Environmental Impact of Broken or Expired Child Safety Seats

Child safety seats are an absolute necessity for all parents, but what happens when your child outgrows them? In most cases, they are simply stowed away somewhere in an attic or garage, or more than likely, they are sent off to the landfill. With as many child safety seats are in circulation – the environmental impact of all that waste is staggering. Let’s break down the numbers:

How many used child safety seats are in the US today?

  • The actual volume of used car seats that need to be safely disposed of, is a not readily available statistic. However, one can derive a close estimate by using the following logic:
    • if you take the number of births per year in the US (which according to Statistica is between 3.5M and 4M), and you assume that every child will need between 3 to 4 car seats before they have the age and size required to sit in a regular vehicle seat, and if you take into account that car seats expire after 5 years – you’d end up with about 50M used car seats that have expired just between 2016 and 2021.
    • The CDC reports, on average, there are 97,200 car accidents in the US involving your children. This means that every year, 97,200 car seats need to be replaced but cannot be donated. That’s another ½ million used car seats that need to be disposed of between 2016 and 2021.
    • Take-back programs from national retailers such as Target and Walmart have collected an estimated 2.7M used car seats since 2016.
    • Even if you assume that the total volume of car seats recycled between the new municipalities, the hospitals, the retailer’s take-back events, and the mail-back programs such as ours amounts to 10% of the volume sold per year (which is a rather optimistic assumption), you still end up with about 45M used car seats in consumer’s attics, garages, or already landfilled.

What is the environmental impact of landfilling used child safety seats in the US today? Why it matters and why you should care.

The waste management companies of the world will tell you that simply landfilling child safety seats isn’t an issue. Of course, they do. They make money by people throwing things away. If you assume the average car seat weighs 15 pounds, the average landfill cost is $52.73 per ton. With the average margin for landfill operations being around 60%, it certainly makes sense for waste management companies to want the volume. Who would refuse $18M in revenue and $10M in profit?

The environmental impacts of not recycling your old car seats are staggering:

  • Landfilling 45M used car seats creates an enormous about of greenhouse gasses (MTCO2E). Close to 574,000 tons. ( EPA WARM model) .
  • To put things in perspective, that is the equivalent of :
    • greenhouse gas emissions of 1,441,085,252 miles driven
    • ·CO2 emission equivalent of powering 104,000 homes for a year
    • If would take 9,481,406 tree seedlings grown for 10 years to sequester that amount of CO2
    • Or about 702,525 acres of US forest in a year, to give you an idea, that’s 40% of forest in the state of Connecticut.

Landfilling instead of recycling your old baby seat also has labor and local municipality impacts. Recycling a toddler car seat or an infant car seat requires labor to dismantle the car seats and separate the shell from the metallic parts, the foam, the nylon, and the fiber. Each of these materials is then processed by specialty recyclers to transform the material into ready-to-use raw material. According to the EPA WARM model, even if you assume that all nylon, foam, and fiber are landfilled – and only consider recycling the plastic and metal parts of 45M child safety seat represents a loss of 18M labor hours. That equates to nearly $414M in total wages and a $75.7M loss in incremental local taxes.

In addition, not recycling the plastics, metal, nylon, foam, or fibers from expired child safety seat car means burring valuable resources that we need to replace with virgin material. As we are all witnessing a global recovery, we see the effects of the current resource crisis as it manifests in less material being available, higher prices, and even more incentives to produce virgin plastic derived from petroleum which has proven to be an excessively polluting process. Quite simply: landfilling old child safety seats does not make sense.

So, what should you do with your expired or broken child safety seats?

Unfortunately, in the absence of legislation such as Extended Producer Liability that would require manufacturers to have a sustainable end of life program for all child safety seats they sell, consumers have limited choices. Here are a few options:

  • Buy a car seat from a manufacturer who cares and offers to recycle your old car seats. For instance, Clek has a solid return and recycling program. We know this for a fact because we handle it for them.
  • Take advantage of return programs from retailers to recycle your old car seats.
  • Target has offered a program once or twice a year since 2016
  • Walmart has offered them in the past, but it is unclear if they will do it again in the future.
  • Ask your municipality to set up a used car seat recycling program. If they aren’t sure about how to do it, they can reach out to us to set up a program. Whether we manage it for them or not, we are happy to share best practices.
  • Use our take-back program to recycle your old car seats. It is not free, but it is convenient, safe, and we recycle every car seat brand and model.

In conclusion, it’s a simple choice: it’s best not to landfill your old car seat. The environmental impact of throwing away your old child safety seat is just way too important. Please recycle expired or broken infant car seats, toddler car seats, and booster seats today.

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