You thought that the biggest challenge of becoming of a new parent was figuring out where to stash all that baby gear. But the real challenge is figuring out what to do with all that junk when it becomes obsolete. Much of our gently used baby gear can be donated, traded or sold to other families. But with consumer safety now reaching into the second-hand market, we get stuck with enough baby castoffs to open up our own consignment shops.
Of all the leftover junk, the biggest challenges of late are moving car seats and cribs. “Oh,” but you say, “just take them over to Baby’s R Us for a Great Trade-in Event.” No, no, no. (Imagine me wagging my finger here.) Though their marketing implies that they recycle these items responsibly, you should probably ask them to confirm this so that you know exactly what is being done with the items you take there.
When your car seat has expired (usually after six years, but most manufacturers print an expiration date on the seat), you have other options. Many municipalities offer recycle programs, so try that route first. You can also recycle through Baby Earth, where you pay for shipping, and they do the rest. They take car seats — and just about any other baby equipment you can think of.
If you have some time on your hands, you might take apart your car seat and recycle what you can. This is also an excellent opportunity to get out the screwdriver and give your little one an assignment: “Help me disassemble (as opposed to break into a million pieces) this interesting piece of equipment.” Parts of the car seat that cannot be recycled in your home bin can usually be recycled in other ways. Styrofoam recycling (can you believe that your baby’s safety rested in the hands of Styrofoam?) is offered at many national chains like Ikea and Whole Foods. All the fabric used on the car seat is not a landfill loss either. Many thrift stores will take fabric scraps (they usually ask that you bag all of your scraps together first). This would be a good time to go through your holey sock collection and add to the fabric bag. If you have a bunch of different scraps, you can also donate directly to a school or group who could use these for crafts like quilting. Or maybe you even want to try your hand at a “ghosts of baby gear past” quilt.
Cribs are trickier. Now that you can’t legally sell or donate an old crib, what are you to do with the big wood pile you are left with? A bon fire comes to mind, if only they did not add that pesky shellac and god knows what else to the finish. (If you were lucky enough to buy an Amish-built crib, with just an oil finish, go ahead, burn away, or, well you better save that crib for future generations, it’s built like Fort Knox.)
Fortunately, there is a bevy of creative upcycle ideas out there for cribs, from creating garden trellises to a kid’s desk. If you are a little bit handy, that crib can enjoy a second life in your living room or garden bed. If you don’t want yet another project — because let’s face it, we would rather be hanging with our kids than showing off our building skills (unless you are showing off your building skills to your kid, a lesson in assembly!), you can take apart the crib and list the remaining wood on Craigslist (as long as you don’t sell it as a crib). Recycle all the hardware for good legal measure.
But don’t forget that crib mattresses are not regulated, so you can feel free to pass those along to friends or relatives. Many donation centers don’t accept mattresses, but you can most certainly find someone on Craigslist, Freecycle or a local parent’s listserv that will want a usable crib mattress. There are also many local charities that focus on gathering baby and kid gear for those in need.
As you are reading through this and thinking about how to recycle the unrecyclable, consider your future purchases. Children’s product companies are, more and more, realizing that eco-friendly sells. If you are just now deciding that you carried your baby enough to bond for a lifetime, and it’s time for a stroller, you have some eco-minded choices like Uppa Baby or Orbit, with much of their materials being recyclable.
But most strollers have metal frames so this is not a serious recycle challenge. I am not even going to get stared on what to do with stroller wheels (soap box derby anyone?). And if your babe is young enough that you are still in the market for a high chair, consider a convertible chair that grows with your child. The Svan, for instance, can be used as an adult chair that your child can take with them to college.
You can even buy a flat pack cardboard high chair for travel. But if the days of five-point harnessing before dinner are long gone, and you purchased something in the plastic variety, a chair that is now so coated in muck and discolored that you would not wish it on your mother-in-law, take the seat apart and recycle what you can — send away to Baby Earth or recycle locally. I would suggest that you use your high chair as a planter in the garden, but plastic in the garden just makes me shiver.
No matter what your kiddo needs du jour are, think ahead about what you’ll do with it when it’s gone. Kind of like estate planning for your future garbage.