How to Recycle a Stroller?
How do you recycle an entire stroller? Here I describe how I went about it, inspired by concepts in The Upcycle and Cradle to Cradle. We had been storing some old strollers and car seats we no longer used in a shed in our yard. Some were slightly broken. The shed roof had been leaking and so some of the items were further damaged. In the process of fixing the shed, the time came to get rid of the strollers. The water damage had resulted in mold on the stroller fabric. So the strollers could not be readily reused by another family.
I looked into recycling programs in my city and state, but strollers were not on the list. I contacted the manufacturers of the strollers (and car seats) – Graco, Kohlcraft, MacLaren, Safety 1st, and Babies R Us. I let them know we had gotten good use out of the product but that in its current state it was not fit for immediate reuse. With the fabric removed, the frames themselves were still in fairly good condition and pretty clean. I asked for recommendations for disposal, and in particular asked, “Do you have a product take-back program whereby you can reuse the stroller’s materials (see for example http://www.pprc.org/pubs/epr/takeback.cfm)?” (More about that link later.) I added that I wanted to avoid disposing of these products in the trash since they would then be incinerated releasing harmful emissions. And that would also be a waste of the materials (such as metal) that required large amounts of energy to extract and fashion into parts for the stroller.
Here are the responses I received:
- Company #1: “While we certainly appreciate your concern for the environment, we’re sorry, as a manufacturer, we do not have a take back program.
A few suggestions would be:
1. Check your phone directory to see if there are any recycle companies in your area
2. Check with local retailers (such as Babies R Us), some of the retailers do a “trade in” type program where you can take used baby/children’s products. The store recycles the product and gives you a discount on a new product.”
- Company #2: “Ian- thanks for being so environmentally conscience![sic] However we don’t have a program like that. I would suggest that you gut the white law tags and disable the stroller- take wheels off- and then recycle the frame”
- Company #3: ” At this time, we cannot provide any suggestions on how to dispose of the stroller. You may want to contact local charities in your area or your city government about options you may have to dispose of the stroller.”
- Company #4: “While we really appreciate your concern for proper recycling of your product, we do not have any recommendations for the strollers. We know that our car seats are #5 plastic, but, unfortunately, we do not have any information regarding our strollers. However, you may check with your local waste management facility to see what they would advise.”
I looked into the retailer trade-in program Company #1 suggested. Babies R Us held one a while ago, but nothing at this time. Company #2’s suggestion was closest to what I ended up doing. The responses were prompt and courteous, and really not surprising. Still, I was disappointed not one of these five companies had a more substantive recommendation.
After some more digging, the only promising lead I turned up was that strollers were included on a list of items accepted at a nearby scrap metal yard. With the Cradle to Cradle concept of breaking products up into their component technical and biological nutrients at the end of life in mind, I began to disassemble the strollers. They are basically made of four materials: fabric, plastic, metal and rubber. The fabric was easy enough to remove by unsnapping buttons and removing screws. While it would have been nice to clean off the mold and other debris, given the effort required for such a small amount of material, I decided to trash it. I did hang on to some of the straps, thinking they might be useful for something else later on.
Next the wheels came off through some unscrewing, prying and/or hammering. They consist of plastic and/or rubber. For now they are boxed up, waiting to be used for some future project … not sure what that will be, but seems like they could come in handy. Again, the alternative is incineration.
This resulted in wheel-less frames of metal and plastic. My plan was to separate these two materials, try to recycle what plastic I could, and bring the metal to a scrap yard. This step turned out to be the most difficult. The plastic and metal are attached to each other by rivets. Rivets are used to connect materials you do not want to become separated. Think airplane fuselage. This makes a lot of sense for a baby stroller – you don’t want it coming apart while walking junior to the park. One way to remove a rivet is by drilling through its center. Here was my reference video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF42wEb7H-E. While this did work it took a while and I went through drill bits quickly. I got a lot of the parts separated, but in the end left some of the rivets in. I’m pretty sure a professional could get them out quickly. From the standpoint of disassembly into components, a stroller does not rate too poorly in my opinion. It is fairly straightforward to break it up through a sequence of simple mechanical operations.
Ideally, the companies would have taken back the stroller frames, checked them out, reused them if possible, and broken them apart if not, reusing what components could be reused. I’m guessing it’s cheaper for them to just manufacture new ones overseas than employ people domestically to work on take-backs. That’s unfortunate.
Back to my project, most of the plastic and metal was now separated. Some of the plastic was recyclable. Some other pieces seemed like they might come in handy for some other project down the road and so I saved them. And I also had a pile of plastic fitting neither category that I threw out.
Next I loaded up the remaining metal, threw in some old broken beach umbrellas with the fabric removed and a few other random scraps of metal that had been lying around and headed to the scrap yard. It was an interesting place with large piles of all different kinds of material. I was directed to the light metals dumping area, with my car being weighed before and after dumping. My total was around 80 pounds, for which I received $6.34.
In all, it was interesting to learn about take-back programs (and the lack thereof in this case), the construction of strollers, how to remove rivets, where the local scrap yard is and what it accepts. That and avoiding the incineration for most (at least by weight) of the material were the benefits to me. On the one hand, this process is not what the Cradle to Cradle camp has in mind for our future. The stroller was not upcycled, in fact, some of the parts will necessarily be downcycled (plastic, metal). The gap between the default end-of-life choice (“throwing it out”) and the cradle to cradle ideal is wide and we are not moving quickly enough to bridge it. Most people are not going to spend the time to do this. This is why it is important that take-back programs exist. Best Buy takes back electronics every day. Babies R Us occasionally takes back strollers and the like, but that needs to be every day as well and by any store above a certain size selling those products, and with support from the manufacturers.
Back to the website I mentioned earlier, PPRC is the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center. Their “Product Stewardship for Manufacturers” page has information on take-back programs. They point out: “”Most take-back programs in the U.S. are voluntary, while legislation in many European countries require manufacturers take responsibility for waste costs incurred by products and packaging.” It lists some take-back programs including Dell computers, Xerox copiers, and Bosch power tools. Hopefully this will spread.
Here are more photos – sorry for the low quality (used my ancient phone to take some):
Update (2/8/2015) – BabiesRUs is running a take-back event ending 2/21/2015 accepting these items:
- car seat
- travel system
- high chair
- play yard
- infant swing
- toddler/twin bed
See this link.