Brooke Graham Doyle was working toward combatting climate change as the North Seattle coordinator of the environmental nonprofit CoolMom when she encountered a sustainability problem of her own: Old car seats.
“At that point, I had three kids in car seats,” Doyle says. “They were these big pieces of plastic, and I didn’t know what to do with them.”
When representatives from the environmental advocacy group Zero Waste Washington came to a CoolMom meeting to speak about recycling household electronics, Doyle and the CoolMoms saw the potential for a solution.
“We asked Zero Waste Washington if they had ever thought about recycling car seats, and it just wasn’t on their radar,” Doyle says. “So we said, ‘Let’s keep talking and see if together we could figure this out in the future.’”
The idea led to a partnership that supports and promotes options for car-seat recycling in King County today. The Old Car Seat, New Life Project, a joint effort by CoolMom and Zero Waste Washington funded by a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology, began a pilot car-seat collection program at the Total Reclaim recycling facility in Seattle’s SoDo district this summer.
“We began hearing how many parents wanted an opportunity to recycle their car seats, and we knew that the recycling options were very limited,” says Suellen Mele, program director of Zero Waste Washington. “We wanted to create a recycling system that is convenient for families and that is sustainable over the long term.”
Anyone in the Puget Sound area can bring old car and booster seats to Total Reclaim as part of the Old Car Seat, New Life Project. Each car seat costs $5 to recycle if the cover, straps and soft foam have been removed. Seats that have not had their cover, straps and soft foam removed cost $7 to recycle.
“I’m interested and excited for this new program to take off,” says Craig Lorch, co-owner of Total Reclaim. “It’s something that hasn’t been around for awhile, and we’ll be working on developing it.”
Beyond car-seat recycling, the Old Car Seat, New Life Projects promotes the reuse of old car seats. Donation programs at organizations such as Westside Baby and Eastside Baby Corner accept old car seats and pass them on to families in need.
“We want to support the safe reuse of car seats,” says Mele. “If you know the seat hasn’t been in an accident or recalled, if it’s not expired, if you haven’t cleaned the straps with any harsh chemicals, then we think the seat can be reused safely.”
CoolMom and Zero Waste Washington plan to continue expanding opportunities for car-seat recycling throughout King County and Washington. In the future, they hope to encourage car-seat manufacturers to start recycling programs similar to Clek’s, a Canadian car-seat manufacturer that does its own car seat recycling in-house. Another option would be for manufacturers to participate in a regional recycling program.
“We’ve reached out to the major manufacturers, and some of them have shown interest in being part of a longer-term solution,” Doyle says. “I think there is a little bit of movement among the manufacturers to perhaps think about it collectively. We’re hoping to be part of that conversation as it moves forward.”
Aside from the Old Car Seat, New Life program at Total Reclaim, other options for car-seat recycling now exist in the region. Residents of Bellevue can bring their car seats to the front desk at the Republic Customer Care Center, while residents of Burien, SeaTac, Des Moines, Issaquah, Maple Valley and Carnation can recycle their car seats at their local Recology Cleanscapes Stores.
Up-to-date information and news about car seat reuse and recycling programs can be accessed on the Old Car Seat, New Life website.