They are something that every young Australian family buys with the arrival of a baby — and now car seats have become a massive waste stream with 200,000 a year ending up in landfill.
- Car seats usually last just 10 years due to product safety recommendations
- Charities are also overloaded with the burden of disposing of old and broken car seats
- In November, the Federal Government announced a plan to add car seats to the Product Stewardship Act
Now local manufacturers are pledging to do something about their waste problem.
After arriving back home in Melbourne, new parents Claire George and Nick Hamond have just started the search for a baby seat for their 4-month-old Remy.
"We've been lucky enough not to need one until now because we had friends overseas who lent us their car seat," Ms George said.
"We love to reuse things."
Yet despite being conscious about sustainability, the couple does not know what will happen to Remy's new car seat when he grows out of it.
"I know it's probably not a good thing," Ms George said.
About 1.2 million baby car seats, capsules and boosters are sold new in Australia every year.
The products do not have a long lifespan, due to product safety recommendations that they should only be used for 10 years.
Melbourne baby store retailer Michael Milun said many parents want to buy them brand new and that babies usually got through many different types of seats in their first five years of life.
"And you'll get people buying a seat for both partners' cars, and the nanny, and the grandparents," Mr Milun said.
Yet despite this, there is no centralised recycling scheme for the seats in Australia.
As a result, 200,000 a year wind up in landfill.
And this waste stream problem is not just unsustainable. Charities also are overloaded with the burden of disposing of old and broken car seats that well-meaning people donate to them.
Melbourne charity St Kilda Mums receives at least 1,000 baby seats that it cannot use every year.
"I feel terrible about the fact these items end up in landfill and take a long time to break down," its chief executive Jessie Macpherson said.
Industry pledging to do something about waste
There are moves to create a central recycling program for baby car seats in Australia.
In November, the Federal Government announced that it wanted to add car seats to the Product Stewardship Act.
The Act included products like batteries, industrial oil and old televisions, and if implemented properly, commits manufacturers of certain products to do something about their products at their end of life.
The car seat industry's product stewardship listing is being led by a group of sustainability consultants who first got interested in this area of recycling them when they became young fathers.
In 2017, Equilibrium ran a trial program across Australia that saw people drop off almost 2,000 old baby car seats to collection depots across the country.
"We just couldn't find any way to recycle the baby seats," Equilibrium managing director Nick Harford said.
These seats were then broken apart and sent off to recyclers that Equilibrium had recruited.
"Eighty per cent of these seats are made from recyclables like plastic and metal," Mr Harford said.
"It was a revelation."
Major Australian brands all on board
As of this week, Equilibrium has signed up all three major manufacturers of baby car seats in Australia to the next stage of its product stewardship scheme push.
Britax, Infasecure and Dorel make 80 per cent of seats sold in the local market, meaning this is a big step towards doing something about the problem.
"We are very supportive," Britax managing director Dirk Voller said.
"We feel this should not be limited to baby car seats and capsules but cover all product categories including wheel goods such as prams, strollers and other related nursery products."
Both Britax and Infasecure said that they were working on product design that made their car seats simpler to recycle as well.
Equilibrium's Mr Harford said the next step will be launching a wider version of its baby car seat recycling trial, with it hoping to be collecting and recycling about 50,000 baby car seats a year by 2023.
"We think parents will get involved in this," he said.
"Even now, two years after we finished our trial, we still get people calling us up asking them how they can drop off their old seats."
However, the recycling scheme will cost the industry money.