Why and How to Recycle Your Mattress
Mattress recycling has become more prevalent in recent years, as we aim to reduce environmental impact and develop new ways to put old goods to use.
In some states, laws have even been enacted to help ensure mattresses end up in the right place after people are done with them. These large and heavy pieces of furniture might seem to have exhausted any and all usefulness after a few years, but rest assured — there is still life in that old bed.
Nearly 20 million mattresses and box springs end up in American landfills every year according to Bed Times article. If you lined them all up end to end, the line would nearly circle the Earth at the equator. To put it in another way, the International Sleep Products Association estimates that 50,000 mattresses hit landfills every single day in America, occupying around 23 cubic feet each!
Considering this represents only one country’s waste for one year, that’s quite a bit of garbage. The materials most mattresses are made of can take centuries to break down once buried there, too. Read on to see why mattress recycling is an important issue for the average person, and learn what you can do to help the planet next time you replace a mattress.
What Happens to Mattresses in a Landfill?
Mattresses are made of many different materials, both organic and inorganic. When they are buried in the ground, the materials slowly break down. Unlike in compost, which mimics natural processes to break down organic material, trash in landfills breaks down in reactions independent from air, which creates some problems.
They Stick Around for Many Years
Some materials will break down sooner than others, but the process can take quite a long time . Natural textiles like cotton and wool, wood and natural latex may decompose in couple years, while synthetic fabrics, foams, metals and plastics can hang around for decades, even centuries.
While many other waste products also spend a long time in landfills, the issue with mattresses is they take up a very large amount space all on their own. If 20,000,000 mattresses reach landfills every year and each one takes up 23 square feet, that’s nearly one-half billion square feet of landfill space each year – a figure that’s simply not sustainable given the finite amount of space we have.
They Can Contribute to Ground Pollution
As these materials degrade, the chemicals they are made from are absorbed by the local environment. In a mattress, this can include bleaches, dyes and fungicides in fabrics, flame retardants, petrochemicals in foams, and large variety of other substances. Though modern landfills are designed to limit the contamination of groundwater, it does occur. Older landfills have no protection for underlying groundwater sources.
Often, mattresses are made from materials that can be toxic to plants and animals, including humans. When these chemicals enter the groundwater and surrounding ecosystems they can cause harm to the organisms they interact with. The effects are numerous and can be devastating, and many of the materials really haven’t been studied much at all.
They Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions
As a result of chemical and anaerobic microbial interactions, mattresses and other pieces of garbage in landfills give off methane and carbon dioxide. These gasses are some of the most harmful contributors to the greenhouse effect on planet Earth. Greenhouse gases created by humans have been proven to be the biggest driver of climate change.
While these are troubling facts, there is no need to throw in the tool in the fight for the Earth. Take a look at some ways you can help keep your mattress from ending up in the landfill.
Recycle Your Mattress; Don’t Send it to the Grave
Landfills are considered the grave in the “cradle to grave” life cycle assessment of products. The “cradle” refers to the sources of the materials the product is comprised of and the beginning of its production. Landfills are holes in the ground, like graves, but they share more similarities than simply a visual resemblance.
The landfill is the end of the line for products that are put there. By recycling your mattress, you can give new life to materials that otherwise would be buried away, sometimes contaminating the environment.
You can find places to have your mattress recycled at Earth911.org or by calling 1-800-GOT-JUNK. The number of places with the ability to recycle mattresses continues growing every year, including both public and government facilities and private recycling operations. Some organizations will pick up your mattress, but you may have to take it to a designated location. Another thing to look into are local mattress recycling days or pick up points in your community.
What do We Recycle Mattresses Into?
Mattresses come in many different types and are made from a number of different materials including foam, wood, latex, cotton, wool and metal. Often, mattresses are made of a combination of these materials, which will need to broken down and separated. Though these materials are very different in nature, there are a variety of potential uses and up to 90% of the average mattress can be recycled.
Here is what can be done with some of the parts from recycled mattresses:
- Foams and plastics are washed, shredded, processed and often recycled for applications like carpet padding.
- Cotton flock and wool can be cleaned, processed and used as yarn or recycled textiles.
- Lower-grade fabrics are often processed and sold for use in vehicle matting and interiors.
- Metals from frames and springs are melted and used in a number of alternative products.
- Wood can be chipped and used as mulch or burned as fuel
The pieces of your mattress can go on serving a purpose for humanity if you recycle, instead of creating a costly burden for future generations. And who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be riding down the street in your car, resting comfortably atop your childhood mattress, reborn. Comforting, isn’t it?
Other Eco-Friendly Ways to Get Rid of Your Mattress
Recycling isn’t the only way you can get more use from your old mattress. If recycling isn’t an option for you, consider doing one of these methods, which are all still far better than the landfill:
Sell your mattress
Think your mattress still has some miles left in it? Have a garage sale or use a classified site like Craigslist or BackPage to advertise your mattress. People are always looking for furniture in decent condition. You can make a little money and help the planet a little by reselling your mattress if it’s still sanitary.
Donate your mattress
The Salvation Army accepts donated mattresses and may even pick them up, depending on your location. Freecycle is a website like Craigslist, but all the items are given away by the owners. You may find someone in need of a bed who is willing to pick it up. This is a great way to give back and repurpose a mattress that’s still in usable shape.
Upcycle your mattress
Upcycling refers to the reuse of a product that creates a product of higher quality or better environmental value. You can upcycle your mattress in a number of ways. Take a look at some Pinterest mattress upcycling projects. People have turned their old mattresses into functional works of art, such as:
- Unique wine racks
- Crafty fences and gates
- Sturdy plant trellises
- One-of-a-kind lawn furniture
- Pet beds
The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Take the blank canvass of a used mattress and see what you can create.
Mind Over Mattress
It can be easy to forget about things when it is time to get rid of them. Many people don’t give old objects a second thought once they throw them away. But, as our world seemingly gets smaller, we are realizing there is no “away.” One person’s “away” is another person or creature’s home.
We are all in this together and have a responsibility to do the right thing for our neighbors, both present and future. Your bed required resources, energy and time to create. Keep the cycle going and reuse or recycle your old bed the next time you buy a new mattress.