In 2014 an estimated 40,000 child car restraints will expire, with landfill being the main disposal option for owners.

An industry-wide project has been set up to look at the problem, with the aim of reducing waste to landfill, and improving road safety for children through proper disposal of expired child restraints.

Funding has come from Auckland Council, The Baby Factory, Baby on the Move, The Warehouse, and project leaders 3R Group. Plunket, the NZ Transport Agency, a plastic processor, and other importers are also involved.

3R Group initiated the project as part of their work designing ways for businesses to help their customers responsibly dispose of used products and packaging, a concept known as product stewardship.

Industry research conducted by 3R estimates that more than 330,000kg of waste material from expired child restraints is generated each year. Placed side by side, these restraints would stretch the length of 175 rugby fields.

According to 3R project manager Michelle Duncan, there are a number of less than ideal outcomes for the restraints which are required by law for all children under 7 years of age.

“Widespread recycling simply doesn’t exist for child restraints in New Zealand, so presently owners should be sending them to landfill.

“However research and anecdotal evidence shows that while a large number do end up in landfill, there is a second hand market for restraints, expired or otherwise, and that a large number are also stored in garages or sheds.

“The project has been granted funding of $10,665 through Auckland Council’s Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund as it aligns with their aim of reducing the volume of waste to landfill.”

The other important aspect of the project is child safety. According to Mrs Duncan, research shows correctly used approved child restraints and safety belts reduce the risk of death in a vehicle crash by as much as 70% for infants and 54% for toddlers.

“Some people continue to use restraints after expiry because of a lack of understanding that exposure to sunlight, changes in temperature, and stress caused by accidents, can damage and weaken plastic.

“You only have to think about plastic toys left in a sandpit over the summer to see what damage the sun can do.”

The project will investigate the extent of the disposal problem in New Zealand, as well as the use of fire retardants in the restraint components which could affect recycling potential.

There will also be a collection and processing trial, plus the project will look at what kind of product stewardship programme would offer the best outcome for industry and owners of expired restraints.

3R’s passion and experience in bringing together various stakeholders on projects that aim to reduce waste to landfill is the key reason they instigated the project. They’re also experts in products that can be difficult to recycle.

“It’s not as simple as collecting seats, pulling them apart and sending the various pieces off for recycling,” says Mrs Duncan.

“We’re involved because there are significant barriers to recycling restraints through traditional routes.

“We’ll be looking at all the options and expect to find a solution that can turn this waste product into raw materials that can be used again.”

This isn’t the first project of its kind for 3R Group.

They are managers for leading stewardship programmes Resene PaintWise, Dulux Paint and Packaging Takeback, and Agrecovery Rural Recycling.

They’ve also recently lead another industry-wide project, Tyrewise, looking at the disposal of end of life tyres. A stewardship proposal for end of life tyres is currently before the Minister for the Environment.

Consumers are likely to become more familiar with the product stewardship concept as government encourages businesses to take more responsibility for their products at the end of their useful life.

It’s likely that this will focus on e-waste, tyres, chemicals and other products which are abundant and likely to cause significant harm to the environment if not disposed of correctly.

“Child car restraints are an ideal product for product stewardship as it can solve two key problems: one for the customer where it’s all about what they can do with an expired restraint; and secondly for New Zealand as a whole, diverting waste from landfill and recovering as much recyclable material as possible.”

3R expect the project will be completed by September 2014.