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Launch of a New Trial to Recycle Old Child Car Safety Seats

Written by Damien Wigley on 18 May 2017

Imagine over 200,000 child car safety seats stacked on top of each other. The seats would climb a staggering height of over 100km, equivalent to scaling Mt Everest 12 times. According to industry intelligence in the Australian market, estimates suggest that this number of expired or damaged child car safety seats were disposed of in 2015-2016. Such high rates of safety seat disposal reflect a positive step towards ensuring that expired or damaged seats are removed from the Australian market, however their disposal may come at a price to already over-burdened landfills.

The Market:

Child car safety seats carry some pretty precious cargo. With the welfare of our children in mind, Australia maintains high mandatory standards in the manufacture of child car safety seats. You can have full confidence that child car seats sold in Australia are designed to meet safety requirements, are constructed of high quality material, and are subjected to rigorous product testing before being released onto the market.

Those involved in the design, manufacture and supply of child car safety seats take the safety of their products seriously, and stress that their products are designed to be used for a fixed period of time. For this reason, child car safety seats sold in Australia are stamped with a date of production, and manufacturers recommend that the seat is not used after 10 years from this date. This is to ensure outdated and potentially degraded products are removed from the market and replaced by products that meet updated safety standards.

Age, extreme car temperatures, previous involvement in a crash and the standard wear of regularly used latches, straps and buckles can dramatically affect the ability of car seats to protect children in the event of a serious car accident. Disposing of a child car safety seat once it reaches its fixed life span can give parents peace of mind that their child will be protected in the event of a crash.

The Issue: The Value of Waste

Such high rates of child car safety seat disposal should be viewed as a positive for product safety, but their disposal comes at a price for local Councils and consumers who bear the cost of landfilling waste. There is currently very little access to schemes in Australia for people to responsibly dispose of their safety seats, and minimal disposal options for those that don’t wish to send their damaged or expired car seats to landfill. Consequently, many safety seats make their way to the second-hand market through garage sales, op-shops and kerbside dumping. The potential for re-use of expired and damaged seats through this market poses a significant safety risk. The remaining seats are simply dumped at landfill for want of a better disposal option.

While exact figures of child safety seat units disposed of per annum are difficult to determine, industry intelligence of the Australian market suggest that the disposal of over 200,000 child car seats would equate to in excess of 900 tonnes of waste to landfill. It has been estimated that at least 90% of materials by weight contained in a child car safety seat is of recyclable material. A product with such a significant percentage of recyclable material should be considered a valuable resource that is wasted when sent to landfill. The wasteful disposal of child safety seats is a cost to the government, the community and the environment. There would therefore appear to be an excellent opportunity in increasing resource recovery of materials used in damaged or expired child car safety seats and creating value from their disposal.

The Solution:

Having identified the potential for resource recovery in the disposal of damaged or expired child car safety seats, Equilibrium has been investigating the merits of a product stewardship scheme for the take-back and recycling of end-of-life child car safety seats. This solution to an avoidable waste problem will display social and environment leadership, and will provide a pathway for people to safely and effectively dispose of child safety seats, ensuring their removal from the second-hand market and enabling proper resource recovery and recycling.

Equilibrium’s Child Car Safety Seat Stewardship Trial has garnered considerable support from the Queensland and NSW Governments (Waste Less Recycle More Initiative), Victorian Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group as well as major car seat brands including Dorel and InfaSecure and automotive association representatives from RACV, NRMA, RAA, and RACT. Capitalising on this interest, Equilibrium has brought together a steering committee of interested parties to assist with trial development and implementation. The collaboration of interested organisations such as product manufacturers, local/state governments, road safety advocates and insurance agencies will provide the trial the benefits of strategic oversight and the sharing of existing industry knowledge related to the trial.

The trial is expected to conclude by the second half of this year.

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