Waste Management NZ Limited Team Leader at Wanaka Transfer Station Ross Brownson with Wanaka local Ruth Blunt who brought a seat in to be recycled.

Queenstown and Wanaka have become the latest towns to gain access to child car seat recycling with the SeatSmart programme opening collection sites there for the first time.

As of 1 July, residents can take their expired or damaged seats to either of the towns’ transfer stations for recycling. Collected seats are dismantled, and the plastic, metal and straps recycled or repurposed.

SeatSmart Programme Manager Toni Bye says the programme aims to tackle the issue of some 100,000 seats expiring in New Zealand every year and going to landfill. “Up to 75% of a seat’s material by weight can be recycled, so it’s a huge waste of resources for them to end up in landfill,” she says.

The programme also works to raise awareness of expiry dates on seats: “The average life of a child car seat is six to 10 years so it’s easy to put that information aside when first buying a seat, but before you know it the seat has been used for multiple children and that time has passed,” Toni says.

The programme recently reached the milestone of 20,000 seats and 100,000kg of material collected and repurposed or recycled. “There are still areas without access to seat recycle but we’re working hard to change this, which is why we were so pleased to open up collection sites in Alexandra and Cromwell last year, and now Queenstown and Wanaka,” Toni says.

“The programme is another piece of the puzzle which is helping to improve New Zealand’s waste problem and contribute to council zero waste goals,” says Toni.  “Thanks to a subsidy from Queenstown Lakes District Council the cost of recycling a seat will be $15.”

The Council’s Waste Minimisation Project Officer Katherine Butter says the subsidy will make recycling a car seat more accessible. “We’re delighted to support the SeatSmart programme and help our community do more to reduce, re-use and recover materials as well as enhance awareness around child car seat safety,” she says.

Collected seats are dismantled with help from a number of organisations including SeatSmart programme managers 3R Group as well as by social enterprises, which provide employment for people who have a disability or are disadvantaged or marginalised. Some dismantling is also done by Department of Corrections work programmes providing useful indoor work for offenders.

“The programme aims to grow it’s positive impact within our communities by engaging with the brands who manufacture and sell child car seats to encourage them to build the cost of car seat recycling into the cost of sales,” says Toni.  “This approach, known as product stewardship, would mean we could offer recycling free of charge when a car seat expired or was damaged in an accident.  Plus, we could then work with the brands who design seats to consider dismantling and recycling issues right from the start.”