Manual labor to move and stack them, box spring coils getting twisted and caught on other waste and machinery—these are just some of the joys a landfill manager faces in disposing of old mattresses and box springs. In addition to the hassle of handling them, mattresses also take up valuable landfill space—an estimated 23 cubic feet per mattress.
Gayle Wilson, solid waste management director at the Orange County Solid Waste Management Department in Hillsborough, N.C., says that’s why the county implemented a pilot program to repurpose and recycle old mattresses and box springs three years ago. The program was so successful, it was recently made permanent.
“Most landfill managers are aware of the issues caused by box springs and mattresses, says Wilson. “It will probably cost you a little more to recycle than to dispose of them, but when we’re trying to divert as much waste as possible, this is just another opportunity.”
The landfill celebrated surpassing a state-required goal set in 1997 to reduce waste by 61 percent—achieving a 64 percent reduction as of December 2014.
“When the 61 percent goal was established, many considered it overly ambitious compared to the state’s 40 percent statutory goal, plus no other county set a goal higher than that,” says Wilson. “The county and its three towns set the goal based on the amount of recyclables contained in the waste stream at that time and also increased the goal further to compensate for prior reductions that had taken place not due to county actions. Over the years the governments have reaffirmed the goal and continued to work on it together.”
Mattresses have always caused a headache at the landfill, since skid-steer loaders can’t handle them, requiring usually two workers to load and stack them manually, Wilson says. With the new recycling program, Orange County accepts drop-offs only at its main landfill site, not satellite collection centers, and area residents are charged $10 for each mattress. The county pays about $9.25 each to have its contractor, Purpose Recycling, haul the mattresses and box springs away. Wilson says the county pays the contractor about $20,000 per year, but that cost is mostly covered by fees charged to residents.
“A lot of people don’t like to pay the fees, and there is some illegal dumping,” Wilson says. “We advise our residents to make sure they ask the company to take their old mattress and box spring with them if they buy a new one.”
Wilson says the landfill eats all the handling and processing costs associated with the recycling program at the landfill, but it’s for a good reason.
“We do that because that’s the community environmental ethic we have,” Wilson says. “We don’t get a lot of resistance.”
Purpose Recycling, based in Greensboro, N.C., recycles or repurposes 100 percent of the materials in the mattresses and box springs. The mattresses are stripped down and sorted by material—coils, cotton, foam, etc. The byproducts are then baled and sold for other uses. Many of the springs are reused by a sister company of Purpose Recycling called BedEx. After being heat-treated and recoated, the springs are used to build new mattresses, which BedEx sells to hotel chains, military bases, colleges and other users.