Landfills are overflowing with waste, yet thousands of mattresses are taken to landfills every day. As a large consumer product, a typical mattress weighs in at 60 pounds and takes up 40 cubic feet of space. They pose a serious problem for the future waste disposal.
Mattresses are challenging to deal with because of the materials they’re made of and their size. Disposing of them often costs landfills more than most products because they clog machinery and are difficult to transport. Nearly 80 to 90 percent of the average mattress is made of reusable materials, so there’s no need to fill landfills as fast as we do.
Reuse of old mattresses helps preserve resources and keeps carbon footprints smaller. Reusable components include:
- Steel: Innerspring mattresses can have as much as 25 pounds of recyclable steel. Steel can be melted down to make new items and materials.
- Foam: Polyurethane, memory, and latex foam can be shredded and reused to make carpet padding, car seats, pet bedding, and other types of padding that require high-density foams.
- Natural and Synthetic Fibers: Fibers found in the mattress cover can be removed, washed, and shredded. Some natural fibers can be used to make threads while many synthetic fibers can be melted down to make new textiles.
- Wood: Most mattresses do not contain wood, but many are accompanied by box springs that do. Wood is easy to recycle. It can be put into a chipper to be used in gardening or lawn mulch.
- Extras: Nails, screws, buttons, or braiding can all be removed and reused around the house for building or craft projects.
Deconstructing a mattress is the hardest part of the recycling process. It takes time, manpower, and the right storage facilities to take apart a large number of mattresses effectively. With increased demand and the growing evidence of the need for more recycling, communities, companies, and recycling facilities can come together for a more sustainable and economically sound answer to the problem of mattress disposal.
If you’re not up to recycling your mattress and there isn’t a recycling facility near you, you can always donate to a national or local charity. Second-hand stores, homeless shelters, and women’s/family shelters will often take mattress donations as well.
All donations should be free of bugs, tears, and stains. In areas where bed bug infestations are common, mattresses are often turned away for health reasons. If you want to donate, call ahead to make sure mattress donations are accepted.
Disposing of a mattress is only one part of the waste reduction equation. Your purchasing power also has an impact on the future of mattresses in landfills.
Natural latex mattresses are the only models that can be 95 percent organic and biodegradable. Natural latex is made from the sap of the rubber tree. The sap then goes through one of two manufacturing processes to create mattresses that are both comfortable and durable. Natural latex mattresses can contain anywhere from 40-95 percent natural latex. The downside of natural latex is the price. These can be some of the most expensive mattresses on the market.
If a natural latex mattress is out of your budget, consider a less expensive model that still has natural and organic components by looking for:
- Plant-based foams
- Organic cotton and wool mattress covers
- Fire socks made of cotton, wool, thistle or Kevlar
You can also keep an eye out for national and international certifications that indicate both the safety of the materials used to make the mattress and the sustainability of the manufacturing process.
About the author
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.