By Cesar Tapia
Illegal dumping has long been an epidemic throughout the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. You are bound to see piles of a variety of materials strewn about the streets, particularly in areas south and east of the city where the less affluent reside. Those doing the dumping range from contractors looking to save time and money, to citizens who do not have the means to drop off their discarded furniture. This leads to one of the biggest eye-sores you can’t miss, discarded mattresses.
I became curious about the destiny of these discarded, heavy pads composed of bulky materials that take-up room in our homes yet have become vital to modern lives. I’ve never had to deal with dumping a mattress, that is until my cat urinated on my bed and I was suddenly left with a mattress I had to discard immediately. Having no means to personally drop the thing off at a collection facility, I turned to 311, an information and services portal provided by the city for citizens. I’ve personally used the service to report abandoned cars in our neighborhood and to have curbs with hydrants painted red. I was pleased to find out 311 provided free collection service for bulky items, specifically mattresses. I set an appointment for pickup, your trash collection day, and was pleased to see the mattress had disappeared in the morning. This still left me with the question, what happens to the mattress after it’s collected?
In 2013, California lawmakers set out to curb the growing number of discarded mattresses that often ended up in landfills after collection. With the backing of then-governor Jerry Brown at the time, lawmakers passed the California Used Mattress Recovery and Recycling Act of 2013 (SB 254). The program created a statewide public-private partnership to be run by the industry itself. A non-profit mattress recycling council named the Mattress Recycling Council (MRC), better known as Bye-Bye Mattress, was created to administer the program. Under this program, mattress producers recover and recycle their products. A fee of $10.50 is charged to the consumer when they purchase a mattress or boxspring to help pay for the program. The goal was to create a no-cost system, using existing collection methods and infrastructure. Consumers have multiple cost-free methods to discard their used mattresses. They can drop them off at a recycling facility, collection event, or dump. They can also have retailers collect their old mattress, or have the city sanitation department come pick it up for them.
The first annual report for the program proves how effective it has been at reducing illegal dumping. 967,840 out of 1,073,803 units collected were recycled. Over 3 million pounds of foam and 15 million pounds of metal were able to be recycled. These components were then sold to companies that use them to make new products; cotton for insulation, foam for carpets, springs for scrap metal, and wood to create mulch. Some mattresses are able to be reconditioned and sold to the public again. The process begins with a unit placed in a large industrial oven that sanitizes the materials, they are then stripped of padding and remanufactured for the market. In addition to collecting materials, the program has also created green jobs for the community. For example, MRC has paid 40 participating entities in 29 counties to collect abandoned mattresses. It also pays entities to host collection events and covers the costs associated with the transportation of units to recycling plants.
I hope this puts some of you at ease next time you have to discard a bulky mattress, your mattress could be reincarnated into something new. For information regarding mattress collection visit the My LA 311 website.
Beckner, H. (2017, August). Public Meeting Notice: CalRecycle Proposed State Mattress Recycling Baseline & Goals Workshop. Retrieved October 12, 2019, from https://www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/PublicNotices/Details/2157.
Castagneto, N. (2019, July). Public Notice: Approval of the Mattress Recycling Council’s 2018 California Used Mattress Recovery and Recycling Program Annual Report. Retrieved October 12, 2019, from https://www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/PublicNotices/Details/3764.
MY LA 311. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2019, from https://myla311.lacity.org/.
SB-254 Solid waste: used mattresses: recycling and recovery. (2013, September 27). Retrieved October 12, 2019, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB254.
Wall, A. (2019, October 10). Mattress Recycling Council (MRC): There’s More to Every Mattress. Retrieved October 12, 2019, from https://mattressrecyclingcouncil.org/.