Here’s a fascinating fact: the first mattresses were made in Persia around the 37th century. They were goatskins filled with water—the original waterbeds. It took more than 5,000 years for the innerspring mattress to be invented in 1871.
Fast forward two millennia and numerous mattress innovations have emerged to deliver us better rest. Those technology advancements—including the rise of green mattress manufacturing—mean we are retiring our mattresses more frequently than before; on average, we replace our mattress every seven years.
That’s great news for sleep-deprived consumers, but not so great for the earth. Mattress churn comes at an environmental cost. According to the Mattress Recycling Council, more than 50,000 mattresses end up in landfills. Every. Single. Day.
And they take up a lot of space in your local landfill: anywhere from 20 to 60 cubic feet. Because mattress materials are often not biodegradable, they spend decades, sometimes longer, taking up space. Even the handling of mattresses can pose a threat to expensive, heavy-duty landfill equipment.
The good news: we are recycling 1.5 million mattresses a year. But we can do better.
Some states, including California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, already require mattress recycling and we can expect other states to follow suit. Sustainable living is not just a bougie slogan, but also a series of conscious choices and thoughtful actions.
Recycling your mattress requires minimal effort and little to no expense—you can do the right thing and bask in the good feels. A clean conscience aside, here are the top eight reasons for recycling your mattress.
1. SAVE LANDFILL SPACE
Landfills across the country are bursting at the seams—literally. We’re simply running out of space for our trash. Bulky items, in particular, are landfill hogs.
2. HONOR YOUR MOTHER (NATURE)
It’s not news that the planet is buckling under global population growth and increased consumption. Manufacturing decimates forest and marine environments, increases production-related energy pollution, and spurs greenhouse gas emission.
3. PRESERVE WILDLIFE-AND HUMAN-HABITAT
Landfills encroach on wildlife habitats. As they reach capacity and overflow, new landfills must be constructed. That means a reduction in green space, playgrounds, and housing.
4. REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
5. UPCYCLE THE COMPONENTS
One of the tenets of recycling is reuse. DIY-types, take note: a quick Google search yields thousands of super cool craft ideas, as will peeping Pinterest. Wood can gain new life in small construction projects (birdhouses come to mind), be ground into mulch, or burned as firewood. Padding and foam can be fashioned into pet beds, used to stuff throw pillows—or my personal favorite—fill decorative Moroccan seating poufs.
6. SET AN ECO EXAMPLE
Environmental stewardship is its own reward. But don’t underestimate the ripple effect of your actions. When your kids see you recycling, you’re modelling positive behavior. Ditto your neighbors, family, and friends.
7. RESELL OR DONATE
Did you upgrade to an eco-friendly mattress? Or simply purchase one that didn’t work well for you? That can mean money in your pocket. Gently used mattresses can be sold on sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, or in a yard sale. Many furniture banks, and homeless, animal or battered women’s shelters gratefully accept lightly worn mattresses in exchange for a tax deduction. Freecycle Network is another avenue for paying it forward. It’s a win-win when your old mattress finds a new home and you can pocket a little cash or help someone in need.
8. CURB IT
Check with your city or county officials where you live—many offer special days for removal of bulky items or special drop-off locations. Or call a junk removal service.
HOW'S MY MATTRESS RECYCLED?
The typical mattress is comprised of cotton, polyurethane foam, steel, and wood. Because of this mix, they’ve been more challenging to recycle in the past. Although many municipalities still can’t handle mattress recycling, private companies and non-profits have stepped up to ensure your mattress doesn’t get dumped into a landfill.
Once it arrives at a recycling facility, your mattress is inspected for bed bugs since infested mattresses are a health hazard and must be destroyed. If your mattress has gotten wet during transport, it’s left to dry for a day. It’s then sorted and loaded onto a conveyor belt where specially designed saws shear soft materials (foam and cotton) from the wooden frame. Fibrous materials are then shredded and baled. Metal springs and coils are also stripped and baled.
The best part? Upwards of 90 percent of mattress materials can be salvaged and repurposed in everything from carpet padding to weed barriers. And it’s quick: the entire automated process takes just four minutes per mattress with one operator. Brooklyn Bedding, which manufactures the EcoSleep product line, recycles 99 percent of its raw materials. Feels good to be green, huh?