More than 50,000 mattresses are discarded each day in the U.S., the equivalent of close to 20 million annually. While as much as 90 percent of mattress components - steel, cotton, and foam - are recyclable, only a tiny percentage - less than 5 percent - of mattresses are salvaged annually; the rest present operational problems for our nation's landfills and waste-to-energy plants. Scrap carpet also poses a looming threat, with Americans discarding nearly 3.9 million tons of carpet and rugs each year and recycling only about 7.5 percent.
In May, Connecticut became the first state to implement legislation that requires manufacturers to manage, and consumers to fund, mattress recycling programs. Rhode Island and California will implement similar programs in 2016. California, the only state with a similar "producer responsibility" law for carpet, launched its program in 2011.
"Recycling used carpet and mattresses saves resources, creates jobs, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and energy use," said Scott Cassel, PSI's chief executive officer and founder. "Currently, the cost of recycling or disposing of these products falls on government and taxpayers, and that is not sustainable. The burden needs to be shifted to manufacturers and consumers for these valuable materials to enter the circular economy."
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the guides lay out key steps to reduce waste and set the stage for successful product stewardship programs. More specifically, the guides provide tools for state and local governments to:
Increase awareness of recycling opportunities and best practices
Implement convenient and effective collection systems
Collaborate with various stakeholders in the carpet and mattress life cycle, including consumers, suppliers, dealers, recyclers, and manufacturers, to facilitate and advance recycling
Increase market development opportunities for recycled carpet and mattress components
"Connecticut is already seeing the benefit of mattress stewardship legislation, including the creation of private sector recycling jobs," said Tom Metzner, environmental analyst at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP). "More than 80 towns now have collection containers specifically designated for mattress recycling, making it possible to divert mattresses from solid waste disposal."
Even so, state and local governments don't need to wait for EPR legislation to pass to proceed with the development of carpet and mattress recycling programs. Effective programs can be created through coalitions of key players working together to ensure the existence of sufficient and convenient collection systems, appropriate storage, and adequate outreach to carpet and mattress consumers.
"Bulky waste recycling depends on the collaborative efforts of all involved stakeholders - including manufacturers, collectors, storage facilities, processors, and state and local governments," said Kathy Frevert, senior environmental scientist at the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). "Ensuring that materials are properly managed as they flow from one link to another in the management chain, and that the economics are viable at each link, is important for developing an effective program."
The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) is a national, membership-based nonprofit committed to reducing the health, safety, and environmental impacts of consumer products across their lifecycle with a strong focus on sustainable end-of-life management. Headquartered in Boston, Mass., PSI takes a unique product stewardship approach to solving waste management problems by encouraging product design changes and mediating stakeholder dialogues. With 47 state environmental agency members, along with hundreds of local government members from coast-to-coast, and 110 corporate, business, academic, non-U.S. government, and organizational partners, we work to design, implement, evaluate, strengthen, and promote both legislative and voluntary product stewardship initiatives across North America. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
This material is based on work supported under a grant by the Rural Utilities Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Rural Utilities Service.