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How Old Mattresses Can Be Recycled

What to do if your mattress company does not take your old mattress with them when you buy a new one



Mark Nockleby, courtesy Flickr

Dear EarthTalk: How can I recycle my old mattress if the place I buy a new one from doesn’t take it? What do mattress companies do with old mattresses when they do take them? Do they recycle any of the material?
-- J. Belli, Bridgeport, CT

A typical mattress is a 23 cubic foot assembly of steel, wood, cotton and polyurethane foam. Given this wide range of materials, mattresses have typically been difficult to recycle—and still most municipal recycling facilities won’t offer to do it for you. But along with increasing public concerns about the environment—and a greater desire to recycle everything we can—has come a handful of private companies and nonprofit groups that want to make sure your old bed doesn’t end up in a landfill.

The Lane County, Oregon chapter of the charity St. Vincent de Paul Society, for example, has spearheaded one of the nation’s most successful mattress recycling initiatives via its DR3 (“Divert, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”) program. “Keeping [mattresses] out of landfills is a matter of efficiently recycling them so their core materials can be reincarnated into any number of new products,” reports the group, which opened a large mattress recycling center in Oakland, California in 2001. (Why hundreds of miles away in Oakland? To “go where the mattresses are,” says Chance Fitzpatrick of the group.) The facility has been processing upwards of 300 mattresses and box springs per week ever since.

During the recycling process, each mattress or box spring is pushed onto a conveyor belt, where specially designed saws cut away soft materials on the top and bottom, separating the polyurethane foam and cotton fiber from the framework. The metal pieces are magnetically removed, and the remaining fiber materials are then shredded and baled. The whole process takes one worker just three to four minutes per mattress.

On a slow day, the DR3 facility recycles some 1,500 pounds of polyurethane foam, which totals a half million or more pounds over the course of a year. “A well-oiled recycling factory can reuse 90 percent of the mattress,” reports Josh Peterson of Discovery’s Planet Green website. “The cotton and cloth get turned into clothes. The springs and the foam get recycled, and the wood gets turned into chips.”

While the DR3 facility only takes mattresses from a small group of waste haulers and individuals around the San Francisco Bay Area, other mattress recyclers are popping up around the U.S. and beyond. Some examples include Nine Lives Mattress Recycling in Pamplico, South Carolina; Conigliaro Industries in Framingham, Massachusetts; MattCanada in Montreal, Québec; and Dreamsafe in Moorabbin, Australia. To find a mattress recycler near you, consult the free online database at Earth911.org.

Those who aren’t near a recycling facility might consider giving their old mattress away. But many health departments prohibit donating mattresses to charities like the Salvation Army or Goodwill. So what’s an upgraded sleeper with a perfectly good old mattress to do? The web-based Freecycle Network allows people to post stuff to give away to anyone willing to come pick it up; likewise, chances are your local version of Craigslist also has a “free” section where you can post that it as available.

CONTACTS: DR3 Mattress Recycling, www.svdp.us/dr3-mattress-recycling.php5; Nine Lives Mattress Recycling, www.geocities.com/ninelives29577; Conigliaro Industries, www.conigliaro.com; MattCanada, www.mattcanada.com; Dreamsafe, www.dreamsafe.com.au; Freecycle Network, www.freecycle.org.

EarthTalk is produced by E/The Environmental Magazine. SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php. EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.

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