SALT LAKE CITY — Expired or used car seats can shatter in an automobile accident, but the concern of one local advocate stretches beyond safety.
"Variable plastics take longer time to decompose at the landfill even up to 1,000 years," said May Romo, the Salt Lake County Health Department's Safe Kids coordinator.
In the past two years, Romo collected up to 90 car seats a month at each of six drop-off locations in the valley.
"As we do our job in trying to keep kids safe, we also want to make sure they have a good and healthy environment to live in," she said, adding that recycling is "the green thing to do."
Car seats are made up of about 85 percent of polypropylene, a recyclable plastic. The remainder is either a small amount of metal, fabric or foam, which can also be repurposed.
Romo said the makeup of the plastic changes over time, resulting in an expiration date of six years after the manufacture of the car seat. A date can often be found on a sticker or imprinted in the back of the seat.
"When you're talking about the safety of your children and the precious cargo they are, you need to get a new, history-known car seat to be sure they'll be safe," she said. Buying a used, expired seat at a thrift store, yard sale or online is "not a safe practice."
"We need to take precautions with our kids," Romo said.
In addition to aging plastic, any accident where the car seat is thrown from the vehicle or is tossed around inside can compromise the integrity of the car seat, damaging it with hairline fractures that are not always visible.
It's better for the car seats to be put to better use, according to the health department, which has teamed up with URecycle and Rocky Mountain Recycling to facilitate a program to keep the cumbersome seats out of landfills.
Romo said the red plastic knobs and levers on car seats can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
Once collected, plastic from the car seats is baled, broken down and ground up into flakes called regrind, which is then used to create new products such as toys, plastic hangers and storage containers.
The car seat recycling effort in Salt Lake County is the only operation of its kind in the state. New initiatives aim to keep the resulting regrind available for local businesses to use.
While she acknowledges car seats can be expensive, Romo said avoiding risk and saving lives is worth the cost.
For more information on car seat recycling, visit www.slcohealth.org.
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