Child restraint recycling trial a triple-whammy win for community

By Wade O'Leary on 11 August 2017

Road safety, environmental benefits and regional jobs: a program that can deliver on any of these targets could expect the NRMA’s support, so a scheme that has ready-made outcomes for all three gets our full attention – and it deserves yours too.

Add to that the fact that children and the disabled are the primary beneficiaries and it’s clear that the Child Car Safety Seat Stewardship Trial has the potential to deliver enormous positives for the community.

The program is being driven by Damien Wrigley, general manager of sustainability specialists Equilibrium, who experienced a lightbulb moment while strapping his two-year-old son into his car seat.

“I thought: ‘over his life, we’re going to have a lot of these seats going in and out of our cars’,” he said.

When "safety seats" aren't safe

This prompted a look at what typically happened to restraints once a child grew out of them ... and the results were enlightening.

“I looked at the safety aspect of buying a second-hand one and didn’t want to do that, then looked at who we might hand them over to as he ages and I didn’t really want to do that either," Damien said.

“What surprised me is that every year there would probably be around 200,000 child car safety seats that reach end of life: by that, I mean that they’re getting up to around 10 years of age.

“You can’t actually put one of these into a rubbish bin, it just won’t physically fit … they’re big, they’re bulky and they’re just hard to put into any other stream.

“There are a whole lot of marketplaces out there – online, op shops, tip shops – that actually sell these units and you don’t know the history of them.”

Age, extreme car temperatures, previous involvement in a crash and the standard wear of regularly used latches, straps and buckles can dramatically affect the ability of car seats to protect children in the event of a serious car accident.

Giving new life to old components

Recognising that used child restraints posed a safety risk if improperly disposed of or passed on then reused “without knowing if they’ve really been used or in an accident”, Damien then thought about how these issues could be addressed while delivering a greater good.

“It was more about establishing whether you can recycle these materials and if you can you bring these seats out of the marketplace – and that’s where we’ve started with this trial,” he said.

“I didn’t even really consider what made up child restraints until I got one, pulled it apart and could see all these components that could actually be recycled – hard plastics, metal straps and buckles, any of the webbing and even some of the foam and material.

“It would mean more than 900 tonnes of material that could be diverted from landfill back into the recyclable stream: if we were to put them end-to-end, it would represent a length greater than the height of Mount Everest.”

Completing the virtuous cycle

The final piece in the puzzle emerged when Damien looked into how the recycling process could occur and realised that a business like the Flagstaff Group at North Nowra – which has been providing work for people with disabilities for more than 50 years – would be the ideal partner.

Flagstaff employees now disassemble the discarded child restraints and send 90 per cent of the components off to be reused, as do workers at the Challenge Business Service in Tamworth.

It is this extraordinary combination of reducing risk of child death or injury, cutting landfill waste and creating jobs for vulnerable groups in regional areas that makes the trial a potential winner – but with only a fraction of the targeted amount of restraints recycled so far, it needs your help.

Anyone living in or near Kiama, Penrith or Tamworth is urged to drop off any used child restraints at the following locations:

Kiama Community Recycling Centre: 446 Riverside Dr, Minnamurra

Penrith Community Recycling Centre: Gate 3, 96 Dunheved Circuit, St Marys

Tamworth Community Recycling Centre: 123a Forest Road, Tamworth

The trial is only operating at these three sites in NSW and two more each in Queensland and Victoria but has now been extended until the end of September: Damien and his team need to demonstrate community engagement and support if they are to win funding to make the program permanent and take it nationwide.

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