When it’s time to put your old mattress or box springs to bed, do you think about where it goes?
In the United States, the Mattress Recycling Council estimates that 50,000 mattresses and box springs end up in the nation’s landfills every day.
In Charleston County, officials estimate about 50 mattresses and box springs are brought to the Bee’s Ferry Landfill every week.
It’s both a problem and a shame.
The bulky, springy objects don’t compact well and take up increasingly valuable space in landfills, if they make it there. Untold thousands of the bedding products are illegally dumped in forests and alleyways every year.
And yet mattresses and box springs are 80 to 90 percent recyclable.
Fibers, foam, steel & wood
The council notes that steel springs, arguably the most valuable part of bedding, can be melted and “upcycled” into new appliances, building material and other steel products.
Foam can be turned into carpet pads and bedding for animals. The wood from frames can be reused or shredded to make landscaping mulch. And cotton and other fibers can be recycled into industrial oil filters.
Recycling mattresses and box springs not only reduces the reliance on incinerators and landfills, but creates jobs, conserves resources and may even reduce the number of illegally dumped mattresses.
States are starting to take the problem seriously.
In the past two years, Connecticut, California and Rhode Island all passed laws setting up fees, ranging from $9 to $11 per new mattress or box springs, to fund the Mattress Recycling Council’s efforts.
Those have not come to South Carolina yet.
“The Charleston County Environmental Management Department does not have any future plans to accept mattresses for recycling,” says Shawn Smetana, county spokesman, adding that issues include a lack of storage to keep bedding dry and issues with loading. Smetana says the department will continue to monitor the mattress recycling industry and "seek opportunities where appropriate.”
Taking the lead
But there are beacons of light in the Palmetto State.
In the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's Solid Waste report for fiscal year 2016, Lexington County recycled 181 tons of mattresses, while Richland County came in a close second with 176 tons. The only other significant numbers were Horry County with 19 tons and Charleston County with six tons.
Lexington, Richland and Greenwood counties work with the private company Nine Lives Mattress Recycling in Pamplico, located in Florence County, for recycling their mattresses.
Long before bed recycling emerged on the national stage, Nine Lives owner Ralph Bogan recognized the value of used mattresses and, initially, started working with the Horry County Solid Waste Authority on recycling.
Bogan, who has been in the mattress recycling business for the past decade, says his four-person business recycled 28,000 “units” (mattresses or box springs) last year.
Using data from a study conducted in Asheville, Bogan noted that keeping about 5,900 mattresses and box springs out of a landfill actually represents a “net positive cash flow” for the operator of $94,000.
Today, Bogan accepts used bedding from an area ranging from South New Jersey to Key West, Florida, and Atlanta. While he has prospered by selling the recycled goods, he admits facing challenges.
“I do have problems finding and keeping markets,” says Bogan, noting that steel is always in demand and that the recycling market for foam, for now, is at a “standstill.”
Still, he's completely convinced he could expand and create immediate jobs, up to 15, if the state or a private investor would help out.
Bogan says he has had major retailers in the Southeast region, such as Ikea, seek him out to recycle old beds but he's had to turn them down.
Bogan adds that he gives away the wood, noting that many people reuse it for projects such as furniture, chicken coops and greenhouses.
With more staff and an expanded facility, he could find more markets and offer more products, such as the wood, for sale.
A small portion of the units, probably about 1,000 last year, recycled at Nine Lives last year came from Charleston Mattress, which has a showroom of locally made mattresses on East Montague Avenue in North Charleston.
K.C. and Liz Rennie, the owners of Charleston Mattress, started the program, BedShred.com, as a service to customers in July 2015.
K.C. Rennie is quick to note that some people have the misconception that the recycling program means reusing or refurbishing old beds, which is illegal and “not the right thing to do.”
Besides recycling old bedding for customers who purchased a new mattress and box spring, he will also pick up used mattresses and box springs for non-customers in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties area for a fee, ranging from $55 for one piece and $65 for two to $190 for eight pieces.
Daniel Island resident Whit Bundy sought out BedShred.com after he needed to get rid of an old bed in a guest bedroom to make way for a new baby and a crib.
"I didn't want it (the bed) to end up in the landfill," says Bundy. "I paid the fee, but it was worth it to me."
Rennie says the fees help the BedShred.com program come close to breaking even on costs to pick up and haul the used bedding to Pamplico.
“We’re probably on the losing side (of breaking even), but we feel good about doing this,” says Rennie. “There are so much steel and other valuable resources (in the bedding). Recycling it is the right thing to do.”