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PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: MARA STINE - Tammy Franks, child passenger safety coordinator for Randall Childrens Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in North Portland, removes harder-to-recycle components, such as harnesses, straps, hard foam and metal, before the hard plastic shell that remains can be recycled. Child car safety seats are a blessing and a curse.

They save lives, but the bulky contraptions require an advanced degree to correctly install. And they’re quickly outgrown, requiring a larger replacement and then a booster seat.

If the castoffs are new enough, they’re passed down to younger children. But many collect dust in basements or attics — or end up in a landfill.

That’s where Tammy Franks comes in. As the child passenger safety coordinator for Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in North Portland, she is a bit of an expert on these car seats — including how to recycle them.

Since 2007, when Franks helped create the hospital’s child safety seat recycling program, she and her team of three part-time educators have recycled an estimated 11,000 to 12,000 seats.

“I joke that I’m going to build a deck someday out of all the car seats I’ve recycled,” Franks says.

Before the hospital began recycling car seats, she was throwing out old and damaged seats, like those in a crash of any kind, or seats bought at a garage sale with an unknown history. The aim was to get them out of circulation, making room for newer seats with better, safer features.

But tossing them into a dumpster just felt wrong. “I’m a total tree-hugger recycler,” she says. “I was recycling before recycling was cool.”

The Legacy system, which now totals seven hospitals, already was on the forefront of recycling, with its own recycling center at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Northwest Portland. Franks suggested hospital officials add child safety seats to the long list of items already recycled. They agreed, launching a program that netted 200 child safety seats in two hours at an inaugural event. The program was the second of its kind in the nation. Colorado established the first one in 2002.

Recycling child safety seats is a complicated endeavor. The seats are made of several materials strongly bonded together to withstand significant impact. Those parts need to be separated, and most of them — nylon harnesses, fabric treated with flame retardant, hard foam and polystyrene plastic — are not easily recycled.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: MARA STINE - Car seats must be stripped down to the shell, such as these, in order to be recycled in the Portland metro area. But the large single-resin plastic shells are fairly easy to recycle and made into outdoor furniture, plastic lumber, other children's products or butter tubs, according to the Colorado Children's Automobile Safety Foundation.

Child car safety seats are one of the few consumer products whose use is mandated nationwide by state laws.

An estimated 10 million child safety seats are sold in the United States every year, and most babies use two or three during the course of their childhoods.

Because materials degrade over time due to ultraviolet light and temperature extremes in enclosed cars, the industry standard for a child safety seat’s shelf-life averages around six years. This expiration date is typically found in the owner’s manual or on the plastic of the car seat’s shell, either on a sticker or stamped in the plastic.

As of 2014, however, manufacturers began to extend expiration dates as long as 10 years. Even so, child safety seats “are finding their way into landfills and incinerators by the million,” according to an April 2015 report commissioned by Zero Waste Washington.

“The need is out there,” Franks says of more car seat recycling programs. She credits the success of Legacy’s program with it being launched within a health care system in Portland, which is renowned for its environmental awareness.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” she said. “The stars kind of aligned for that.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: MARA STINE - An estimated 10 million child safety seats such as this one are purchased every year in the United States, many of which end up in landfills when outgrown or expiredWhere to recycle a car seat

• Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, 2801 N. Gantenbein Ave. in Portland, accepts child safety seats at the main admitting desk between 5 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. daily.

• Car seats also are being collected for recycling at the hospital’s Community Wellness Fair, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6. That event also will offer child passenger safety seat checks, $6 bike or multisport helmets in all sizes, summer exercise and healthy food tips, info on senior citizen health and wellness, plus ambulance, fire truck and helicopter tours, entertainment and more.

• Fix Auto locations in Beaverton, Northwest and inner east Portland and The Dalles

• Far West Recycling’s six Portland metro-area locations

Local car seat recyclers require removal of fabric, foam and harness straps, and only accept the stripped down hard-plastic shell.

— Mara Stine

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