This article was originally posted on Green – A Blog about Energy and the Environment
The typical mattress is a 60-pound chunk of fiber, foam and steel springs. Roughly 8,000 of them end up in American landfills every day. That amounts to nearly 175 million pounds of wasted material a year that slowly rots away there, taking up already diminished space.
It’s a problem that some say requires a federal response, although there is no plan for now to institute mattress recycling on a nationwide scale. But some smaller efforts are inching forward.
On Tuesday, for example, the international nonprofit group Enactus announced that students from Belmont University in Nashville had won the group’s Enactus World Cup for starting up a mattress recycling enterprise. The students’ project, called Spring Back Recycling, hired homeless people and former prison inmates to dismantle mattresses so the materials could be reused.
Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association, which has pushed for the creation of a federal recycling initiative along those lines, said that such projects help call attention to the problem of discarded mattresses in the meantime.
Mr. Trainer said that only 30 or so retail recycling businesses around the country accept mattresses. They are usually far from city centers. he said, and most charge a recycling fee, which may prompt people to dump them in the street instead. Few recycling companies industries are attracted to urban areas because of the high cost of real estate and labor, he added.
Another problem, said Barrie Brown, a mattress retailer who worked with Spring Back Recycling, is the resale of old mattresses disguised as new ones or newly recycled ones. “The used mattresses are recovered with low-cost fabrics and sold as new,” he said in an e-mail. “They merely cover all of the past sins and stains with a slip cover.” That tends to stir suspicions of both mattress retailers and recyclers, he said.
So when it comes to mattresses, many cities skip the recycling option and fast-track them to landfills instead.
Seeking to prevent that from happening to their own discards, plenty of city dwellers head to Internet forums for advice. The suggestion often tends to bedonating them to the Salvation Army or listing the mattress at a Web site like Freecycle, which offers up goods for reuse.
Of course, some people are unwilling to sleep on a donated mattress because of the threat of bedbug infestation a common problem in cities including New York.
While a mattress can be difficult to dismantle, many recyclers will argue that it is the best option of all. With its dense coils of steel, layers of fiber, and occasionally, wood, it is a rich source of reusable material. “The inner spring is of the biggest value – that’s the meat that you want to get out,” said Mr. Trainer, although he acknowledged that it was hardly a fortune. (A set of springs from an average mattress can fetch up to $3.50.) The coils are melted down and sold to steel companies.
The foam and fiber are shredded and used in carpeting and insulation, and any wood can be handed over to a wood chipper. Ridding the material of dirt and bugs involves heating it to high temperatures, which can be expensive, however. And the going price for steel fluctuates..
That’s why Mr. Trainer says that smaller projects like Spring Back Recycling should be scaled up and governments and businesses should support the efforts of the few recycling companies that do accept mattresses. Industry competition could drive down prices and help people rethink their waste cycles, he said.