Earth Talk: Can you recycle your old mattress?

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    A California fire station serves as a collection point for old mattresses. Mattress recycling is a growing industry.
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Q: 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, Conn.

A: 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 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 possible – have 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, Ore., chapter of the charity St. Vincent de Paul Society, for example, has spearheaded one of the nation’s most successful mattress recycling initiatives. “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, Calif., 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 more than 300 mattresses and box springs per week ever since.

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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.

While this facility takes mattresses only from a small group of waste haulers and individuals, other mattress recyclers are popping up. Some examples include Nine Lives Mattress Recycling in Pamplico, S.C.; Conigliaro Industries in Framingham, Mass.; MattCanada in Montreal; 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 if it’s still in good condition. But many health departments prohibit donating mattresses to charities like the Salvation Army or Goodwill. However, the Freecycle Network (www.freecycle.org) allows people to post items to give away to anyone willing to come pick them up. And your local version of Craigslist probably also has a “free” section where you can post that your usable old mattress is available.

Questions about living green? Send to: EarthTalk, c/o E - The Environmental Magazine, Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; or earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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