SeatSmart child car seat recycling Programme Manager Toni Bye.

The SeatSmart child car seat recycling programme hit a record of 5,000 seats collected in a year, bringing the total to date to over 25,000 seats – some 128 tonnes of recyclable material.

Programme Manager Toni Bye says she is pleased they were able to collect their highest one-year total despite the disruptions caused by covid. “We owe a big thanks to our collection sites around the country, including retailer Baby on the Move, the councils which support us and of course everyone who recycled a seat rather than sending to landfill.”

SeatSmart was set up to tackle the issue of some 100,000 seats going to landfill each year, despite around 75% of a seat (by weight) being recyclable or able to be repurposed including metal, plastic and straps.

All child car seats come with an expiry of between six and 10 years depending on the make and model.

Toni says while she’s happy with the growth in recycling volumes, up 23% on the previous 12 months, the programme’s impact could increase significantly if an industry-led product stewardship scheme were established. “One of our key aims is to encourage the companies that import and sell child car seats to make recycling free when seats expire by incorporating a small fee into the sale price of every seat,” she says.

“It’s not a new concept – anyone buying Resene paint may have noticed a small fee on their receipt for the PaintWise programme. This means returning unwanted or old Resene paint and pails is free.  Ideally we want to get to SeatSmart to that point.”

In Australia, the federal government has recommended the industry set up a voluntary product stewardship programme, which is currently under development. “We would love importers and retailers in New Zealand to stay ahead of any regulation and lead the way in creating a voluntary scheme to keep child car seats from going to landfill,” Toni says.

SeatSmart currently runs on a user-pays model, with a recycling fee of $25 per seat to cover the cost of collection and dismantling. While there are a number of councils which subsidise the cost, it’s prohibitive for some families, as well as for charities and volunteer organisations focused on helping families and improving road safety, Toni says.

SeatSmart also works to promote road safety through educating the public on the fact seats have expiry dates and need to be regularly checked for damage and fit.  “We would really like to make it easier for these expired seats or ones damaged in accidents to be taken out of circulation and recycled.”

According to Toni, the economy of scale created through a national stewardship scheme would mean the cost of collection and processing would be greatly reduced. “It’s also worth noting child car seats are one of the only mandated products on the market – parents have no option but to use them, so we’d love to see the industry help by providing an easy and affordable way to recycle them.”