How Does Mattress Recycling Work?

How Does Mattress Recycling Work?

Landfills continue to be a big problem in many urban areas, and one solution being proposed to reduce waste is mattress recycling. Beds are big and bulky, which means they take up a lot of space in landfills. The materials used in most mattresses also take a long time to breakdown, can damage landfill equipment, and some may not be biodegradable at all. When you consider that up to 30 million mattresses end up in landfills each year, this amounts to a big burden. However, up to 90% of a traditional innerspring mattress can be reused and foam mattresses can also be recycled. Keep reading to learn how mattress recycling works and how you can benefit the environment next time you dispose of an old bed.

Recycling an Old Mattress

The average mattress has a useful lifespan of about 10 years, with some holding up longer and some less. If your bed is still in decent shape (still supportive/clean), it can often be donated or sold. But, once a mattress is no longer useful and is no longer in good enough shape to sell or even donate, what do you do with it? Traditionally, the only options were to either send it off to the local dump, or have it picked up for disposal when a new one is delivered (and then sent to the landfill).

While this is still the status quo, consumers in many areas now have the option to recycle old beds, and some states may even require it soon. Several recycling centers and startups have taken on the task of keeping beds out of landfills, but it’s not an easy job. Recycling beds is time consuming, labor intensive, and not particularly profitable. However, there are several organizations taking on the challenge  in order to reduce the waste of valuable resources and provide a practical way of dealing with old beds.

One of the more prominent recycling facilities, Goodwill Industries of Duluth, Minnesota has recycled over 120,000 mattresses and foundations in less 10 years, with increasing demand. In a Bed Times article on the subject, the facility estimates that 90% of materials are recycled into new products. Some states have also implemented recycling programs at correctional facilities. For example, Washington Corrections Industries runs a mattress recycling program that processed over 100,000 beds in 2012, repurposing 98% of materials and reducing mattresses in Washington landfills by 70%. Taking a socially-conscious approach, Belmont University students launched Spring Back in 2011, a mattress recycling program now with branches in multiple cities which employs homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals.

What Can Be Recycled?

In a recycling facility, innerspring mattresses are taken apart by cutting apart the fabric cover and separating all of the layers, usually by hand. Many mattress recyclers disassemble the various components and then part them out to relevant processing facilities to recoup their labor costs. The most valuable part of a mattress is the metal springs, as the average bed can contain 25 pounds of steel which the recycler can sell to a foundry for a few dollars. Memory foam and latex foam mattresses are also capable of being recycled, but there is less profit to be made since there are no metal springs to retrieve.

Up to 90% or more of an average mattress can be recycled, including:

  • Fabric like cotton and wool can be used to create felt, insulation, matting and other materials.
  • Polyurethane and latex foam layers can be used in products like carpet padding and insulation.
  • Plastic can go to commercial plastic recycling companies to be melted down and reused.
  • Steel coils can be melted down and reused in metal products.
  • Wood frames can be chipped and repurposed as mulch or particleboard, composted or burnt for fuel.

The Future of Mattress Recycling

As populations in urban areas continue growing, so too does the amount of waste produced. Cities often have a finite amount of space for garbage, and thus have an incentive to reduce waste. This is leading to rapid growth in the recycling industry as methods improve and become more cost effective.

However, many in the bedding industry feel that federal or state-level support is necessary to make large-scale recycling feasible, since there is often little profit to be made by recyclers and since manufacturers want to keep costs low for consumers. Eventually, it is hypothesized that recycling will become more economical as the scale grows and the industry matures. There are also groups working to find new, innovative uses for the recycled materials which would help make recycling more profitable.

Though the bedding industry group International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) continues to press for a federal mattress recycling initiative, several states ahead of the curve have recently instituted laws supporting recycling of old beds. California, Connecticut and Rhode Island are among the states that require mattress manufacturers to develop recycling programs.

These three states’ programs are managed by an industry non-profit group, the Mattress Recycling Council (MRC), and funded by fees charged to retail consumers purchasing new mattresses. The programs are expected to be in operation within a couple of years, and will likely provide a template for future state and national-level programs.

How to Recycle Your Mattress

There are several ways you can prevent your old bed from taking up space in a landfill at little or no cost to you.

1) Take it to a recycling facility.

Visit Earth911.org, ISPA, or the MattressRecyclingCouncil.org websites for an up-to-date listing of mattress recyclers in your area. Most recyclers will charge a small processing fee to take in old beds, but it is usually only $5-$20. Some facilities may even come pick up your mattress as well.

According to the above directories, the following states currently have at least one facility that recycles mattresses: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio,  Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

2) Check with retailers and municipalities.

If you cannot locate a nearby recycling facility, contact your city’s waste management services for referrals and disposal options. While some recyclers will not accept mattresses from the public, your city may partner with these facilities and have drop-off locations or programs you can partake in. A growing number of retailers are also partnering with recyclers, so it may be worthwhile asking.

3) Put materials to use around the house.

If you don’t have commercial recycling options nearby, you could also repurpose the materials at home by breaking down the mattress yourself. You may then be able to take the various materials to the right recycling places; for example the springs can go to a metal recycler (foundry) and may even earn you a few bucks. You could also put the materials to innovative use around the house. The cloth and foam materials could be used for drop cloths, cozy pet beds, or revamping cushions, for example, while spring coils could be used to trellis garden plants.

4) Give it away to someone who will recycle/reuse it.

There are many people who scan websites like Craigslist.org and Freecycle.org looking for free household items to either repurpose or reuse. It is free to place an ad on both of these websites, and if your local area does not have a recycling center and you have no use for the materials, “freecycling” is another eco-friendly option. If your mattress is still in sleep-able, sanitary condition, you could also donate it to a local furniture bank, Salvation Army, Goodwill, or shelters.

Next time you replace your mattress, remember to recycle or reuse. Beds take up enormous amounts of space in landfills, taking decades to break down and often leaching chemicals in the process. Rather than adding to the problem, seek out local recycling options and support programs in your state. Mattress recycling typically only costs a few dollars, and you’ll sleep well on your new bed knowing your old one went to good use.

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