This guide offers everything you need to know about car seat trade-in programs in the United States—so you can contribute to your baby's well-being and countless others.
Car seats may seem like a mundane household object, but they impact the health and safety of children worldwide—in more ways than one.
Because car seats are expensive, many families simply cannot afford them, thus inadvertently putting their children at risk.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among children—and most of those children were improperly secured in malfunctioning or broken car seats.
Car seats also contribute significantly to bursting landfills and rising rates of greenhouse gasses, nearly 574,000 tons.
The solution is simple: car seat trade-in programs.
But many families simply don’t know where to start.
Signs Your Car Seat Needs to Go
Children grow fast.
As a result, many of the items that kids depend on—clothing, toys, and of course, well-loved car seats—rapidly go from invaluable to completely useless.
Additionally, car seats become valueless—and dangerous—when broken or expired. To that end, learning to recognize when your car seat must go is essential.
1. Your Child Has Outgrown It
First, your child outgrows their infant car seat. Then, they outgrow their booster seats. Soon, you are left with old car seats gathering dust in the corner of your house.
It’s important to recognize the signs that your child has matured to the point where their car seat is no longer safe to use.
To that end, here are some of the most important things to consider when determining whether to keep your car seat.
Your child no longer needs their infant car seat when:
- Your child has exceeded the maximum height or weight limit: Remember to weigh and measure your child frequently and compare these metrics to the limits indicated on the seat.
- The top of your child’s head is less than one inch from the top of the car seat: The average baby should switch to a convertible seat between nine months and two years—but the child’s head should never meet the top of the seat.
Your child no longer needs a convertible car seat when:
- They reach four years old: Before four, a baby should always occupy a rear-facing convertible car seat.
- They reach the seat height and weight limit: As with infant seats, it is important to respect the indicated limits.
- The gap between the child’s head and the top shell of the seat is under one inch.
Your child no longer needs a booster seat when:
- They reach 8-12 years old: Although age is a useful indicator, remember to consider other factors before tossing your old booster seat.
- They are tall enough to fit behind the seat belt safely: An excellent way to measure this is by assessing whether your child can keep their back against the seat with knees bent over the edge and feet touching the ground.
2. Unsafe and Expired Car Seats
The second reason you should consider tossing an old car seat is if it is unsafe or expired.
Broken car seats, for example, are often hazardous to your child and should be tossed or repaired immediately.
Your car seat may be unsafe if:
- The webbing is frayed or damaged.
- The plastic structure is cracked, bent, stressed, or flexible.
- The latching system is damaged or bent.
- The polystyrene is cracked or compromised—check to see if it is being held in place by the fabric cover (a sign that it is unsafe).
Expired car seats may also pose a significant danger to your infant or toddler. You can check the expiration date on the white label underneath the seat.
If there is no expiration date, check the date of manufacture (DOM) and ensure that it is within six years of the date of use.
If the date has passed, you must throw the car seat away or risk an accident, injury, or legal implications.
One final note: if you have been in a severe accident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends replacing your car seat—even if it doesn’t appear damaged.
What Should You Do With Your Old Car Seat?
Once you have determined that your old car seat is no longer safe or valuable for your child, you may be tempted to toss it in the corner of your garage or home—or worse: in the garbage.
Old car seats overwhelmingly contribute to environmental pollution and global waste.
Additionally, many needy families cannot purchase car seats and would benefit from a donation.
Here are some of the best ways to recycle your car seat, so it doesn’t go to waste.
We have a full article on this topic, so make sure you check it out.
1. Retail Trade-In Programs and Events
Car seat trade-in programs are an excellent way to upcycle your used car seat.
Trade-in programs typically offer coupons, discounts, or promotional perks in exchange for used car seats, which they then donate or recycle depending on the program and the condition of the seat.
Target, Walmart, and TerraCycle offer some of the most well-known trade-in programs in the United States, but there are other establishments and events you can frequent to donate your car seat.
Research suggests that car seat trade-in programs have a positive impact on the environment. Additionally, they help to redress economic inequalities that may contribute to adverse outcomes for low-income children.
Donating your car seat to a trade-in program can benefit you, your child, and countless others.
2. Reuse Them
If you have a second child, you can reuse your existing car seat.
Alternatively, you can offer your car seat to a family member or friend. Remember to ensure that the seat is intact and has not reached its expiration date, as you do not want to endanger the recipient.
