Don't throw out recalled baby items—do this instead
Here's how to deal with recalled baby products.
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From bunk beds to bibs, people buy or inherit millions of recalled products every year, and many of those products are kids’ products. It’s scary to think that a product you so lovingly chose for your child could now put them in danger, but there are a lot of recalled products out there, and some may be in your own home.
Many times a company thinks they are making a safe product and later find that something as simple as a drawstringposes a significant hazard, but sometime companies blatantly deliver products that are unsafe, which was the case recently with EvenFlo, the maker of the "Big Kid" booster seat. In either case, you need to be informed if and when a product is recalled--and you need to heed the warnings. The majority of recalls are voluntary by company, so if an item is being taken off the shelf the item is deemed dangerous not only by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), but by the company that makes it, so parents best take note.
“For us to do a recall we have to show that there is a substantial product hazard, injuries, assumptions, or death. We can’t get the message out enough about the importance of keeping abreast of recalls,” says Martyak.
The reasons a product can be recalled are varied but they invariably end with the same question: What do I do with this stuff now?
Here is how to keep on top of product recalls and what to do when you’ve found out one of the items you own is no longer fit for store shelves.
Find the facts
The first thing to do is make sure you are up-to-date with all product recalls and the details of the recall. According Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, only 10 to 30 percent of products are accounted for post-recall. What that means is many families never even know the products they’ve been using pose a danger and have been taken off the shelves. “It takes a lot to get to a recall, and if things have gotten so far that it’s time to pull a product off the shelf, it is likely the product has a very high potential for danger. We strongly encourage parents to take recalls very seriously,” says Joseph Martyak, director of communications, at the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission (CPSC).
A baby item you’ve had tucked away for baby number two, or a pristine hand-me-down that your best friend used daily and swears by could have been found to be hazardous in the years it’s been stowed away in storage. To stay abreast of the most recent recalls, sign up for updates from a reputable source. The CPSC is the government agency that reviews products that may pose hazards to consumers. They have a searchable database that you can refine to keep abreast of all recalls.
Kids In Danger is a non-profit organization that was formed to inform and advocate for the public about product safety. They send out a regular newsletter with listings of recalled kids’ products as well as what to do next if your item has been taken off the shelves. “If you’re not looking for the news you might miss it, and this is the kind of news you definitely do not want to miss,” says Cowles.
Fix it and forget it
Not all recalls are created equal. While some items need to be pulled from shelves and destroyed, others are deemed safe with a simple snip of a drawstring or repair of a wonky wheel. Pay careful attention to the details of the recall notice. In some instances, your item will need to be sent back to the manufacturer for expert repair. Other times the company will send you a repair kit with instructions on how you can fix your product at home. For some clothing, it’s as easy and straightforward as cutting off a decorative bow or bangle, and you’re good to go: Your kiddo can safely enjoy them until the next growth spurt.
Return to sender
It’s sad but true: companies will spend millions to get you to buy their product, but when it comes to taking it off the market, they can sometimes be pretty stingy with encouraging people to do the responsible thing. Once a few years have passed, you may get little to nothing from the company for the recalled item you once spent hundreds of dollars on.
It’s always best to remove an item from any possibility of reuse; Cowles encourages you to send the item back if it’s an option. “We encourage people to send [the product] back to the company. Even if they are only going to give you a small amount, it’s so important to make that item disappear from any sort of circulation—even if it’s second hand,” says Cowles.
It’s tough for parents to get to the post office to make a return with no financial incentive. Cowles encourages you to push to make it worth your while. You may not get the full $700 you paid for your crib, but ask for a coupon towards new baby stuff, or for free UPS pickup. Be insistent and ask for the company to make it as easy for you to send the item back as possible. Remind them that you are a loyal and repeat customer with a child at home. You might have to go up the chain of command, but you might be surprised at what they’ll do to keep your business.
Make a fuss
There is typically a statute of limitations on how old the product is for you to still qualify for reimbursement for the product, but Cowles encourages you to fight it.
“Look, if you bought a Pack-‘n-Play five years ago and you planned to use it on your newborn, it’s not good enough that you only got use out of it then. Call the company and push,” she says. In the time since your product had been used, there may be a replacement already on the market. Ask for that item. Or ask for a voucher towards something new.
She said that sometimes companies will cave to public pressure if there is enough of it. “Companies respond to pressure from individual customers. You might get lucky. That pressure lets them know that people aren’t happy and they are nothing without your business,” she says.
Destroy and dispose
It’s illegal to resell a recalled product. You may get away with it, but that purchase may put another child in danger. Both Cowles and Martyak encourage you to do your best to destroy the offending product. Destroy doesn’t mean just throw it in the trash or toss it in the donate pile. If your items are on their way to the landfill, be sure to fully dismantle the product as best as you can, and dispose of it piecemeal.
“You’d be surprised at what people will take from your trash. If it looks good to them, it could go home with them and another child may end up in danger,” says Cowles. She says to hold onto parts with the first trash removal to make reassembly either impossible or too difficult to bother with.
If you absolutely must resell or consign your item, make sure it comes with a recall kit and you sell your recalled product either repaired or with the kit attached, otherwise—if the next child who uses it is hurt—you and the consignment store will absolutely be liable.
Reduce and recycle
While we all would like to be as green as we can, the sad fact of the matter is that very few baby products can easily be recycled through your city recycling program. Only certain types of textiles, like cotton, denim, and wool, are truly recyclable. Synthetic fabrics are harder to recycle and cannot be recycled through curbside collection. Some stores, like H&M, The North Face, and Levi’s will take synthetic fabrics off your hands and stores like Target will occasionally run a recycling program for items like car seats, but these programs are few and far between and take a bit of research.
If there is an electronic component to the product, it’s important to make sure the item isn’t just tossed in the trash with the batteries inside. Batteries should be taken out and properly recycled through a household hazardous waste program—and in some states it’s the law to do so.
In a perfect world, all item recalls that are destined for the landfill would be collected and properly recycled. Hasbro has currently partnered with TerraCycle, a company that collects hard-to-recycle products, such as toy action figures, baby gates, and training potties, and has come up with zero waste solutions for baby gear. “We do work with some companies. We’d love to work with all of them. For now, our baby gear boxes collect from 100 different waste streams so it’s a great option for green disposal, and the cost of the boxes pays for the recycling of the items,” says Sue Kauffman, North American PR manager at TerraCycle, Inc.
TerraCycle’s options are expensive, but if you are getting rid of a bunch of items or if you band together with a few other parents, their program might be worth the cost to properly get your items off the streets and out of landfills. And, again, if all else fails, Cowles says to call and put pressure on the company and ask for them to make it worth your while to purchase a recycling box. “These companies pay so much money to get you to buy their products. They put so much time to reach out to consumers to encourage them to buy from them and to create a sense of brand loyalty. When they make a product that is found to be unsafe, it should be incumbent on them—the company—to get rid of it,” says Cowles.