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Earth Talk: Can you recycle your old mattress?

A California fire station serves as a collection point for old mattresses. Mattress recycling is a growing industry.

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Q: How can I recycle my old mattress if the place I buy a new one from doesn’t take it? What do mattress companies do with old mattresses when they do take them? Do they recycle any of the material?
J. Belli, Bridgeport, Conn.

A: A typical mattress is a 23-cubic-foot assembly of steel, wood, cotton, and polyurethane foam. Given this wide range of materials, mattresses have typically been difficult to recycle – and most municipal recycling facilities won’t offer to do it for you. But along with increasing public concerns about the environment – and a greater desire to recycle everything possible – have come a handful of private companies and nonprofit groups that want to make sure your old bed doesn’t end up in a landfill.

The Lane County, Ore., chapter of the charity St. Vincent de Paul Society, for example, has spearheaded one of the nation’s most successful mattress recycling initiatives. “Keeping [mattresses] out of landfills is a matter of efficiently recycling them so their core materials can be reincarnated into any number of new products,” reports the group, which opened a large mattress recycling center in Oakland, Calif., in 2001. (Why hundreds of miles away in Oakland? To “go where the mattresses are,” says Chance Fitzpatrick of the group.) The facility has been processing more than 300 mattresses and box springs per week ever since.

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