The need for mattress recycling in San Antonio is monumental. Every year our city disposes of about 140,000 mattresses. As a result, approximately 4,200 tons of materials end up in landfills annually. Instead of sending our mattresses to landfills, we could be recycling them. Over 80% of every mattress can be recycled, by weight. Recycling not only diverts these materials from landfills and reintegrates them into the circular economy; it also creates full time employment opportunities.
In the Unites States, the vast majority of mattresses are recycled in the three states that have enacted statewide mattress recycling policies: Rhode Island, Connecticut, and California. These three states work with the Mattress Recycling Council (MRC), a non-profit organization created by the International Sleep Products Association to develop and implement statewide mattress recycling programs for states that have enacted mattress recycling policies. Every year, over 1 million mattresses are recycled by these three states.
These recycling policies are part of what’s known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR is an environmental policy approach designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to producers and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.
In order to increase the proliferation of EPR policies, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), a national membership-based nonprofit committed to reducing the health, safety, and environmental impacts of consumer products across their lifecycle, has produced several resources outlining the key components of successful EPR legislation and how-to guides for advancing EPR polices. They also monitor how many EPR policies exist in every state.
In states not part of the MRC, a patchwork of independent entities has emerged to recycle mattresses. Each provides service to a select geographic area, and most operate in their own unique way. Many are organized as nonprofits, a few are associated with larger organizations such as the Cascade Alliance, and several function as for profit enterprises. The MRC has developed a great tool Bye Bye Mattress that maps the location of mattress recycling facilities across the United States.
Once collected, mattresses are deconstructed and their materials are baled and shipped to downstream vendors that use the materials in their manufacturing processes. Deconstructing mattresses involves a combination of manual labor and machines. The primary materials salvaged are steel, foam, coverings, cotton, and wood. Two videos on what the process looks like can be viewed here.
In addition, recycling mattresses also reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the nation’s first statewide evaluation analyzing Connecticut’s four EPR policies , Connecticut’s state mandated mattress recycling program resulted in GHG emissions savings of 4.2 million kg of carbon equivalent in 2016, equal to the emissions from 875 passenger vehicles. The study also reported that Connecticut’s mattress recycling program saved 48.7 million megajoules (MJ) of fuel energy.
What’s equally impressive is the amount of money local municipalities saved as a result of Connecticut’s state mandated mattress recycling program. The same study concluded that in 2016, Connecticut municipalities saved nearly $1.5 million in mattress disposal costs as a result of their mattress recycling program.
Although San Antonio currently has no mattress recycling services available to residents and businesses, a newly formed nonprofit called Re-Mat is working to launch a facility capable of recycling mattresses citywide. Re-Mat’s recycling operation proposes to create full time employment opportunities for disenfranchised adults, who will provide the skills to dissemble the mattresses and recycle the materials.