Old mattresses create a landfill nightmare
That's why California is mulling a recycling tax and why organizations such as Hilton and the US Navy are looking for cost-efficient ways to deal with them.
By Bruce Kennedy Apr 1, 2013 9:50AM
Would you be willing to pay an extra $25 or so to make sure the mattress you just bought doesn't eventually clog up some landfill site?
Lawmakers in California are considering a measure that would add a recycling fee to each new mattress sold in the state. The idea "is to require the industry to reclaim the springs, wood and fiber from millions of old mattresses that plug landfills and clutter Southern California streets every year," according to the Los Angeles Times
So far, the industry isn't fond of the proposal, saying recycling should be an issue for manufacturers and not the government. But some signs indicate the idea of recycling mattresses is catching on as organizations look for ways to cut costs and solid waste.
Mattresses are a growth industry. The International Sleep Products Association's "Bedding Barometer" reports wholesale mattress sales in the U.S. were up 11.7% last year, compared to 2011, while year-to-date unit shipments increased by 7.6%.
IBISWorld says the mattress industry had $7 billion in revenues last year, thanks in part to increased demand. And according to that report, "the mattress production process has become leaner and quicker, which will improve profit margins and make U.S.-made mattresses more attractive to foreign buyers due to their speedy delivery times."
And a good mattress isn't cheap, costing anywhere from several hundred dollars up into the tens of thousands. Or you could really splurge and buy the $175,000 mattress recently offered by a British company.
Industry giant Sealy (ZZ) says the average lifespan of a "quality" mattress is eight to 10 years -- but with millions sold each year, the issue of what to do with an old and uncomfortable mattress is an issue.
"Old mattresses also are nightmares for landfill operators," the L.A. Times notes, citing John Bell, director of green business solutions for nonprofit recycler Hope Services Monterey. "Each piece takes up 23 cubic feet, doesn't decompose, and 'floats to the top' of dumps because of its flexible construction." And old mattresses that are improperly discarded can become refuges for bedbugs and other vermin, creating public health problems.
While some nonprofit groups will take an old mattress off your hands and recycle its wood, foam and metal, other companies are making a go at commercial mattress recycling.
One such company, Nine Lives Mattress Recycling in South Carolina, charges $5 for each mattress and box spring it recycles. According to the company's website, in 2011 it recycled 17,000 units, saving around $1.4 million worth of landfill space (based on a landfill price of $10 per cubic yard).
Last year, one of the nation's largest consumers of mattresses, the U.S. Navy, began a pilot program with Nine Livesto recycle 13,000 mattress -- or, as GreenBiz.com reports, the equivalent of 100,000 cubic feet of space. And the program reportedly saves the Navy about $12,000 compared to simply trashing the mattresses.
Some corporations are also getting into the act. Last year Hilton Worldwide, owned by the Blackstone Group (BX -0.54%), announced its own mattress recycling program -- which would break down about 85% of the mattresses and box springs the hotel chain discards.
"Our hotels have purchased more than 50,000 mattresses in the past two years in the U.S. alone," Hilton Worldwide Vice President Randy Gaines said at the time. "This program presents a great opportunity for our hotels globally, offers a cost savings to owners and underscores Hilton Worldwide’s commitment to further reduce our waste output."