If you have had the car seat for over six years or it is damaged in any way, you must recycle it or throw it away.
Consumer Reports maintain that reusing car seats is risky for several reasons. These include:
- The seat may be damaged without you knowing it.
- The seat may have been in a previous car accident.
- The new occupant may not be the right size for the seat.
- The seat may have expired.
You never truly know if a seat is damaged, so reusing your old car seat isn’t the safest option.
3. Recycle the Car Seat
Recycling your car seat is the next best option.
If your car seat has expired or is damaged, you can bring it to your local recycling center, donate it to a recycling program, or even toss it in the bin!
Several mail-in programs allow you to mail your broken or expired car seat and receive coupons or special deals.
Consider the pros and cons of recycling your car seat:
Car Seat Trade-In Programs
Car seat trade-in programs are far and away the best option—if your cat seat is intact, undamaged, and within the expiration date.
If you can’t trade your car seat in, consider recycling it with one of the recycling programs below.
While some programs only take car seats, others may accept booster seats, high chairs, strollers, and assorted baby gear. In exchange, you may receive coupons or save on select brands.
Consider using one of these programs to contribute to the environment and babies in need.
1. Target Car Seat Trade-In Program
The Target Car Seat Trade-In Program, is one of the country's most popular and widely used.
Since the company launched the program in 2016, Target has recycled over one million car seats—and over 29.6 million pounds of car seat materials like polystyrene and fabric webbing.
Target works with its partner company, Waste Management, to recycle these materials, ensuring they are reused rather than discarded.
Target’s trade-in programs typically offer 20% off coupons on new car seats, strollers, or select baby gear purchased from Target.
Target actively participates in the global effort to reach zero waste in U.S. landfills by 2030, and the company is doing well on its promise!
Where Can I Take the Car Seat?
You can bring your old car seat to any Target location across the country.
Most stores participate in the trade-in program, though some small format stores may be exempt. Check the Target website, or contact your local store to learn more.
You will see signage directing you to the drop-off boxes when you arrive at the store. These boxes are often near the Guest Services station or customer service desk.
Target's Event Duration
Target’s car seat trade-in program typically takes place twice a year for two weeks.
The first trade-in event takes place in the springtime, usually in April, while the second takes place in the fall, around September.
In 2022, the Target trade-in program took place from September 11th to September 24th at Target stores across the country.
To obtain your coupon, simply deliver the car seat and scan the QR code provided. If you run into any problems, an employee will likely be present.
The coupons offered as part of the program typically expire a month from the acquisition.
What Type of Car Seats Does Target Accept?
Target accepts most car seats.
Target’s trade-in program FAQs specify that the company will accept the following:
- Infant car seats
- Convertible car seats
- Car seat bases
- Car seat parts
- Harness or booster car seats
- Expired or damaged seats
2. Walmart Car Seat Trade-In Program
Walmart’s car seat trade-in program is one of the nation’s largest recycling events.
The major corporation partners with TerraCycle, a waste management company that aims to eliminate landfill waste worldwide.
Although the program only ran for two weeks in 2019, the response was so overwhelming that the company ended the event early.
Each donor received a $30 gift card for new car seats, strollers, booster seats, and assorted baby gear.
In 2019 alone, Walmart collected over one million car seats, diverting over 200 million plastic bottles from landfills.
Although pleased with the results, Walmart is not equipped to handle this volume of donations, so the company has partnered with TerraCycle to offer recurring trade-in programs throughout the year.
For more information on TerraCycle, visit the next section of this article.
Where Can I Take the Car Seat?
Most Walmart stores participate in the car seat trade-in program.
You can visit your local Walmart to inquire or call the store ahead of time. While most locations will likely participate, some may opt out for various reasons, so preparing before lugging your car seat to your local store is best.
Once you reach the store, bring your used car seat to the customer service desk.
In the past, customers have received $30 Walmart gift cards in exchange for their old car seats, strollers, and assorted baby gear.
Walmart Event Duration
The 2019 Walmart trade-in program lasted two weeks.
It was initially to take place from September 16th to September 30th, but the company halted the event on September 21st due to the unexpected volume of donations.
As a result, Walmart now works with TerraCycle to provide ongoing car seat recycling services.
What Type of Car Seats Does Walmart Accept?
Walmart accepts most brands and types of car seats, including infant car seats, booster seats, toddler car seats, convertible car seats, and more.
