How and Why You Should Recycle Your Old Mattress
If a new mattress is on your Christmas List or is one of your new year resolutions, guest author Alex Murray tells us what we should do with our old one and how we can ‘spring’ into action to avoid it being sent to landfill.
The main reason most of us need to get rid of a mattress is because we’ve got ourselves a lovely new one. But whilst some bed and mattress companies remove the old within the delivery agreement for the new bed or mattress, plenty won’t. So, many households are left with the dilemma of disposal of the old one. In some areas this disposal is solved by the careless, non-eco method of discarding the old one in the neighbourhood, by the method of abandon and run known as “fly-tipping”.
In others, effort is made to take the offending old mattress to the local landfill, where it fulfils a dubious destiny as one of 20 million thrown into landfill each year [Glenn Hasek] where it may, or may not biodegrade, depending on the materials it’s made of. Although this effort smacks of trying to do the right thing for disposal, there’s a better option which doesn’t involve clogging up the neighbourhood or landfill – recycling.
Mattresses Moving On
There are several ways to recycle a mattress, all of which have the advantage of being the good thing to do, environmentally, although several methods have distinct disadvantages:
- Freegle / Freecycle: a local method for passing on unwanted items to those who may be able to use them, Freegle has a growing momentum in the UK. It would be great to assume that the popularity of this pass-it-on method is due to a greater collective social and eco-consciousness, but sadly it’s mostly influenced by the economic climate – Freegle is a way to get a potentially useful item for nothing. However, the problem with using it for mattresses is that it can take a while to find someone who needs and wants it (strangely enough not everyone loves a pre-loved mattress: micro-dust mites, dead skin cells, stains and all), so this method is not necessarily a quick one.
- Local council pick-up methods: Many town and city councils now offer bulky item collection services, partly to help with recycling but for many in response to fly-tipping, bringing mattresses, old fridges and other unmentionables cluttering up the streets. Although this sounds like a viable option, for those places where the service is free particularly, the wait time for collection can be up to eight weeks (in Leeds, for example). Although an increasing number of councils offer this free collection service, in other areas collection comes at a cost, often on a sliding scale depending on how many items are to be collected. So, it might cost you £18 in Sheffield, £21 in Rotherham or £22 in Cambridge, for example.
- Private collection companies:
Alternatively, there are a growing number of private companies who run collection services and have direct links with reputable recycling depots. Such companies (who usually offer a local service within a certain radius of the depots) will not only pick up mattresses at a lower cost than the council, but also arrange a more prompt collection. One of the cheapest at the time of writing is Collect Your Old Bed who operate nationwide and have prices starting from just £9.99. This means that the customer benefits from getting rid of the mattress cheaply and quickly, but also gains the reassurance that the mattress will be appropriately recycled. Just make sure you ask them for their waste carrier license before you contract their services, so you’re sure they are doing everything by the book. The Environment Agency also provides a search facility to allow you to find a registered waste carrier in your area.
Mattresses Coming Apart
The recycling process for a mattress largely depends on its material construction, but most recycling venues follow the same broad process of:
- Separating types of mattress by material type.
- Depending on the type of material, mattresses are then either mechanically shredded or manually stripped using specialist tools.
- The by-products and materials extracted from the mattresses, such as polyester, foam, cotton and steel are then bundled and passed on to other recycling outlets or manufacturers to re-start their future as another product …
- The fabrics and fibres salvaged from your old mattress could bounce back to you in the guise of:
- Cotton and foam could be recycled into pillow stuffing; furniture upholstery; carpet foam or underlay padding.
- Other textiles, such as rayon and sisal, might be recycled into new mattresses.
- The steel from sprung bedding might be melted down for use into a great many other products.
- The wood from box springs is often chipped and recycled as garden mulch, animal bedding or used to produce a biomass fuel.
Mattress on the Rebound
So, finally, if you’re environmentally-conscious, it’s worth enjoying a certain karma which comes from arranging for your old mattress to be properly recycled. Many more eco-friendly mattress brands are made including recycled textiles (le.recycling.com) so by recycling your mattress responsibly and buying eco-brands, you’re helping that next new mattress to be more eco-friendly too.