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Earth Day: Car Seats, Reduce/Reuse/Recycle?

In honor of Earth Day, which is celebrated worldwide on April 22nd, we wanted to address the question of recycling or reusing car seats. Here are some of the most common questions (and answers to them) that we receive at Tot Squad:

Q: Can I use a car seat after its been in a car accident?

A: There is a lot of confusion about this. If the accident was moderate to severe, such as damage to the car, injury to occupants, air bags deployed, etc. then absolutely the car seat must NOT be used again. The force of a car crash could cause damage to the integrity of the car seat, even if it is not visible.

For minor accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and some car seat manufacturers will say it is okay to reuse the seat if the accident meets certain criteria, while others will say it must be replaced, regardless. Make sure to check with your car seat manufacturer for specific information related to your seat.

State laws also vary, but many insurance companies will replace your seats free of charge after an accident, so be sure to check with them, too. When in doubt, we recommend you replace the seat. Better safe than sorry!

Q: I saw a used car seat at a garage sale/Craigslist/eBay, etc., should I buy it?

A: NO! Unless you are buying a car seat from a trusted friend, it’s hard to know the history of the seat and if it has been in an accident.

Q: My sister/friend gave me her old car seat, is it safe?

A: If a close, trusted source who knows the history of the seat and certifies to you that it has not been in any accidents, then it may be okay to accept a used seat.

However, you should still inspect the seat and ensure it is not expired or recalled. Every seat is printed with a manufacture date – this can usually be found on a sticker on the bottom or side of the car seat or is imprinted onto the seat. Consult your car seat manual if you cannot find the expiration date or contact the manufacturer for help locating it. Most car seats expire 5-9 years after manufacture and should be recycled after this point.

Also, check to make sure the seat has not been recalled. You can check the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website or the manufacturer’s website.

Q: I’m having another baby; can I just use my older child’s car seat?

A: Again, check to ensure the car seat hasn’t expired or been recalled. Be sure to clean the car seat or have it cleaned – you don’t want to put a newborn in a dirty seat, since their immune systems are very immature. Many of Tot Squad's cleaning packages use high temperature steam that kills bacteria and germs.

PRO TIP: Clean your gear BEFORE you store it in the garage for a few years, otherwise stains will set-in and be harder to get out! Storing your seats in trash bags or other protective coverings also prevents them from getting dusty, moldy, or (EEK!) full of spiders and other critters (We've seem 'em all!).

Q: My car seat was either damaged from a car accident or is now expired. How do I recycle it?

A: Start by dismantling the car seat – remove the foam, padding and fabric and discard it. Cut the harnesses and straps. Remove any metal parts and recycle the plastic pieces. Do NOT just put the car seat in the alley or garbage, as you do not want someone else to unknowingly reuse the car seat if it is past its prime. Some communities have car seat recycling programs, check here to see options in your area.