How Mattress Recycling Works, Why It's Important + 5 Ways To Get Started
Buying a new mattress feels like a rite of passage. Out with the old, in with the new, right? But when we're ready to upgrade our sleep sanctuary, what are we supposed to do with our old mattress? It's such a bulky item that anything other than tossing it in the nearest Dumpster feels like a challenge. Well, while mattress recycling isn't as easy as it should be, it isn't impossible either. Here's how it's done.
Can you recycle mattresses?
Yes, most mattress materials can be recycled. And considering that we trash an estimated 20 million mattresses every year in the U.S. alone, this is an important option to know about.
Recycling even a percentage of that would curb the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. "Most landfills don't even want to accept [mattresses]," says Alexi Wyatt, the marketing manager of Florida-based eco-nonprofit Mustard Seed. "There are chemicals in them that cause chemical air pockets and leach into the water."
Unfortunately, mattress recycling is not accessible everywhere because it's an expensive and labor-intensive process. Programs like Earth911 and Bye Bye Mattress make it easier to find any local recycling programs that do exist near you—but don't be surprised if the closest center is 10 cities or a state away.
If recycling your mattress isn't in the cards, there are a few other ways to give it a second life including donating it, repurposing it into home goods and furniture, and selling it to someone else.
How mattress recycling works.
The entire basis of recycling is taking a product and transforming its materials into something that can be used again. Depending on the type of mattress you have, you can expect to find any of the following materials inside of it: foam (natural or synthetic), polyester batting, springs, coils, flame retardants, adhesives, wool, and cotton. And according to Wyatt, "Ninety to 95% of a mattress can be recycled."
During the recycling process, mattresses and box springs are inspected first, then deconstructed to expose the layers within. If they're not too far gone, the cotton, natural foam, wool, and wooden components are separated from each other before being shipped to their respective recycling facilities and given a second life as the following:
- Natural foam, wool & cotton: Unlike synthetics like polyester, these are considered soft fibers, and they can be easily compressed. Once compressed, they can be recycled into pet bedding, pillows, carpet underlay, car seat padding, or other textiles.
- Springs & coils: These are considered metals and are typically shipped to scrap yards before being sold to steel mills and foundries. They can be recycled into either building materials or appliances.
- Wood: Wood is either chipped or shredded and used as mulch or burned as a fuel source.
Even if you recycle your mattress, it's important to know despite your best efforts, parts of it may still end up in the landfill. Opting for a mattress that contains mostly natural, nontoxic materials will help increase the chance of recyclability.
Why it's good for the planet.
Instead of sending your mattress to a landfill to emit greenhouse gases into the air as it slowly rots, recycling your mattress can do the following (yes, even if a percentage of it still ends up in the landfill):
- Reduce your personal carbon emissions
- Create jobs in the recycling industry
- Conserve energy resources
- Reduce the frequency of illegal mattress dumping
- Extend the life of landfills and decrease the need for new ones
- Prevent us from disturbing natural land
How often should you be replacing your mattress?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends replacing your mattress every six to eight years under normal circumstances. Though some cleaning experts say you can get up to 10 years out of a quality mattress if you are diligent about caring for it.
You may want to consider replacing your mattress sooner if:
- It's interfering with your sleep
- It's damaged or lumpy
- It's more squeaky than usual
- You wake up sore or stiff
If your new mattress comes with a pickup program, don't be afraid to ask what the company does with old mattresses once they're in their possession.
How to recycle your mattress.
If the life cycle of your mattress is coming to an end and you want to recycle it, here are five ways you can go about doing so:
Contact the mattress manufacturer to inquire about recycling.
Call or email the company you originally bought the mattress from to see if they're involved in a recycling program or have one of their own you can participate in.
Contact a mattress recycling program.
Recycling programs like 1-800-GOT-JUNK (operating in the U.S., Canada, and Australia) are happy to take your old mattress off your hands for a fee. It's one of the more convenient ways to recycle your mattress, albeit not the most cost-effective one.
Depending on where you live, you may also have the opportunity to coordinate something with your local recycling drop-off site, so ask around.
Whether in person or through an online secondhand shop like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, if your mattress is clean and in good condition, you can try selling it to someone else. Mattresses aren't cheap so you'd be doing both the person and the planet a favor. And you get paid for not tossing your mattress in the alley. Win-win-win.
Donate it to a shelter or nonprofit.
Donating is always a great way to give something a new life while helping people in need. Check with your local shelters and organizations to ask if they accept mattresses, and under what conditions. Of course, if your mattress is infested with bedbugs or over 10 years old, this isn't the route to go.
You can also look to see if there are any nonprofits like Mustard Seed, which donates used goods to families affected by disaster or tragedy in your area.
Get crafty with it.
Ready to get a little crafty? Head to Pinterest and Facebook for some inspiration on how to refashion mattress materials: Memory foam can be cut into pieces and used as seat cushions, while coils can be reimagined as paperweights, candle holders, or other home décor pieces.
The bottom line.
Recycling your mattress is not for the faint of heart, but it's a seemingly small action that can end up making a big difference. So check to see what mattress recycling looks like in your area and consider repurposing if recycling isn't an option. Once your mattress is off your hands, you can turn your attention to responsibly disposing of that old pile of clothes and stack of CDs.
Alex Shea is a storyteller and generational healing life coach with words in Byrdie, Verywell Mind, HuffPost, Shape, and more. Outside of publications, Alex writes stories that touch on, and sometimes intertwine, themes of grief and magic.
With a unique view on life, she taps into her own experiences to guide folks to live life for themselves, empowering them to explore their inner wild and find their own way in adulthood. Her weekly newsletter is a tiny way she furthers her mission to hold space for the unfathomable, romantic, and messy parts of life that make it that much more beautiful.