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6 Tips on How to Recycle Car Seats – All You Need to Know!

Child in a car sear

Your child has sat in it, laughed in it, and dripped ice cream all over it as they rode safely with you in the back seat of your car. Yes, we’re talking about their car seat, that ubiquitous piece of child furniture that’s a legal requirement in all 50 States. Now that they’re grown, it sits in your garage, attic, or basement and gathers dust.

If you have an old car seat and want to get rid of it but don’t know the best method to do so, the information below will be a big help. We have 6 tips on how to recycle car seats, plus other useful info about how, where, and when to do it.

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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start

Before recycling a car seat, there are four things you need to determine first.

1. Is the Car Seat Expired?

Like food, car seats have an expiration date, after which you shouldn’t use them. Typically, you’ll find the expiration date on a tag hanging on the back or bottom of the seat. Most manufacturers use the standard expiration date of 6 years after the manufacture date. If your car seat is expired, donating it won’t be possible.

2. Has the Seat Been in an Accident?

If your car seat was being used when you were involved in an accident, donating it is not recommended. It might look OK but have structural damage that renders it dangerous and unusable.

toddlers, wearing, yellow, shirt, child, sleeping, car seat, girl, baby, childhood, innocence, piqsels
Image By: rhonda_jenkins, Pixabay

3. Is the Seat in Good Condition?

If you donate your car seat or give it to someone who needs it, you should inspect it first for any damage, chips, tears, etc. If there’s any damage, especially to the safety straps, gifting or donating it might not be possible and isn’t a good idea.

4. Has the Car Seat Ever Been Recalled?

If the car seat you own has been recalled for any reason, it shouldn’t be donated or given away but disposed of instead. To check, go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website. You can input the car seat’s brand or model and check to see if it’s ever been recalled.

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6 Tips on How to Recycle Car Seats

1. Give the Car Seat to a Family Member or Friend

If you’ve checked your old car seat and found that it’s not expired, is undamaged, and hasn’t been in an accident, giving it to a friend or family member is a fantastic way to recycle it. Car seats can be expensive, and young parents aren’t always raking in the big bucks. For them, a free car seat could be a real blessing. You get the satisfaction of keeping the seat in the family, at least for a little while longer, plus you’ll create stronger family bonds.

  • Someone you love gets a free car seat
  • Another baby will be protected when driving
  • The seat will still need to be recycled later
Safety seat for baby in car
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

2. Donate Your Car Seat

One satisfying way to recycle a car seat is to donate it. One challenge is that many donation centers are very picky when it comes to car seats. Like you, they want any child using it to be safe and might reject it even if you still think it’s OK. If they accept it, you can feel good knowing that your baby’s car seat will now go on to protect someone else’s precious cargo. The best place to donate a gently used car seat is Goodwill, but most cities and towns have several other choices.

  • Another parent will get a cheap or free car seat
  • Your baby’s seat will help another baby
  • Donation centers have strict rules on accepting car seat donations

3. Trade In Your Car Seat

Did you know that some major retailers, including Target, have regular trade-in events where you can trade in your old car seat? Even better, you get a voucher, coupon, or discount when you do. Target, for example, will give you a voucher for 20% off select new baby gear you purchase. When you trade in your child’s car seat, Walmart will provide you with a $30 gift card. Remember that trade-in events happen on specific dates, so check with your retailer to determine when the next one is being held. Either way, you’ll be rid of that old seat and have some funds to purchase a new one or another item your child needs.

  • You get a discount or gift card
  • You need to wait until a trade-in event is held

4. Recycle Your Car Seat at a Recycling Center

Car seats are made of different materials, including plastic, metal, and fabrics. If you live near a recycling center, recycling your car seat is a great way to get rid of it and keep it out of your local landfill. Recycling centers often have specific rules and regulations for donating items like car seats. For example, some centers may ask that you remove straps, fabric covers, padding, and anything that isn’t plastic or metal. Others might require the car seat to be broken down into pieces, which can be time-consuming. The best course of action would be to call your local recycling center or check their website to find out their requirements ahead of time.

  • Your car seat will be fully recycled
  • Many recycling plants have rules on accepting car seats
  • You’ll need to disassemble the car seat
Luxury baby car seat for safety
Image Credit: Ruta Production, Shutterstock

5. Use a Car Seat Mail-In Recycling Program

Even if you don’t live near a recycling plant or yours doesn’t accept car seats, you can still recycle them using one of several mail-in programs. These programs will send you a recycling kit with a box or bag to send the car seat back to them. Most offer a discount coupon when you do, which is nice. However, most mail-in recycling programs for car seats have an initial cost you’ll need to pay to get their recycling kit, mailer label, and so forth. That makes this car seat recycling option good if you have few other choices. B

Below are three mail-in programs you can use.
  • You’ll get a discount on future purchases
  • Most mail-in car seat recycling programs have an initial cost

6. Throw Your Car Seat Away in the Regular Trash

This isn’t actually “recycling” your old car seat, but if you’ve no other choice and your car seat isn’t reusable, tossing it in the regular trash might be your only option. Before you do, there are a few preparations you should make. The first would be to cut off any padding and foam on the seat and all its straps. If you can, remove any metal from the car seat, also. Lastly, with a thick marking pen, write “UNSAFE” and “EXPIRED” on the seat where possible so that nobody mistakes it for being reusable.

  • Your car seat will be out of your home
  • The seat will add to your local landfill
Hands of caucasian woman is fastening security belt to child
Image Credit: MarKord, Shutterstock

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Why and When Do Car Seats Expire?

Car seats are important safety devices that have saved countless young lives. They are also highly regulated, as you might imagine, so they do their job when an accident occurs. For that reason, car seats must legally have an expiration date. That way, when safety protocols improve, regulations change, or the seat has outlived its useful life, it will no longer be used to transport babies, toddlers, and young children.

Typically, car seat expiration dates are between 6 and 10 years, although all manufacturers use different criteria. Most manufacturers will post detailed information about their car seats on their websites. You should note that, even after it expires, it’s not illegal to use a car seat.

However, most donation centers and programs won’t accept it for recycling. Also, once it’s expired, the chance a car set will fail in an accident increases significantly. For that reason, experts recommend recycling an expired car seat in a way that makes it impossible to use again.

How to Tell if a Car Seat Has Expired

The only definitive way to tell if a particular car seat is expired is to check the label or sticker manufacturers attach to their car seats. This sticker can usually be found on the back or rear of the seat and will have the date of manufacture, the expiration date, and other essential data. If you don’t find this sticker, you can contact the manufacturer and give them the model number of the car seat. Most will be able to tell you when it was manufactured so that you can do some simple math and determine if it’s still within the expiration period or not.

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Final Thoughts

Recycling a car seat can mean giving it to a friend, donating it to Goodwill, or trading it in at a big-box department store like Target. You can also recycle car seats at most recycling plants, which are better options than tossing them directly into the trash. In some cases, however, trashing it might be your only option, especially if you live in a remote area.

Hopefully, it’s not, and your baby’s old car seat will either be used again or recycled correctly. Whichever recycling method you choose, you’ll be part of the effort to keep the 180 million pounds of trash they create out of landfills. If you’re lucky, your old car seat will keep another baby safe.

Featured Image Credit: alexander-grey, Unsplash


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