Reality Check: Get Beds Out of the Landfills

Quick — which household items do you frequently recycle? Cans and bottles? Paper and plastics? What about your bed? When it’s time to buy a new bed, did you know you can now recycle your mattress?

Discarded beds are clogging up our nation’s landfills. Did you know that U.S. citizens get rid of nearly 18 million mattresses every year? That’s according to the bed and mattress industry group known as the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA). According to one eco-news site, one mattress takes up nearly 30 cubic feet in a landfill, and is far less able to be compacted than regular household trash because beds are designed to withstand compression. Mattresses that are thrown out irresponsibility can also become a breeding ground for bugs, vermin and germs that can cause problems to people’s health.

And there’s another problem of recycling mattresses — they are made from several different materials. You just should not throw a mattress into a recycling bin somewhere. There are metal coils, cloth upholstery, wood and other materials. About 90 percent of an average bed can be recycled, writes Earth911. It’s up to the bed owner to strip away the parts for separate recycling efforts, though. Some recyclers may pay you at the recycling center for items like steel coils, too.

Big Mattress industry

With a lifespan of about 8-10 years, beds aren’t purchased that frequently. Consumers don’t look to find a mattress every year or so. Unless you have a large family to get beds for, you’re looking at a long-term investment. But mattress sales overall are a growing business, with sales up around 12 percent in 2012, according to ISPA figures from its Bedding Barometer.

To deal with the growth in mattress in landfills, US lawmakers are passing laws and setting up mattress recycling plans. California, Connecticut and Rhode Island have all passed recent state mattress recycling laws. Though these laws vary somewhat, they are headed in the right direction. California’s law aims to lower impact of illegal dumping of mattresses, use current infrastructure to bring used mattresses to recyclers, and lower costs to consumers and recyclers and landfill operators.

There are even entrepreneurs like Wisconsin’s Bob Mudler, who has started a company called Midwest Mattress Recovery to take apart discarded beds and use their wood, metal, foam and other materials to sell into global markets. His aim is to take apart some 50,000 to 70,000 beds a year. While a noble cause, that’s only a small chunk of the 40 million mattresses are discarded every year in the United States.

Recycling your own bed

Unless you sleep on a new gel-infused mattress, in most circumstances mattresses and box springs are made of these components: wood, steel, foam and cotton. And guess what? Each of these components are recyclable.

Your bed’s wood has many uses — it can be used for firewood or mulch or can be made into another wood piece. Steel can be melted down or recast. Foam and cotton have additional uses as well, like providing cushion under carpets, insulation or other applications.

Mattresses are recycled in a fascinating 4-minute process that cuts away parts of the beds and eliminates the rest. According to Scientific American, a mattress or box spring is put on a conveyer belt, where special saws cut away the the soft materials. Metal items are removed magnetically. The rest of the materials are shredded and put into a bale.

But before you recycle your bed, there are some ways you can discard your bed legally. Especially if you don’t live in the states mentioned above. National Geographic Green Living section offers up these tips:

Sell or donate your bed? There are organizations that will take your bed. Possibly look to donate beds before recycling them. Charities and similar organizations for homeless often look to donated beds. Some will require the bed to be in gently used or good condition. Bed frames can be sold or given to thrift shops. Perhaps try looking into local salvage outfits or donating or selling metal or wooden frames to a used furniture store.

Check back with retailer: Will the store you bought the bed from take it back? Does it have its own recycling program or charity donation program? Find this out from your local retailer. Some stores may charge you a take-back fee, but others may do this for free with purchase.

Take it apart: You can recycle a bed on your own. First, take the bed mattress and box spring off the frame and dismantle the bed frame into separate parts. Contact your local recycling center and find out where the best place is to bring the separate bed pieces. Some cities have a bulk pickup day on residential streets once a quarter, others do not. Look for your local solid waste authority to get more information to dispose your bed and mattress parts.

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