Revised July 21, 2018
Most people don’t buy mattresses very often. When they do, the same crew that brings the new one hauls the old one off.
I suppose most people don’t think much about it.
Hotels must also replace mattresses from time to time. Now that many mattress stores allow customers to try out mattresses before paying for them, they can’t simply put the returns in stock and resell them. So they must dispose of plenty of nearly new mattresses. All told, America discards more than four million mattresses (and another four million box springs) every year.
The old mattresses probably go to the landfill. They take up a lot of room there and damage the landfill’s equipment in the process.
Mattresses are large waste. The landfill must compact them before ultimately burying them. In the process, their springs frequently get tangled in the compacting equipment. They’re a very inconvenient burden for landfill operators.
Space in landfills a diminishing and non-renewable resource. So some creative people have experimented with a couple of different answers to what happens to old mattresses.
An article in the local paper about a local company called Mattress Go Round caught my attention for my original post. It has long since gone out of business. It refurbished and restored discarded mattresses.
And it hired “discarded people” to do the work. That is, people with a history of drug, alcohol, or other problems that most employers won’t take a chance on got jobs refurbishing mattresses.
I was hoping to find that other companies elsewhere are doing the same kind of work. What I found is not encouraging.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as careful six years ago as I am now to keep track of my sources. But here’s what I wrote before, most likely based on the local newspaper article.
Companies that refurbish old mattresses sanitize them to kill dust mites, bed bugs, and any other creature that has taken up residence. They dismantle each mattress to separate all of its components.
They reuse what they can and recycle the rest. They do not reuse any cotton or other fiber. When they’re finished with a mattress, its fiber is all new. They have reused the springs, fixing them as necessary.
Mattress refurbishing revisited
It appears that most mattress refurbishers do not follow what I described above. According to TV news exposés from 2008 and 2018, refurbished mattresses offered for sale did not have all new fiber. Some were filthy inside. Some even had bedbugs.
Mattress refurbishing seems like a good idea. And I especially appreciate Mattress Go Round’s practice of hiring “discarded people” to give them a chance to turn their lives around. Not everyone who needs a new mattress can afford one. Some people have a choice only of getting a used mattress or sleeping on the floor.
In most cases, the springs of an old mattress are still usable. The fiber, which shouldn’t be reused, doesn’t need to go to the landfill. Thrift stores already send clothing they can’t sell to fiber recylers. Mattress refurbishers could, too.
But poor people who can’t afford new mattresses certainly deserve old mattresses that cannot make them ill! States that allow mattress refurbishing surely have regulations to insure the safety of the product. That doesn’t mean they enforce them.
I found an article about one mattress manufacturer that donates returned mattresses instead of refurbishing them for resale. I suppose that means that other companies do refurbish their returns. And presumably not in a way that would get them bad publicity on TV news!
What’s the difference between mattress refurbishing and mattress recycling? Instead of repairing and reusing the inner springs, recyclers sell the metal as well as the fabric.
Mattress recyclers typically charge a fee to accept old mattresses. They dismantle them and separate not only fiber and metal, but also wood, plastic, foam. In all, they can recover up to 95% of the material in the mattresses and sell it to companies that will make it into various new products.
China’s crackdown on importing our recyclables has roiled the recycling industry in general. When China first eagerly accepted American recycling, it pretty much priced American companies out of the market for sorted recyclables. We need more American companies to view post-consumer waste as a resource.
Both mattress refurbishing and mattress recycling face obstacles to becoming important segments of our economy. We need both to become successful in order to keep a bulky and difficult product out of the waste stream.
Stack of old mattresses. Some rights reserved by Ralph Hockens. Link to Flickr no longer works.
Landfill. Some rights reserved by Dhscommtech
Mattress recycling. Public domain. US Air Force photo by Roland Balik