While it’s crucial that caregivers use only CRs that are in good condition, have not been in a crash, and are not expired, this leads to the question of proper disposal of unusable CRs. What method should caregivers use that is both safe (i.e., will not unwittingly allow them to be used by other children) and environmentally friendly? Happily, Target and Walmart have each stepped up with CR recycling programs to address this problem. The scale and influence of these two major retailers vastly expands current options for safe disposal and effective recycling of CRs (if only for one month out of the year).
In 2014, the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom) studied how germ types and levels in cars compared to those in people’s homes. While they found plenty of germs in people’s vehicles, it was in car seats that the results really stood out. Researchers found that, on average, every square centimeter of a car seat contained at least 100 bacteria and fungi—twice as many as on a toilet seat.
Naturally, this report was widely circulated in the media that year, and people were understandably grossed out. It is certainly a reminder for CPSTs to stock their tool kit with hand sanitizer and use it routinely while working in cars.
With approximately 10 million CRs sold in the U.S. each year, it stands to reason that this many will also expire or become otherwise unusable—and these typically make their way to our nation’s growing landfills. Two nonprofit organizations from Washington state, CoolMom and Zero Waste Washington, have jointly issued a 69-page report that examines the challenges and opportunities of a better approach: recycling unusable CRs. “Diverting Car Seats from the Waste Stream: An Investigation into the Reuse and Recycling of Children’s Car Seats” takes an in-depth look at the higher-level issues of this topic, like CR manufacturer involvement, emerging materials, funding models, and the various ways that CRs can be processed for recycling. In addition, a series of appendices includes impressive tables that list current collection programs across the country, sorted by type, ownership model, and state.
Experts agree that the key to the proper disposal of an unsafe CR is to make it unusable, but the definition of unusable and the method of destruction has been left to individual discretion. Owner’s manuals may say to destroy an unsafe CR, but don’t say how to do so. The standardized CPS certification curriculum provides no detailed clarification on this subject.
(a) As used in this section, “child passenger restraint system” means a system as described in Section 27360 of the Vehicle Code.
(b) Every policy of automobile liability insurance, as described in Section 16054 of the Vehicle Code, shall provide liability coverage for replacement of a child passenger restraint system that was damaged or was in use by a child during an accident for which liability coverage under the policy is applicable due to the liability of an insured.