If you’re hoping to donate your child’s car seat or crib this year, many thrift stores and retailers likely won’t take it. But throwing it away may not be the best option, either.
Some Chicago-area parents say they’ve been struggling to get rid of unneeded car seats and other children’s items because of COVID-19. Most resale shops have for years limited what children’s items they’ll take, but even after reopening in recent weeks, many also have limited donations because of staff shortages.
Trashing children’s gear can harm the environment, but to limit face-to-face contact, corporations such as Walmart and Target have canceled their trade-in programs, which had allowed people to exchange car seats for a credit, discount or upgraded product.
“It stinks (the programs) are closed,” said Tory Andrews, 34, a parent from the Northwest Side who has been trying to give away her child’s car seat. “I don’t understand why they are closed, but the pandemic is affecting nearly everything.”
Donnika Jones-Hamlin, 39, a mother from Willow Springs, has been trying to get rid of her twins’ car seats for more than four months. The process has been very frustrating, she said in a Facebook message.
“This is crazy, as mothers are still having babies,” she said. “There are women in need and I have (items) to give and I can’t. Doesn’t make sense.”
Thrift stores such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army also won’t take car seats, cribs or baby walkers because reselling those products could violate the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s standards. If those items are expired or were compromised in an accident, it could put future users at risk, said Dan Michael, Goodwill’s vice president of stores and donations.
“Because we have no way of knowing the history of that particular item, we don’t accept them, we don’t sell them,” Michael said.
Target and Walmart previously hosted car seat trade-in events with the help of TerraCycle, a global sustainability company that helps salvage hard-to-recycle waste. In its most recent event with the organization last year, Walmart recycled more than 8 million pounds of car seats in just a few days, said Brett Stevens, TerraCycle’s global vice president of materials sales and procurement.
“It goes to show there is some pent-up demand for this recycling solution because people feel bad about putting what is essentially a 15-pound, on average, item into the garbage,” Stevens said.
Retailers primarily hosted trade-in programs for promotional reasons, because trashed car seats can harm the environment, Stevens said. The events have “a significant cost” to disassemble the plastic and metal parts to recycle them.
“Sustainability is critically important now as recycling is really seeing a decline, but as we see, COVID kind of takes precedence over all of that,” Stevens added. He said businesses are “now more focused on keeping employees safe, keeping the lights on (and) keeping shelves stocked.”
Some parents have turned to Facebook’s Marketplace to sell or give away car seats and other materials, while others plan to gift them to family members or friends. But selling them directly raises other COVID-19 concerns.
Maria Calderon, 24, has been trying for weeks to sell her son’s outgrown car seat. The Cicero resident thinks she might be having difficulty because people are having financial troubles and are afraid to come into contact with sellers given the coronavirus.
“I haven’t had any luck,” Calderon said in a Facebook message. “Because of COVID I lost my job and I can’t afford to buy (my son) another one until I sell this one.”
Some business and service organizations have also been unable to take donations because of staffing issues.
Cradles to Crayons, a service group that collects donated children’s items and distributes them to communities in need, ceased taking volunteers and donations from March through June after COVID-19 hit, according to Executive Director Shoshana Buchholz-Miller.
“Even now, with some volunteers back, we are accepting gently-used products but we have such a high volume of products that we’re getting,” Buchholz-Miller said. “We just don’t have enough people.”
Eric Pelz, 39, of Portage Park, earlier this year tried to donate his family’s baby crib to organizations including Cradles to Crayons. But Pelz, who is a father of three boys, said he had to throw the “perfectly good” crib away after workers told him they couldn’t take it because of short staffing.
“That was painful to my heart,” Pelz said.
With closures and other donation issues during the pandemic, the best ways to get rid of items like a car seat may be just to disassemble the material to recycle the metal and plastic parts or wait until retailers reinstate trade-in programs, which likely won’t be until 2021, according to Stevens.
“What you’re seeing is a temporary delay in these types of programs,” Stevens said. “I think that will change after there’s a vaccine for COVID. I would expect at that point that you’ll start to see more regular ramp up of these programs.”
©2020 the Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.