What's the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of old mattresses?

The mattresses we discard every year take up 5 percent of our landfills. See more green living pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/Marco Rosario Venturini Autieri

During the excitement of having your new mattress delivered, you might not care what happens to that old, back-pain-inducing one once it's hauled away. Given that 20 million of them end up in landfills each year, and they take up 5 percent and account for 250 million pounds of weight in landfills, maybe you should [source: Champion, Hasek]. Not only that, they also create a dangerous environment for workers in landfills, because their bulky shapes can create flammable air pockets and damage equipment [source: St. Vincent de Paul]. It's easy to see it's best to keep mattresses out of landfills. But how do you do that?

Actually it's surprisingly hard to donate a mattress. Once you realize that a mattress can double its weight in just 10 years due to the collection of body sweat, dead skin, dust mites and other a debris, it's easy to understand why [source: Jio]. While you can give your mattress away to a friend, it's often difficult to find a charity to accept it even after it's been professionally cleaned. And if you've ever attempted to recycle a mattress, you know that is difficult, as well. Most recycling centers won't accept mattresses, because they lack the technology to disassemble them.

So what is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of your old mattress? Although it's a bit difficult to do, recycling is the best option since at least 85 percent of a mattress can be recycled [source: St. Vincent de Paul]. We'll learn more about the components of a mattress that can be recycled on the next page.

Parts of a Mattress That Can Be Recycled

Mattresses are made up of materials that are very easy and lucrative to recycle.
Mattresses are made up of materials that are very easy and lucrative to recycle.
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Mattress designs have been perfected over the years, but they all contain several main components. Although the intricate assembly of a mattress makes it more difficult to recycle, once disassembled, mattresses are made up of materials that are very easy and lucrative to recycle.

Steel springs, a wood frame, stuffing and fabric with buttons -- all of these things can be recycled or reused. Steel in particular is a great material for recycling. The cost of recycling steel has decreased so much you could actually make money from melting down the steel springs and selling the resulting steel supply. Mattresses have anywhere from 300 to 600 steel coils depending on the size of mattress you have [source: Better Homes and Gardens]. The higher quality the mattress, the more coils it will have. If you own a high-quality king-size mattress, it would be a shame not to recycle it.

Additionally, the stuffing of a mattress, which is made up of cotton and foam, can be recycled or reused for stuffing pillows, reupholstering furniture, or even recycled and used in carpet padding. The wood frame can either be shredded and used as lawn mulch or disassembled and used for firewood or in carpentry word. Even the fabric and buttons can be reused, as long as the fabric has been cleaned. E­­­ven specialty mattresses like the Tempurpedic and memory foam can be recycled because they're made up of the same basic materials.

Box springs can also be recycled at recycling facilities where these bulky items are accepted. They are fed into a special machine where a specifically designed saw rips away the soft materials on the top and bottom, separating the mattress and box springs into its components. The springs are pulled away with magnets and the foam and cotton stuffing are grouped together and shredded for another use. With the right technology, a mattress can be recycled in just four minutes [source: The Christian Science Monitor]. We'll discuss the different options you have for recycling your old mattress on the next page.

Where/How to Recycle Your Mattress

Although recycling mattresses is a necessary and worthwhile task, it is not the easiest one to accomplish. While sustainability and green thinking have spread like wildfire, and recycling centers have popped up across the globe, there is still a shortage of centers that can recycle mattresses. Most recycling centers do not have the technology to recycle mattresses. Those that do generally charge a fee to accept your mattress and the majority of mattress recycling centers only deal with corporations, and don't allow the general public to donate their mattresses for recycling because the cost of receiving them one at a time is too high.

So what is a tree hugger with an extra mattress to do? First, search the Internet to see if there is a recycling center in your area that will allow you to drop off your mattress. Resources like Earth911.com and the International Sleep Products Associate can help you locate one in your area. Just make sure you call them to ensure they accept mattresses from the general public.

If a mattress recycling center in your area is not an option, there's always do-it-yourself recycling. If you're crafty, a carpenter, or know someone who is, you could disassemble a mattress and reuse the materials on your own. If you're looking for some extra cash, you might even try to sell the steel coils from your mattress to a junk yard or as scrap metal. You could also donate the stuffing and foam to a school's home economics class for a project. Additionally, check for second hand shops in your area that might buy old mattresses.

Finally, if you want to recycle your mattress with the least amount of effort, ask the retailer selling you your new mattress if they have a recycling program. They may already have a relationship with a mattress recycling center that disposes all of the old mattresses they haul away. Since everyone seems to be jumping on the green bandwagon, it's very likely that a retailer near you already has an established recycling program. Just call around and find out the details before your purchase your new mattress.

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Sources

  • "A List Of Five Supply Source Models For Mattress Recycling." Recycle Advice. April 23, 2011. (May 3, 2011)http://www.recycle-advice.info/a-list-of-five-supply-source-models-for-mattress-recycling/
  • "Buying a Bed Frame, Mattress, and Box Springs." Better Homes and Gardens. (May 1, 2011)http://www.bhg.com/rooms/bedroom/themes/buying-a-bed-frame-mattress-and-box-springs/?page=3
  • Champion, Sam. "Just One Thing." Nov. 6, 2009. (April 29, 2011)http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/JustOneThing/story?id=2953958
  • "Donate a Mattress." Donation Town. (May 1, 2011)http://www.donationtown.org/news/donate-a-mattress.html
  • "Earth Talk: Can you recycle your old mattress." The Christian Science Monitor. July 8, 2009. (May 1, 2011)http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Living-Green/2009/0708/earth-talk-can-you-recycle-your-old-mattress
  • "Find Recycling Centers." Earth911.com. (April 24, 2011)http://earth911.com/
  • Hasek, Glenn. "Biggest Barrier to Mattress Recycling: Not Knowing It Can Be Done." Green Lodging News. April 7, 2011. (May 1, 2011)http://www.greenlodgingnews.com/biggest-barrier-mattress-recycling--not-knowing-it
  • Jio, Sarah. "Fact or Fiction: Mattresses Doubling in Weight From Dust Mites." June 5, 2009. (April 29, 2011)http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/blogs/vitamin-g/2009/06/fact-or-fiction-mattresses-dou.html
  • "Mattresses." Earth911.com. (April 24, 2011)http://earth911.com/recycling/household/mattresses/facts-about-mattresses/
  • "Mattress Recycling." St. Vincent de Paul. (April 24, 2011)http://www.svdp.us/what-we-do/recycling-and-manufacturing/mattress-recycling/
  • "Recycling Facilities." International Sleep Products Association. (May 1, 2011)http://www.sleepproducts.org/Sustainability/RecyclingFacilities.php