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Want to recycle your old car seat? Here's how

Instead of tossing your old car seat try these tips instead

A vibrant photo of a purple car seat with green recycling leaves in the background Credit: Reviewed / Getty

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Our kids outgrow their baby gear almost as fast as we buy it. While it's easy to donate or sell baby strollers and swings, getting rid of used car seats isn't as simple. Unlike a lot of other baby products, car seats expire and the wear and tear that can be overlooked with other baby items suddenly become a major safety issue where car seats are concerned.

Thankfully there are options for clearing out your car seat clutter without tossing them into the landfill. Here are some tips and rules for recycling and donating old car seats to help demystify the whole process.

Why recycle your car seat?

A newborn sits in a car seat
Credit: Getty Images / Fly View Productions

When your baby needs a new car seat, it can be a challenge to figure out what to do with your old one.

Approximately 12 million car seats are sold each year, and many of them end up in landfills. That's a lot of plastic and cloth taking up space at the dump.

Beyond the point of sustainability, recycling your child's old car seat is also a far safer disposal option than tossing it in the trash.

If your child's car seat is edging on its expiration date, has been part of a recall, or has been in a moderate to a major collision, you'll want to dispose of it in some way to ensure that a person in need doesn't accidentally get hold of it and use it. Recycling ensures that its shelf life ends when it's no longer usable.

Option 1: You can toss it in the recycle bin

In some states, yes, an old car seat or booster seat can go right to your local recycling center. Before tossing it in the recycling bin, however, call your recycling center to make sure they accept car seats and to verify how yours should be prepared for recycling. The facility's car seat recycling program may require you to completely break the seat down.

Option 2: Find a car seat trade-in program

A lineup of car seats
Credit: Getty Images / sergeyryzhov

Trade-in events can help you dispose of old car seats and can even give you money to buy a new booster.

Target and Walmart host car seat trade-in events twice a year where your old car seat can be converted into a gift card or a store coupon.

There is no time like the present to take advantage of these programs. Target's car seat trade-in event is taking place this year from April 18 to 22. Bring any used, damaged, or expired car seat and get a coupon for 20% off select baby items, including new car seats, strollers, and more.

Option 3: Try a mail-in program

Your local recycling center doesn't take car seats, and you missed the Target trade-in event. Not to worry: Mail-in recycling programs are another great option.

You can order a car seat recycling kit from CarSeatRecycling.com and, in exchange, get a 10%-off coupon to be used at any time at Clek. Another option is TerraCycle's Baby Gear Zero Waste Box.

These waste boxes can be filled with car seats, boosters, and other used baby gear. In both cases, you'll have to pay to receive a recycling kit or box; the cost will include a shipping label and the processing of your old car seat.

Option 4: Find a car seat donation program

Many children's hospitals and hospitals with maternity wards will accept car seat donations, providing your car seat is in good working order.

When donating, you may be tempted to give the car seat a deep cleaning, but do so with caution! Consult your user manual to determine the best way to clean your car seat. Short of that, use gentle cleansers like castile soap or diluted baby shampoo. Never do more than a spot clean of straps or harnesses. These are made of woven threads that use tensile strength to provide just the right amount of "give" in a car accident. Deep cleaning or soaking them can cause the threads to loosen, which can lead to malfunction in an accident.

For a program to accept donated car seats, you need to check the following:

The expiration date

Most car seats expire after 6 years, after which time the plastic can degrade or become brittle, compromising the safety of the seat during impact. You can verify the expiration date either by checking the seat label or consulting your user manual.

If it's been recalled

You can determine if your car seat has been recalled by visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website and entering the brand name and model of your car seat. Recalled seats are deemed to be unsafe by the NHTSA. A recalled car seat should be immediately disposed of and should not be donated, sold, or passed down under any circumstances.

The integrity of the seat

Credit: Getty Images / HStarr

Be sure to check the integrity of your child's car seat before donating.

Determine if it has any tears or cracks and verify that it has never been in a major accident. While most seats can be reused after a minor fender bender, the NHTSA recommends disposing of your car seat if it has been involved in a collision where airbags have deployed, the seat or the nearest door were damaged, personal injuries were sustained, or the vehicle required towing.

Bottom line, by recycling, donating, or trading in your old car seats, you help to keep roughly 180 million pounds of valuable material out of landfills each year. While finding sustainable ways to dispose of your old car seat may take a bit of extra effort, it's definitely worth it.

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