Ever what happens when you put your discarded mattress on the curb? Does it go to mattress heaven? Given their size and construction, mattresses pose a problem for waste haulers and garbage dumps. They take up lots of space in landfills and so many municipalities are looking for solutions to reclaim as much of your used mattress material as possible.
Recently I visited Second Chance Recycling, a local non-profit that takes discarded mattresses and disassembles them to recycle or reclaim some of the components. There are so many good things about this operation. For starters they hire people that are facing employment barriers due to a number of factors. Working at Second Chance gives them the opportunity to develop a work history and use that on their resume to eventually transition to another job or career.
On average, Second Chance processes around 300 mattresses a day. Most of them come from Minneapolis which contracts with them to bring in all discarded mattresses left at resident’s curb. This may seem like a small number for a city like Minneapolis but it’s important to note that large retails such as Mattress Firm usually offer to take away your old mattress when you buy a new one from them and they have their own systems in place for disposal of old mattresses.
I expect more people to utilize Second Chance and others like them across the country due to the online mattress boom. Currently, most of the online brands do not have a process in place to take away your old mattress and if they do, you are usually charged a fee. According the the operations manager of Second Chance, they are seeing year over year uptick from 2015-2016 in mattress coming through their facility. 2017 is expected to be even busier that 2016.
So, what happens to your old mattress once they pick it up from the curb? It’s hauled away in a truck and brought here:
Mattresses arrive in a dumpster like the one above and then are inspected for bed bugs. Any bed bug mattresses are rejected and taken elsewhere to be destroyed.
Once inside the facility they are sorted. Mattresses that are wet from rain or snow are left in a separate room to dry:
Once they are received and sorted, the next step is to take off any fabric which batting. Some of the wool batting can potentially be reused as a weed barrier.
Once the material has been removed from the mattresses, it is sorted into different components. Below is a picture of a bale of batting that can be reused.
The steel from inner spring mattresses and old box spring units are stripped away and baled. This machine rips the steel away from old box springs. New box spring units no longer have springs, they are basically just slats systems with a cover over them.
The springs are then baled in a baler like this:
As you can see from the picture below, there are even “new” mattresses that wind up here. The mattress on the top of this pile may have been returned under a free trial period and only used for a month or so.
More and more mattresses are incorporating foam into their construction. The main reason is that foam is still the best pressure relieving material, in my opinion. But again, this creates an environmental dilemma. Quite of a bit of the foam that is stripped from these mattresses is taken to other factories where it is cleaned and turned into foam padding for carpeting.
Here’s a picture of the bales of foam ready to go to another facility out of state to be turned into carpet padding.
As you can see, this all adds up in a big way. This is really just a portion of a larger metro area in the United States. If more municipalities required recycling as opposed to dumping, there would be a much larger benefit. Here are some eye opening numbers from the Second Chance website.
- Reduces greenhouse gasses. 10,000 mattresses equates to approximately 125 tons of steel, 20 tons of wood and 15 tons of foam.
Recycling this material saves 239 tons of CO2, the equivalent of planting 373 trees or taking 40 cars off the road for a year.
- Reduces taxes and fees for waste disposal.
- Offers higher financial incentive as an alternative to landfills.
- Helps preserve heavy equipment used in landfill operations as the springs from mattresses are hard on this equipment.
When you are ready to get rid of your old mattress, check with your garbage hauler to see what they will do with it. A growing number of cities across the country have facilities that can recycle it.
According to the website, Bye Bye Mattress, more than 50,000 mattresses wind up in landfills every year. They have a great mattress recycling directory to help you locate a facility near you.