Every day, U.S. residents, businesses, and universities discard more than 50,000 mattresses. If they were stacked up, the pile would be almost 1.5 times the height of Mount Everest! Less than five percent of these mattresses are recycled, even though 90 percent of their components can be used to make steel products, carpet padding, animal bedding, and mulch. Refurbishing and recycling, rather than landfilling, unwanted mattresses also creates recycling jobs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
There is currently no convenient way for most people to recycle their old mattresses. So, most mattresses end up in landfills or energy recovery facilities, where their bulk and relative flexibility make them difficult to handle. In the worst case scenario, mattresses are illegally dumped in the environment. As a result, mattresses are expensive for local governments (and, therefore, taxpayers) to manage.
PSI advocates for “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws for mattresses. These EPR laws require mattress companies to set up and operate recycling programs that make it easy for consumers to recycle old mattresses, and relieve governments from the burden of managing this bulky waste. In Connecticut, municipalities saved nearly $1.5 million in mattress disposal costs in one year as a result of their mattress EPR program. EPR laws also provide a continuous flow of high quality material, encouraging long-term investments in local refurbishing, recycling, and remanufacturing facilities, creating local jobs and economic value.
PSI organized the National Mattress Stewardship Initiative, which led to a model EPR program developed in Connecticut, which was then adopted by Rhode Island and modified by California. In these states, consumers pay a small “eco fee” when they purchase a new mattress. An industry-run nonprofit, the Mattress Recycling Council, uses this sustainable funding to collect, refurbish, and recycle the old ones.
Since the first program began operating in 2015 in Connecticut, the three EPR state programs have recycled more than three million mattresses and diverted more than 136 million pounds of material from disposal. In just the first year of program implementation, the mattress recycling rate in Connecticut rose from 8.7 percent to 63.5 percent, and in California more than 23,700 illegally dumped mattresses were collected in 29 counties. Together, the three states have recycled more than 24,000 tons of steel, foam, cotton, wood, and other materials in their most recent reporting year.
Mattress EPR programs also address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In FY2016, Connecticut’s program reduced GHG emissions equivalent to taking 875 passenger vehicles off the road (4.2 million kg of carbon equivalent).
How We’re Leading the Way
PSI provides model bill language, best practices, technical assistance, and lobbying support to government agencies seeking to pass a mattress EPR law. This year, we teamed with Metro Oregon, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Mattress Recycling Council, the International Sleep Products Association, and St. Vincent de Paul to include important provisions in a mattress EPR bill for Oregon that will ensure program success.
We developed a How-To Guide to help governments, organizations, and others to start and promote mattress stewardship programs. We also evaluate mattress stewardship programs and research best practices.
If you’re buying a new mattress, ask if the store will take your old one for recycling. Otherwise, drop off the old mattress at a recycling site near you, ask your local recycling program if they can take it, or ask thrift shops if they will accept your mattress as a donation. Never dump a mattress by the road or in the wilderness. It’s not only bad for the planet -- it’s illegal!