Ask Glinda: What the Heck to do With Old Car Seats Edition » Teeny Manolo

Ask Glinda: What the Heck to do With Old Car Seats Edition

By Glinda

The lovely and superfantastic Mindy asks:

I’ve been knocking around the Internet over the past week or so, trying to find information about recycling car seats.  I found that the two seats left from my older kids were on the cusp of expiration. I registered for a new one, but was stuck wondering if I had to pitch the old ones into a landfill.  I would much rather do something less environmentally destructive with them, if possible.

If the car seat doesn’t have a recycling symbol on it, the best directions I received were to strip them of their straps and padding, then chop them up and throw them in the regular trash.  (The more destroyed they are, the better, in order to prevent Dumpster divers from reusing an unsafe seat.)  Really?  There’s nothing better than that, considering the number of car seats which expire or are involved in crashes every year?

Does anyone at Teeny Manolo know anything to do? 

An excellent question, Mindy! It practically boggles the mind to think of how many car seats are out there. They are so big and bulky, it seems like it wouldn’t take all that many of them to pile up to the top of a landfill in no time flat. There has to be something that can be done with them, right?

Well, sort of.

Because all child car seats have an expiration date, like those eggs you just bought, the options are fairly limited. It irritates me to think that something that looks perfectly functional is not, but we have to take the word of the manufacturers that over time, the plastics and materials in the car seats degrade. We have Space Shuttles making multiple trips into outer space and back, but can’t seem to make a car seat that works past six years. OK, a little side rant there.  Back to the question at hand.

How can we dispose of our expired car seat and still give ourselves the environmental warm fuzzies?

To find out the answer…

I made many phone calls and irritated quite a few sales representatives as well as someone from the federal government to get this information. The woman from the federal government was the one who knew nothing and had no advice. Big shocker there.

As far as I can tell, you have three options:

1. The least desirable is the one described above.  This is to strip the seat of all possible recyclable materials and destroy the rest so that the seat can never be used again.  It was recommended that you contact your waste management facility first to make sure that they accept those materials.  Because of the vast differences in local waste management across the country, there is no sure way to know what will be accepted in your area until you ask.

2. Contact one of your local car seat training facilities and ask if they would be willing to accept a donation for instructional purposes. This link will take you to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration site and enable you to locate a facility in your area.

3.  Goodwill.  I contacted the regional offices in my own area and was informed that Goodwill will accept any car seat, regardless of expiration date.  With this method, there is no sure way to know what will happen to the car seat, as the woman I spoke with had no knowledge of what they actually did with them after they received them.  The hope is that something responsible would be done with them, or at the very least that the seat was properly destroyed. Goodwill is a very reputable organization, so I can’t imagine they would simply throw them out as is.

With the strict federal guidelines regarding the expiration dates, there is not much else to be done, it seems.  I am sorry, Mindy, that I was unable to find more eco-friendly options.  I tried though, goodness knows I tried. Perhaps some of our fabulous readers know of another method.

Either that, or they need to start making car seats out of the same stuff as the Space Shuttle.

Got a question for us here at Teeny Manolo? Send an email to theglinda at gmail dot com or raincoaster at gmail dot com.  Come on, you know you want to!

9 Responses to “Ask Glinda: What the Heck to do With Old Car Seats Edition”

  1. BigRed Says:

    Well, I’m not fabulous, but I am a reader 🙂

    I’d never heard that car seats have an expiration date, and was very satisfied with the 2 infant seats and the toddler/booster seat that we got as hand-me-downs from friends. We were in a car accident (minor) and they functioned well enough to keep the kids in their seats and unharmed, and continue to function. I would never have considered throwing out a perfectly serviceable, functional piece of equipment–we handed down ours to my sister, who used it with her kids.

    I understand the paranoia about safety, but given that the only real protection a car seat gives its user is some stability in a crash (and not becoming a projectile), how exactly is it supposed to fail? It’s not a helmet–I can see replacing that after a header–it sits in your car and doesn’t experience any direct damage, so what exactly is “expiring”?

    It boggles the mind.

  2. Mindy Says:

    The “expiration date” of a car seat is usually embedded/embossed in the plastic on the bottom of the seat. Typically, it’s got a shelf life of about six years from the manufacture date. The National Highway Transportation Safety Board and the car seat industry have come to the six year number together; what science they used is something I’m still trying to find. (I have an e-mail in to someone, pending a response.)

    I appreciate your work, Glinda and Raincoaster. I’m pretty sure I irritated a few people with my questions, too. About half the people I spoke to really tried to help; the other half seemed to wonder what kind of flaming pinko tree-hugger I was, bothering them with a recycling question.

  3. Glinda Says:

    It does bother me that there is such a short “shelf life” if you will for car seats. I’m not a conspiracy theorist kind of person, but it seems a mite odd that they would only last for six years. Is it the foam that degrades? But then again, isn’t foam supposed to have a half life of a million years or something?

    I read one answer that said, “Don’t your plastic toys get all cracked and discolored in the sun? Well, that’s what happens to car seats.”

    Well, it takes a long time and a lot of continuous sun exposure to do that, although I agree that discoloration can indeed happen. The cracks, though? Not so sure.

  4. dgm Says:

    We used my daughter’s old car seat as at time-out chair. Ah, the good ole days…

  5. Ana Says:

    Wow whatcha learn! I never knew about the expiration date on carseats, either. Glad to know that now.

  6. Steph Says:

    I didn’t know that carseats had expiration dates, but have a carseat and booster to dispose of after we were in an accident a few weeks ago. I might just had them off to the insurance company and let them dispose of them for me.

  7. Phyllis Says:

    “The National Highway Transportation Safety Board and the car seat industry have come to the six year number together; what science they used is something I’m still trying to find. (I have an e-mail in to someone, pending a response.)”

    Science? The cynic in me says this has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with limiting the liability of the car seat manufacturer in court. It would not surprise me in the least if the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit relating to a car seat failure is, conveniently, six years.

  8. raincoaster Says:

    I’m wondering just how plastic could degrade over time. Isn’t the whole thing about plastic that it doesn’t degrade.

  9. Mindy Says:

    I’m somewhat cynical about the expiration date, as well, but I’m not comfortable enough to just keep using an allegedly bad seat, either. I would rather play it safe than find out that there was a valid reason behind the recommendation.

    Regardless of whether the expiration date is scientific voodoo, legal arse-covering, or a ploy to sell more goods, I don’t believe a seat should stay in circulation forever. One of our seats no longer had a handle, so the date was a moot point; it was handed down to us that way, and I’d never used it because of it. Not only was it inconvenient, the handle in the “down” position is allegedly part of the protective structure of the seat. I wish there’d been something more constructive to do with it than hacking it up with an ax and throwing it out.

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