The Big, Bulky Truth About Beds Recycling Mattresses and Going Organic

They usually end up stacked in landfills, where they hog space and leach chemicals, and many landfills have refused to accept them in response.

This problem attracted the attention of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which offered a $10,000 grant to anyone who could solve the mattress-recycling conun-drum. In 2002, Framingham, Mas-sachusetts-based Conigliaro Indus-tries answered the call and became the first commercial mattress recycler in the U.S.

“Mattresses are pro- bably the single most difficult thing to recycle,” says Greg Conigli-aro, the company’s founder and president.

The Big Rip

Using a process they developed, the company takes what is basically a giant paper shredder and rips apart unwanted mattresses, box springs and upholstered furniture. They are then able to separate the product into its basic parts—polyurethane foam, wood, steel, cotton and other fabrics—and sort them for easy recycling or purchasing by raw materials companies.

“We can process in excess of six million pounds of this material per year. That’s enough mattresses to fill 900 tractor trailers,” reports the business’ website.

Why are mattresses so difficult to break down? All of those springs and padding and metal wires are sealed tightly. The better the mattress quality, the harder it is to recycle.

At Conigliaro, it takes a minute and a half to completely break down an average mattress. The majority of the company’s clients are businesses that have a large number of items to dispose of, and they pay $8-$30 per mattress plus the cost of transportation.

In some places, landfills and trash disposal are still cheaper alternatives for companies with a ton of mattresses to unload. Others, especially stores that offer to remove used mattresses for free, cart the old beds to rebuilders who refurbish and repackage the mattresses for resale.

Organic Options

There are other ways to be eco-conscious when it comes to one’s bed. A variety of companies now make natural and organic mattresses from sustainable wools and cottons. This removes the petroleum-based polyurethane foam additive, which fire officials have classified as a hazardous substance, and vinyl-based waterproofing materials, which release toxic phthalates.

California-based Keetsa offers mattresses made with natural green tea, which is said to provide long-lasting odor control, embedded into recyclable memory foam. Swedish furniture giant Ikea also makes a very affordable mattress that is free of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a chemical fire retardant that scientists have linked to health and environmental problems.

Another California company, Lifekind, produces mattresses under strict environmental specifications. The company received certification from the nonprofit GREENGUARD Environmental Institute for their efforts, and reports that it even uses a chemical-free sanitation process on its organic rubber and cotton mattresses.

The CozyPure mattresses available at Tomorrow’s World, a Virginia-based environmental catalog company, are made with natural latex (a hypo-allergenic alternative to the synthetic variety), wool and organic cotton. Their OrganicPedic sleep system allows buyers to customize the organic mattress with layers of different firmness levels.

Considering that you”ll spend a third of your life on a mattress, the health benefits matter—and at the end of the mattress’ lifespan, the environmental ones do, too.