South Waikato Achievement Trust Chief Executive Russell Ensor, left, and Enterprise Development Advisor Gary Olney.

The SeatSmart Child Car Seat Recycling programme and the South Waikato Achievement Trust (SWAT) have been working together since November 2018, with SeatSmart sending many of the seats it collects to SWAT for dismantling. The result, says SeatSmart programme manager Toni Bye, is a social and environmental win-win.

“It’s our ethos to maximise the environmental and social impact of the programme. So, when we realised we needed to look at new options for dismantling seats we sought out social enterprises,” she says.

Previously all the seats were dismantled by offenders in Department of Corrections community work programmes. However, with the increase in volume and complexity of the seats, the decision was made to use social enterprises for much of the work, Toni says.

SWAT Chief Executive Officer Russell Ensor says they have been active in Hamilton for nearly 50 years, employing 120 people – many with disabilities or who are disadvantaged. Some 28 people work in the recycling side of the business, processing up to 2,500 tonnes of recyclable material, such as e-waste and car seats, each year.

Two of our employees specialise in this dismantling work, Russell says. “It has definitely helped create employment for our people.”

Child car seats are more complicated to dismantle than one might think, Toni says. “Many of the seats are very well built – as they should be – but as a result can be difficult to pull apart and separate the metal from the different plastic types.”

Employees at SWAT have good technical skills and soon had the dismantling process down pat, Russell says. “It not only helps us employ people but helps provide variation in their work,” he says.

SeatSmart was launched by recycling experts 3R Group in April 2016 and has quickly grown to have 37 collection sites in 9 regions around New Zealand. It has since collected over 13,700 seats, preventing over 40 tonnes of plastic and metal from going to landfill.

The metal and plastic is recycled while straps are used to make reusable bags. Recycling a seat is done on a user-pays basis, but many councils have recycling incentives in place to reduce the cost, Toni says.  “As volumes coming through the programme increase, we look forward to increasing the employment opportunities for social enterprises across the country.”