Sustaining

Recycling Your Mattress: Yes, You Can Do It

They aren’t glamorous. But when you consider the amount of time spent on one each night, mattresses are one of the most important pieces in our homes. It’s no surprise, then, that people periodically swap out mattresses with the goal of securing a comfortable, better night’s sleep.

But what becomes of that old mattress that (hopefully) served your needs? That’s a glaring question that has generated a significant amount of discussion and solution-seeking in recent years as landfills have continued reaching their capacity.

For decades, we’ve been told about the virtues of recycling everyday materials — from aluminum cans to junk mail — but widespread calls to give the same treatment to unwanted mattresses are newer.

Why recycling a mattress is a good idea

Consider the size of your mattress, then consider the amount of space it would occupy within a landfill. Mattresses are bulky and have a number of parts that are not biodegradable, meaning they can sit in landfills for years, decades — even beyond a century.

In the bigger picture is the general state of landfills, which have capacity limits. In some urban areas, trash is being hauled at greater distances because of landlocked space constraints, furthering the argument in favor of recycling — rather than outright tossing out — a whole mattress.

By their very nature, mattresses are made of a number of components, and many of those specific materials are recyclable. Here are some examples:

Coils and springs: The materials that give your mattress that bounce are made of metal, which, in turn, can be melted down and serve a range of other purposes.

 Fibers: The natural fibers used in mattresses — cotton being one of the largest examples — can also be extracted from an old mattress and repurposed through recycling. The fibers can be used for such products as filters and insulation.

 Foam: The soft padding, typically made of polyurethane, that keeps you nice and comfy at night can be stripped out of an unwanted mattress and shredded for other purposes, including padding for carpets and other materials.

Upholstery: The fabrics within mattresses can be extracted for mattresses and go toward a range of other items, from clothing to curtains.

Wood: Any wood pieces within mattresses can go toward a range of other uses through the recycling process.

How the process works

Because of the number of intricate materials within a mattress, the recycling process is complex. But a growing number of facilities have sprouted up and created equipment and machinery specifically designed to extract all of the valuable materials from a mattress.

Typically, mattress recyclers place the unwanted, bulky item on a conveyor belt. Through automation, specialized equipment, including saws, cut away at the mattress and remove various pieces, from top to bottom. Some of the equipment on the conveyor belt, for instance, is specifically designed to cull all metal pieces from the mattress, while others separate the fibers and foam from the base frame.

According to industry experts, upwards of 90 percent of a mattress has materials that can be recycled, though there are variations in that figure, depending on the brand and type.

How to go about recycling a mattress

Although it’s growing in popularity, mattress recycling is not as widespread as other recycling efforts, such as aluminum and paper. One of the reasons for this is the complexity involved in extracting the materials from a discarded mattress.

Residents living in urban areas typically have a number of options available, and some companies and nonprofit eco-organizations will even pick up old mattresses. One potential online starting point is Bye Bye Mattress, a recycling program primarily devoted to repurposing unwanted mattresses.

For people living in areas without ready options, there are other avenues worth considering — including donating an unwanted mattress (particularly if it’s still in very good condition) to organizations in need, such as homeless shelters.

-Dave Fidlin

Photo: Unsplash

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