Mattress Recycling Forum

Not long ago, I attended an event put on by the City of Seattle.

Also in attendance at this event were representatives of several local and regional mattress stores and chains.  Also in attendance were several local charitable organizations; though they were not there for the reasons I had suspected.  It was interesting to learn the motivation of each party, as they were each given the opportunity to speak.

The purpose of the event was to combat the increase in waste mattresses.  One of the most startling things the City of Seattle discovered in their research was that the average ton of mattress waste occupies 19 times more volume than normal waste.  On top of that, the rate at which mattresses are being brought to the dump is increasing.  This is a result of the shorter lifespan of the one sided mattresses and memory foam mattresses.  Transfer stations, and by association, the dumps are facing a looming crisis.  How do they handle the extra waste?

When each party had the opportunity to speak I discovered that some people were interested in finding low cost methods of recycling the mattresses.  The charities were there because they want to prevent people from dropping of mattresses at donation spots (they do not accept mattresses in this way, or sometimes at all anymore).  The chain stores seemed most interested in getting used mattresses out of the marketplace so people would have to buy new mattresses.  It was very interesting to learn about how some of these other organizations thought.

One of the great things I learned was that in Vancouver, BC they have set up a recycling program where no mattresses go to the dump any longer.  They now recycle 100% of the mattresses, and by weight, 85% of the average mattress can be reused.  Coils can be melted down for the metal, foam can be sanitized, and chipped for use as carpet pad or insulation.  The way that Vancouver accomplished this was through a tax on every mattress sold.

What has been done in our region, is the introduction of a program through the Monroe prison facility to dismantle mattresses.  Prisoners will manually deconstruct a mattress for the usable parts, and then the materials are sold to companies that can recycle/reuse the individual components.  Currently the cost to whomever drops off the mattresses or boxes is $7 per piece.

Also in attendance were private parties interested in privatizing the dismantling of the mattresses and boxes.  With the labor intensive nature of this process, it is difficult to compete with the low cost of labor prisoners provide.  This is why the cost is only $7 per piece versus the $20 tax in Vancouver, BC.

It will be interesting to see how this is resolved in the greater Seattle area.  For the time being we are focussed on designing more durable two-sided mattresses, and trying to find new homes for the used mattresses that we take away from peoples homes by making them available to those who can not afford a new bed.

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