Babies need so much stuff. But what do you do with it all when they outgrow everything? Throwing items away just means they will wind up in a landfill somewhere. So what baby gear can you recycle -- and how?
Turns out, there are a lot of baby accessories you can and should recycle instead of tossing them in the trash. And there are plenty of ways to recycle safely and easily. Toys "R" Us has an annual event called the "Great Trade-In," where you can bring all sorts of old baby gear to one of their stores, and in exchange the store will give you 25 percent off a new item. Organizations like Recycled Baby and Baby Earth also accept a variety of used baby equipment. And in some cases, your local recycling program or the original product manufacturer can help.
Here are seven types of baby gear you can recycle -- and tips on how.
Car seats, like ones from major brands Graco and Britax, come with expiration dates, and those should always be checked. But they can be recycled, as long as you're careful.
"Parents should do their best to try to recycle the seat because we certainly don't want to throw it away and have it end up in a landfill," says Mark Zonfrillo, M.D., a pediatric emergency medicine physician and injury researcher at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Baby gear recycling organizations like those mentioned above will accept gently used car seats -- typically those that are under five to six years old and haven't been involved in accidents. Though recycling centers that accept car seats are limited, there are several around the country; check a "recycle your car seat" directory like recycleyourcarseat.org, which will tell you where these centers are, by state, with basic information for each. If you're not close to a recycling center that accepts car seats, Consumer Reports suggests disassembling your seat and recycling the different parts yourself.
In most cases, though, avoid giving your old car seat as a hand-me-down. Typically, used car seats aren't as safe as those that are brand-new.
"If it is not visibly damaged, has not been in a crash, has not been recalled, has not expired, or has not been cleaned with harsh chemicals and you're giving it to a close friend, there may be exceptions, but in general we don't really know the history of a seat," Dr. Zonfrillo explains. "I would encourage parents not to reuse the seat or give it as a hand-me-down unless they are confident about its history."
There are plenty of organizations, including the aforementioned ones, that will take used cribs -- as long as they're not recalled, like drop-side cribs. The Toys "R" Us trade-in program is a good place to start with recycling your old crib (and even your crib mattress), no matter what their condition. You can also donate cribs to shelters and consignment stores or sell them online and at local auctions. Just make sure to "Google the crib's model number and make sure it hasn't been recalled," says Heather Willow, owner of the children's resale store Recycled Baby.
What is true for recycling cribs also generally applies to strollers -- Toys "R" Us accepts them, as will baby gear recycling nonprofits, consignment stores, and shelters. Just make sure the strollers haven't been recalled before you donate them or try to sell them. Don't leave them out on the curb and, when in doubt, contact the manufacturer if you have questions. Most manufacturers won't accept used strollers back for recycling; some recommend that you take them apart yourself and recycle the metal frame, the plastic parts, and the fabric separately.
Breast pumps can be a challenge to recycle, but there are two manufacturers that will do it -- Medela, which just launched its breast pump recycling program last year, and Hygeia.
Of all the baby gear out there, bottles are probably the easiest and safest to recycle. "Most baby bottles can be sterilized and reused -- they're pretty durable and almost never recalled," Dr. Zonfrillo says. Plus, many bottles have the recycle symbol on the bottom; if there is one, you can put them out with your regular glass or plastic recycling. If not, just contact the company to ask how to recycle them -- or donate them.
"I would tell people to give them away or have them reused," Willow says. "Some bottles are pretty expensive, so they're definitely worth buying used and recycling. You just want to sanitize them like you would if you bought them at the store." She advises taking the nipples off and throwing them away before recycling the bottles, however, as they can stretch, crack, and break down over time.
Though baby bath seats cannot be recycled, the tubs themselves often can be, depending on what they're made of. Those that are just plastic are the simplest to recycle, but if they're composed of mixed materials, check with the manufacturer or take the tub apart yourself first. Don't throw the entire tub away -- try to "reuse as much as possible," Dr. Zonfrillo says.
Lots of places take gently used baby clothes. ThredUp will accept like-new baby clothes 12 months and over, and pay you a percentage of their resale value. But check the site for the brands they do and don't accept -- popular ones like Carter's and Children's Place are not accepted, for instance. Once Upon a Child, Recycled Baby, and plenty of other consignment shops and nonprofits will recycle baby clothes. And, of course, you can always donate them to various charities or give them to family and friends.
There are plenty of other kinds of baby gear you may be able to recycle or resell, too, including high chairs, swings, seats, and toys. And if you're really crafty, there are endless ideas online for upcycling your old baby equipment. If you're still not sure about a certain product, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer and your local recycling center. The important thing is to recycle whatever baby accessories you can and buy gear (like cribs and strollers) that can grow with your child.