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AUGUST 2010 (links updated 2012): The thrift shops don't want them, and neither do most recycling programs. Where's a used mattress to go?

Donate or Recycle Your Mattress
It *can* be done

Last month, the question of what to do with an old bed came up for a sad—make that terrible—reason. My elderly mother, who not so long ago was bossing everyone around as befits someone who led a national organization in her prime, had suddenly become so weak that she needed a hospital bed. It was to be delivered in two days' time.

To make room, we needed to get rid of the old bed ASAP. The question was how. I was readying myself for a weekend of research when I learned that my mother's home aide could use the bed. It was good luck all around.

I decided to do my research anyway because responsibly disposing of a used bed—or more often a mattress—is a problem many people face.

Needless to say, it would not be responsible to send a mattress to the landfill. Either it is in good condition, in which case it ought to be passed on to someone who needs it, or in bad condition, in which case it should be recycled. The materials will be turned into new products, keeping new resources from being used unnecessarily.

Besides, mattresses are a problem for landfills. They can't be compressed the way most other things can so they take up a huge amount of space, and their metal springs clog the landfill machinery.

In addition, conventional mattresses—like everything else nowadays—are made with toxic chemicals that can leach into groundwater from the landfill. We don't want flame retardants and other poisons seeping into our drinking water.

But what's the alternative? Mattresses aren't donated easily. Many thrift stores and organizations are concerned they may be infested with bed bugs or simply unclean. So, prepare yourself to make more than one call.

If your mattress is in great condition, begin your search close to home:
  • Ask family, friends, neighbors and employees if they or someone they know could use a good mattress.
  • Ask places of worship (yours or others) if there are congregants in need.
  • Contact a local homeless shelter, battered women's shelter or refugee resettlement program to see if they would want the mattress.
If none of the above works or your mattress is less than stellar, but still clean and perfectly usable, try these options:
  • Offer the mattress on Freecycle.
  • Find a local furniture bank to give it to.
  • Donate it to the Salvation Army, which will pick the mattress up. Call 1-800-728-7825 to schedule the pick-up.
  • See if your local Goodwill will take it.
Lastly, try recycling. You will probably have to pay for the privilege, but only a few dollars. The condition of the mattress won't matter as long as it is bedbug-free. (If yours is infested, call the recycler to ask if the mattress will be accepted and what special steps must be taken.) Mattress recyclers include: To find other local recycling options, visit Earth 911.

If you are buying a new mattress, ask if the vendor will take the old one (many do)—and what it will do with it. If the answer is recycle it, see if you can get the name of the recycler to verify it's true.

—Sheryl Eisenberg


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On This Topic


Jumping on the bed
MAKE YOUR MATTRESS LAST LONGER. Follow your mother's sage advice: no jumping on the bed! It's even good to avoid flopping down on it heavily. Also, flip it over every month, alternating a horizontal flip one month with a vertical flip the next. These precautions will help prevent sagging. Use a mattress cover to protect against stains and if you spill something on the mattress, sponge it clean.


Sheep
CONSIDER A GREEN MATTRESS next time you buy. Made of organic wool, cotton and/or latex (rubber), green mattresses contain fewer chemicals, which is better for your health as well as the environment. Due to stringent flame resistance regulations, it will probably contain some flame retardants, but less than usual because it's naturally more fire-resistant. It's possible to get a chemical-free mattress with a doctor's prescription, but think twice before you try—the danger of fire is serious.

When shopping for a green mattress, do due diligence. Make sure materials are certified organic and ask about the chemicals used.

If buying a conventional mattress, avoid polyurethane foam and plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) covers, which can have adverse health effects, especially on children.

Resources


Seattle Times
Thinking of Sending a Mattress to a Landfill?

Charity Guide
Furniture Donation Tips

Green America
Buying the Best Mattress

NRDC's Simple Steps
Should I Throw Out My New Mattress?

The New York Times
The Stuffing Dreams Are Made Of?



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Sheryl Eisenberg is a writer, web developer and long-time advisor to NRDC. With her firm, Mixit Productions (mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where—along with her children, Sophie and Gabe, and husband, Peter—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.