A car seat is one of the most important purchases a parent will ever make. When it comes time to choose which model to buy, any parent will tell you that safety is everything. But there is more safety to consider than just crash safety. In recent years, some materials in car seats (mostly the flame-retardants that are necessary to make the seats fire-proof in the event of a violent crash) have been found to have high levels of toxicity. This is bad news for kids and the environment. Car seats also contain a lot of plastic (non-biodegradable!) components and many brands use a lot of unnecessary packaging.
But there are ways to manage all these factors and choose a car seat that is right for you and your kids. Here are five easy ways to find an eco-friendly car seat!
1. Check out the car seat you already own.
If your kids are a few years apart in age, it's possible you might have a hand-me-down car seat situation. Or maybe you just want to ensure that your child's current car seat is safe enough to continue using. After all, reusing is always better for the environment than buying new. But how can you be sure of your current car seat's toxicity levels?
Never fear, there's a guide for that! In June 2015, the Ecology Center at HealthyStuff.org released a list of brands with the highest and lowest toxicity ratings. Check to see if your current car seat is on it! If not, it's likely somewhere in the middle, with levels that aren't extremely high, nor extremely low. Only you can decide what levels you're comfortable with.
2. Consider buying used.
Reusing is even more eco-friendly than recycling! It's one of the most effective ways to cut waste and save money. But where can you find a used car seat to buy? Looking locally might be best. Craigslist can be a great resource. So can garage sales and neighborhood sales groups. A few things to keep in mind before buying?
Be sure to check the car seat's expiration date, check the model on the manufacturer's website to ensure it has not been recalled, check for odors such as cigarette smoke, and if at all possible, get an owner's manual from the previous owner. If they no longer have the owner's manual, call the manufacturer or visit their website to see if you can receive a free copy.
3. Consider integrated car seats.
Buying a new car just to get a car seat might be going a tad overboard, but if you find that you're in the market for a new car anyway, why not check out some that feature integrated car seats? Most of these seats adjust for growth and don't cost any more as add-ons than a new car seat would cost on its own. Plus no packaging means no waste!
Wondering which cars brands offer this type of seat? Currently, the list is short: only Volvo and Dodge. To check out which specific models offer the seats, look no farther than cars.com, which offers an info guide on the subject.
4. Look into car seat vests.
Though they're less bulky than their traditional counterparts, carseat vests have been declared to be just as safe for use in the U.S. (other places, such as Canada, may require a doctor's note for their use). The environmental perks are notable. Less bulk means less plastic is used in their construction and also means they lead to less waste since they don't require as much packaging. A less obvious perk is the fact that these "seats" are lightweight and therefore much easier to lift. Any parent who has had to lift a carseat into a vehicle with their arms full of groceries or other items should appreciate this perk!
These vests are also perfect for traveling: just fold, pack, and go! You shouldn't have to hunt too much to find them; one of the more popular brands, "Ride Safer," is available at stores such as Baby's R Us, and also online at Amazon and other large retailers.
5. Double check the toxic levels if you're buying new.
If you want to buy a new, traditional car seat that is eco-friendly, it is a good idea to look for brands that use recycled packaging, or smaller, more efficient packaging to eliminate waste. The second step is to check the brand for toxicity levels, just as you would if you were reusing an old seat. The full report on toxicity of different brands can be found online here. Some brands you may want to avoid, if you're concerned about toxicity, are Graco and Harmony. Some brands to consider are Britax and Clek.