Walmart’s current program remains open to most varieties of seats, though costs may vary depending on the particular brand.
3. TerraCycle Car Seat Program
TerraCycle is a nationwide waste management company that aims to reduce global waste and eliminate plastic from landfills.
This company has partnered with many multinational corporations to offer recycling options for needy families.
TerraCycle partnered with Walmart in 2019 for their car seat trade-in event and has since worked with the significant conglomerate to bring easy, accessible recycling to new parents everywhere.
There are two TerraCycle car seat trade-in programs.
The first is the Century trade-in program.
To enroll, simply:
- Purchase any Century brand product
- Create a TerraCycle account
- Obtain a free pre-paid shipping label and any box you have
- Send in your recycling to earn points.
The second program is the Baby Gear Zero Waste Box.
This program allows you to order boxes of varying sizes, fill them with your baby gear, and send them back to TerraCycle to be recycled.
This program requires you to pay for the box, which can range between $116 and $217, depending on its size.
Where Can I Take the Car Seat?
If you choose to participate in TerraCycle’s trade-in program, you may simply place your baby gear in a box and mail it to TerraCycle using the instructions on the website.
Alternatively, TerraCycle partners with certain businesses and brands. You may even be able to bring your car seat to a given location, such as a school or facility.
This program is the most flexible since it operates annually and around the country.
Terracycle Event Duration
TerraCycle’s ongoing trade-in program allows you to recycle your used baby gear anytime!
That does not mean you have to drive to a given location—you can assemble your box at home and ship it to TerraCycle through any UPS store.
What Type of Seats Does TerraCycle Accept?
Accepts Century brand products. This program is free, but you cannot use it if another brand produces your car seat or baby gear.
The Baby Gear Zero Waste Box is open to all brands and car seat types. You can recycle assorted baby gear—like strollers, bassinets, diaper pails, and cribs.
You cannot send:
- Baby diapers
- Baby clothing
- Baby-related waste
- Lithium-ion batteries
- Baby toys
4. Clek Car Seat Program
Clek is a car seat company that caters to millions of families around the world.
Clek is also the only car seat company in North America that offers a trade-in recycling program.
The Clek car seat program is a partnership between Clek and the waste management company CarSeatRecycling.com.
Since the program’s launch in 2013, the company has collected millions of car seats, preventing further waste from clogging landfills.
This program allows you to recycle infant, convertible, or booster seats, and the process is relatively straightforward.
- Purchase a recycling kit from carseatrecycling.com. It will include a prepaid shipping label and your choice of 10% off purchases of $100 or more or $10 off purchases of $40 or more.
- Put the car seat into the provided bag or box and bring it to a UPS store.
- Redeem your coupon at any Clek store or online!
Where Can I Take the Car Seat?
With the Clek program, you can box your car seat and bring it to any UPS store.
This is an advantage for busy families and single parents and can help you save time in your otherwise busy schedule.
Remember to bring the box to a UPS store since other mail carriers do not participate in the program.
The Clek trade-in program is ongoing, so you can ship your car seat anytime and redeem your coupon.
Clek has not stopped accepting car seats since the company launched the program in 2013, so it should remain accessible to all interested.
What Type of Car Seats Does Clek Accept?
The Clek car seat program only accepts Clek-branded products.
The original item must be a car seat, booster, or convertible purchased from Clek since the company does not accept other brands.
Consider using another recycling program if your car seat is not from Clek.
5. Amazon Car Seat Program
Amazon does not offer a car seat trade-in program.
Although the digital marketplace facilitates many sales of car seats, strollers, and other baby gear, it does not, as of yet, offer a car seat recycling option.
However, Amazon does have an electronic device trade-in program.
If your baby is no longer interested in the iPad (doubtful—but always possible) or you are due for a new phone upgrade, you can recycle your old electronics through Amazon.
With Amazon’s trade-in program, you simply answer a few questions, send in your old device, and receive an Amazon gift card equal to the appraised value of your recycled item.
Although Amazon does not yet provide a car seat trade-in program, the company may do so in the future, so remember to check in frequently.
Old car seats pose a massive challenge to environmental preservation and global inequities.
Thankfully, you can contribute to bettering the world by using a trade-in program to recycle your used car seat.
In doing so, you are promoting the well-being of our planet and its future generations—including your child!
Use TerraCycle’s easy ship-in program or visit your nearest Target to recycle your car seat during a trade-in event.
The children of the world, thank you.