The Current

Let kids' car seats into secondhand market to help poorer families, urges author

What happens to all your stuff after you drop it off to a Goodwill store? In his new book, journalist Adam Minter takes a deep dive into the global secondhand economy, and argues prolonging the useful life of our products will help the environment.

Car seats come with expiry date, cannot be sold or donated after set time

Journalist Adam Minter says we can alleviate society's waste problem by ensuring more of our products enter the secondhand market. (iStock)
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Expiry dates assigned by the manufacturer on children's car seats are stopping them from being passed on to families in need, according to a journalist who has investigated how the products we use can be functional for longer.

American journalist Adam Minter is based in Malaysia, which started enforcing a law making car seats mandatory last month. 

"If you start asking a family here to spend $50, $100 on car seats, they're not going to be able to do it. And they haven't been able to do it," said Minter, author of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, which looks at what happens to items after they're donated to Goodwill.

In North America, car seats are sold with an expiration date and instructions to cut the straps so they can't be used after that time. 

"They're being destroyed when they could be used here," Minter told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

"The fact of the matter is a used car seat is better than no car seat. And right now, we're taking those car seats out of circulation." 

Car seats come with an expiry date printed on the underside. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Transport Canada's website advises people not to use car seats after the expiry date; not to give them away; and not to sell them secondhand. The website explains that the expiry exists for a number of reasons, including wear and tear, difficulty in ascertaining integrity of older models and safety standards changing over time.

When The Current asked Transport Canada if that advice is based on any independent research, the agency said the recommendation is based on "the manufacturer's own risk assessment," and that "expiry dates are not required by regulation, and are therefore not based on requirements set out by Transport Canada."

If replacing a damaged car seat before its expiry date, some insurance firms require owners to dispose of the old one by cutting the straps.

Minter speculated the instructions could be aimed at protecting manufacturers from liability in accidents involving older car seats, or creating new sales as the car seats pass their dates. 

"But overall, it's bad for the secondhand economy if people can't reuse these devices, if they're sort of being almost taunted into disposing of them."

There are programs that will disassemble your car seat — saving it from a landfill site and recycling it into tote bags, backpacks and reusable steel.

But Minter argues that we should try to prolong a product's usefulness in its existing state, thereby delaying the expenditure of recycling resources, and saving resources spent in manufacturing new ones.

"Most of the environmental impact of any product happens during the manufacturing phase," he said.

"And if you're worried about that, the best thing you can do is just make sure your stuff lasts a really long time, and you're not encouraging people to manufacture more."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Peter Mitton. 

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