Mattresses and Landfills – the Great Green Dilemma | EcoVision

Mattresses and Landfills – the Great Green Dilemma

Having the right mattress can make all the difference in a good night’s sleep. So when you finally decide to purchase that new bed – chances are you’re not really thinking of where your old mattress is going. You’re just incredible grateful that the delivery company is willing to take it away! But if you pause for a moment to consider that an estimated 20 million hotel and home mattresses are disposed of each year, you have to wonder, where are all these mattresses going?

Mattress Graveyard

Choose not to care and chances are your mattress will wind up in the landfill, consuming approximately 23 cubic feet of landfill space. Multiple that by the estimated 50,000 mattresses discarded each day and  well – you get the picture. That’s a lot of space taken up by something that is 85-90 percent recyclable. Measured over the course of a year with roughly 14-20 million mattresses finding their way to the landfill, and that comes to approximately 450 pounds, of what was once usable material, going to waste.

Recycling Your Bed

A far better option is to try and recycle mattresses. When broken down into all its reusable components, a mattress will yield many reusable treasures, ripe for commercial application:


Frames can be melted down and reused in tools, automotive parts, and various construction materials


Frames can be chipped and used for landscaping mulch, biomass fuel, animal bedding or pressed wood products.


Fibers can re-recycled and used for oil filters, mats, stuffing and insulation.


Foam can be ground up, and mixed with other components, to make carpet padding and similar cushion-like materials.

But, despite the various uses for mattress parts, the economics remain somewhat difficult. Mattress recycling centers are few and far between. Just the gathering and storing of the mattresses alone poses operational challenges in handling and space. The actual harvesting of materials is a time-consuming manual effort. Once gathered and separated out, the prices for these materials is inconsistent, depending on what the market will bear. In the final analysis, the combined cost of handling, taking apart and bringing salvaged materials to market may surpass the actual value of the recycled materials.

Future Legislation

But there is hope. Connecticut has a mattress recycling law and California is in the process of initiating a Used Mattress Recover and Recycling Act whereby mattress manufacturers must create a statewide recycling program for discarded mattresses. Targeting 2016 as its launch date, the California program will be funded with a set fee incorporated into every mattress sold. ISPA, the International Sleep Products Association and the voice of the mattress industry, is working with legislators to create such programs in other states.

In the Meantime

Keeping mattresses out of the landfill starts before your even think of disposing of your old one.  It starts with purchasing the right mattress.

The Modular Bed

One company to look at is Sterling Sleep Systems; manufacturing modular designed beds, assembled into components like sidewall assemblies, foam overlays and mattress top panels. Think of it like your car; when the brake pad goes, you don’t have to replace the entire car – you just purchase a new brake pad, right? Same idea here. These component pieces can be replaced as needed, or taken apart for complete cleaning. So, just like your car, by replacing the parts and not the entire mattress, you are significantly extending the life of the mattress, and reducing environmental waste, both in production and disposal of materials.

Eco-friendly Materials

Your next option is to purchase beds made with eco-friendly materials. 100 percent natural latex is a renewable, natural resource that’s also biodegradable. It’s great for the environment, with natural qualities that offer an enhanced night’s sleep. No pressure points, it’s naturally anti-microbial for allergy suffers, and it breathes naturally, allowing for a cool night’s sleep! Another big selling point – because latex is a stronger and more durable product than the conventional foam used in most mattresses, no flipping or rotating of the mattress is necessary.

Landfill space is at a premium, and whether you’re buying for a commercial enterprise or your home, what you do matters. So, what choices are you going to make when it’s time to purchase a new mattress and/or discard your old one?

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Wen-D Kersten

Director of Marketing at GreenLeaf Media Group
Wen-D Kersten is the editor and contributor for EcoVision SLC as well as a number of other energy and sustainability sites. She is a green enthusiast with over 15 years of marketing experience, and a background in film and video production.

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