seat can be sold, donated, or given away, an excellent diagram on the consumerreports.org site should help you determine. https://www.consumerreports.org/babies-kids/car-seats/can-you-reuse-or-donate-your-car-seat-a4148321235/
Be sure to check if there are any recalls on your particular brand and model. Certain brands can be very pricey, so I understand the logic in attempting to resell your seat and also in buyers trying to save a little money. However, if you’re buying, beware and pay close attention to the details like model numbers and recalls and the condition of all the straps and buckles.
Can I sell my old car seat?
Technically, yes you can, but it is greatly discouraged due to safety reasons such as expiration, recalls, or previous auto accidents. If it is to someone you know personally and the seat is like new without any accidents or recalls, then it is possible. Be prepared for possible negative feedback if you post somewhere like the Facebook marketplace.
Booster seats can be recycled just the same as infant seats and harness seats. They also qualify for the Target trade-in as well.
General Tips For Recycling Car Seats
According to the compilation from Consumer Reports, here are some general tips you can follow to recycle your car seats:
- Start by cutting off the foam padding, harnesses, fabric, and straps from the seat using scissors (this prevents the seat from being used which can be unsafe).
- A Phillips-head screwdriver will come in handy to take out as much metal as you can.
- Take off the cover of the car seat and any padding below the cover.
- Toss out the harnesses, straps, fabric, foam padding, and mixed metal-plastic items. Do not leave out all those tiny plastic pieces.
- Inscribe the plastic indicating it is expired and therefore, unsafe.
- Recycle the remaining huge part of the plastic body and all-metal items.
There is another way to go about this! Without all the added steps…
- You can recycle any brand of expired or damaged safety car seat by getting a proper recycling kit. Ensure the kit contains a custom shipping and recycling bag plus a prepaid shipping tag. More so, you can choose either a $10 off or a 10% off coupon. You can use it on sites like clekinc.com
- Position your abandoned car seat in the recycling and shipping bag made available. Then, put the shipping label on it.
- Leave it at a recycling store you prefer. Or drop it at a UPS store. Easy peasy! Your old car seat gets recycled by competent hands (material recovery and processing partners).
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can you recycle car seat bases?
Yes, if they are free from the material and just plastic then they can be recycled just the same as any other car seat.
What if there are no car seat recycling locations near me?
You can still utilize drop-off events such as Target’s trade-in event. You can also still use a service like Clek or Terracycle and responsibly recycle baby gear from anywhere.
In all, car seat recycling will go a long way in keeping a healthy environment. Moreover, recycling your car seat can be simpler than you ever imagined. All you need is proper knowledge of the process, the where, the when, and the how. With all of these details, we can all jointly reduce waste with the number of expired car seats we discard.