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Critical mass for car seat recycling

We have people email us from all over the country curious about the car seat recycling events hosted by Legacy Health Systems here in Portland. Over the past week, I've gone back and forth with Tom Badrick, Legacy's Sustainability Coordinator, and Tammy Franks, Legacy's Child Passenger Safety Coordinator. They've been beyond generous with their time and information about Legacy's in-house car seat recycling program. According to Tom and Tammy, here's what's needed to recycle car seats:

  • Market for the materials. This is true for any recycling endeavor. You've got to have a market for the materials before it's worthwhile to actually recycle.
  • Collection and storage site. Legacy is collecting on their parking lots.
  • Labor for disassembly. Legacy has a recycling center and their employees dismantle the car seats, with the recyclables being the plastic, metal and foam. They don't currently recycle the fabric covering, but are recycling and diverting 95% of the materials from landfills. Another important thing Tom mentioned is that design for disassembly is key. Some seats are easier to disassemble than others. Manufacturers need to know that this is an important component in making car seats.
  • A way to transport materials for recycling

So, I put this out there for communities interested in setting up their own car seat recycling programs (these are recommendations from Tammy Franks):

  • Find a willing partner who already has a recycling program in place for other similar items
  • Have volunteers willing to dismantle the car safety seats (this can be a time-consuming process)
  • Start small and build BIG as you get the processes in place. (Legacy started with word-of-mouth and a flyer for promotion in July 2007. Now, they are featured on websites, recycling newsletters, etc. and have recycled 600+ seats to date).
  • Legacy's biggest challenge is establishing drop-off points. People like the convenience of a drop-off location but with unmanned drop-offs it could be tempting for someone to take an expired or unsafe car safety seat (generally, seats are deemed unsafe if they've been in an accident or are older than 6 years).

If you are reading about this from outside the Portland Metro area, and are wondering if you could mail your old car seat to them for recycling... Not such a good idea. Fossil fuels burned getting the seat to Portland pretty much negate the effort of recycling. Plus, Legacy's local program does not have the bandwidth to take in all the expired car seats in the US.

So here's the $64,000 question: Is it time for a national car seat recycling program? Don't ask me. I'd say: YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!!!! As parents, buying a car seat is pretty much a fact of life. Even if you only have one child -- it's usually required that you get an infant seat, a toddler/convertible, and ultimately the booster. That's a lot of seats per kid. Plus, it's news to many parents that car seats have expiration dates. I think people want to do the right thing, and the Portland Legacy car seat recycling program is proving that it can be done.

Would you recycle your child's expired car seat if you had the option to do so? Do you feel it's time for a national car seat recycling program? Would you write to car seat manufacturers about the importance of design for disassembly? If you comment, please let us know where you live, how many seats your family will use during your children's car seat years, and if you are ready to be part of the "critical mass" to let car seat manufacturers know it's time for a national program to take back and recycle those old car seats!!

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