Interest in mattress stewardship has grown in recent years due to increasing disposal costs and the recognition that most mattress components are recyclable. A comprehensive report was released by the California Product Stewardship Council in 2013 - Mattress Recycling White Paper (PDF).
Product Stewardship Institute (PSI)
PSI organized and facilitated a year-long dialog on mattress recycling and disposal in 2010-2011, which culminated in the introduction of a mattress stewardship bill (SB-89) in Connecticut’s General Assembly.
The mattress industry trade association, the ISPA, opposed state legislation in 2012 but supported it in 2013, while PSI highlighted the job benefits of such legislation.
International Sleep Products Association (ISPA)
The ISPA, the mattress industry trade association, announced in March 2012 its intention to seek national mattress recycling legislation.
The ISPA is a founding member of the Product Management Alliance (PMA), an organization representing industry associations advocating in opposition to "government policies that mandate extended producer responsibility" (PDF). The PMA was founded to "promote and protect free-market product stewardship solutions" and its members include associations from the carpet, electronics, industrial equipment, mattresses, packaging, paper, personal goods, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and yellow pages industries.
The Problem: Space, Transportation, Cost
Used bedding has become a growing and highly visible environmental issue. Roughly 40 million new mattresses and box springs are sold in the U.S. each year. Nearly one-half of the used beds replaced find their way to landfills. Once landfilled, these mattresses and box springs represent a significant problem because they take up vita space, are slow to decompose, and their springs jam equipment and can injure workers.
Used mattresses and box springs can be recycled - the principle constituent parts are steel innersprings, polyurethane cushioning, cotton batting, and untreated wood. Markets have been established for all of these recycled materials. However, the cost of aggregating, transporting and processing used mattresses and box springs usually exceeds teh value of the recycled products. So, recycling used mattresses presents several significant challenges:
Space: An estimated 2,000 mattresses are discarded in Illinois landfills every day. Averaging 25 cubic feet and 60 pounds each, these discarded mattresses accumulate at a rate of 25,000 tons and 20 million cubic feet per year. Taking years to decompose the space occupied by these mattresses continues to grow, creating a haven for rats and other pests, and depriving landfill operators of valuable space. The "opportunity cost" to landfill operators for a single used mattress (i.e., the revenue that might have been generated by the same amount of space) has been estimated at $15.
As awareness of the problem has grown, an increasing number of landfills have either instituted surcharges on mattresses and box springs or banned used bedding altogether. As a result, illegal dumping is increasing, posing health and safety issues in some communities, and the cost of remediation is substantial. These costs are usually borne by municipalities.
Transportation: Aggregating and transporting used mattresses and box springs can be a logistical nightmare. In order to retain recycling value, used bedding must be kept dry and free from contamination. Further, in order to moved used bedding in the most cost-efficient way, at least 100 pieces must be acculmulated. Consequently, at least 2,500 cubic feet of dry storage must be available for use in order to stage a cost-efficient load.
Once used bedding has been accumulated and securely stored, it must be transported from the distribution center, hotel or dormitory, or transfer station to the recycling facility. Minimizing transportation costs requires maximizing the number of pieces in the load, so mattresses and box springs must be packed carefully and tightly onto the truck. Then, depending on the distance and the route, the cost of moving the load of used mattresses and box springs can be as high as $5-$7 per piece. Some recycling facilities will arrange transportation, but for most mattress recyclers, the process begins when the load of used bedding is delivered.
Cost: While more than 90% of the constituent materials of mattresses and box springs is recyclable, the deconstruction process is entirely manual. Cutting and removing the exterior cover, separating polyurethane foam from the cotton batting, removing foam and cotton from the steel innerspring, and stripping the box spring to the wood frame are a tedious and time-consuming process. Moreover, once the materials have been separated, they must be compressed and/or baled for shipment to manufacturers who will use them in other products.
At the end fo the day, the revenue that is generated by the sale of steel, cotton, foam, and wood that has been harvested from mattresses and box springs does not cover the cost of collecting, transporting, and processing the used bedding. Consequently, despite best efforts to maximize efficiencies, mattress recyclers must charge a recycling fee for processing used bedding. Fees can range from $5 to $20 per piece, not including transportation costs. Thus, there is little incentive to recycle used bedding.