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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: How Eco-friendly Are Foam Mattresses?

By Recyclebank |

Memory foam mattresses are a trendy option, but they don’t last forever. Find out more about their environmental impact.

Dear Recyclebank: How eco-friendly are these new foam mattresses? –E. Mijares

Dear E.: Foam mattresses are largely petroleum-based; so right out of the gate, they are not the most sustainable option. Most mattresses by their nature aren’t very ecological. Buying a mattress that will last as long as possible is one way to reduce the negative impact of their production and disposal because you’ll be buying and throwing away fewer of them throughout your lifetime. This would mean less waste and fewer greenhouse gases over time.

Are foam mattresses recyclable? To an extent.

The memory foam mattresses you see for sale are typically made from polyurethane, which is considered a type of plastic. However, unlike other plastics, it’s not necessarily straightforward to recycle. Polyurethane foam mattresses are often down-cycled, meaning the resulting product is of lesser quality and value than the original. That’s better than nothing if you can find a facility near you that will accept them.

It’s important to note that not all foam mattresses are polyurethane. Some are made from latex, which would be handled very differently by a recycler.

Even setting aside the question of dealing with disposing of a bulky mattress, polyurethane falls under that nebulous “other” category of plastics that isn’t a shoo-in at every recycling facility.

There are also some concerns over the flame retardants used to treat polyurethane foam mattresses, as well as the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that they may release into the indoor environment over time.

What about traditional mattresses?

Traditional mattresses generally also contain some amount of foam. However, they also have all sorts of other components such as metal springs, wood frames, and fabric exteriors. These added materials make them a mixed-material challenge in need of separation and sorting, but also make them more valuable to many recyclers.

That said, with the increasing popularity of memory foam mattresses, many recyclers are finding ways to give that polyurethane a second life.

Both chemical and mechanical processes can be used to either produce new foam or to reclaim the material for use in things such as carpet padding. Converting a foam mattress into carpet padding is an example of down-cycling, but it’s better than letting the material go to the landfill.

If you want to recycle your foam mattress, you can’t just put it on the curb and hope it takes care of itself.

Look for specialty recyclers in your city, or search on 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to learn about their mattress-recycling options, which include foam mattresses. The Mattress Recycling Council also has a facility locator through their Bye Bye Mattress program, which operates in California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

No matter what type of mattress you choose, keep its end of life in mind. According to Consumer Reports, 20 million mattresses are thrown away in the US every year. Doing your research to find a mattress that will keep you comfortable and healthy the longest will ultimately leave you with a smaller environmental footprint.

SOURCES: American Chemistry Council, Healthy Building News, Mother Jones

Are you in the market for a mattress? Which options are you considering? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Marilu K. 7 days ago
    We donated mattresses to our nearby homeless organization and all were immediately used by families in need. We keep them clean with extra covers and layers and have a mattress vacuum that we use regularly to keep down dust and mite levels. So far, our current mattress is still quite comfortable...
  • Nancy C. 15 days ago
    I bought a twin to replace my 30+ queen mattress 5 years ago. I double-wrapped the latter and tied it to a tree near the road in my rural suburban location and put a huge free sign on it. Eventually I found it had been taken. This year in June I started sleeping on the floor since it was the best position for nerve damage I had sustained in my neck, arm and shoulder. That was 4 months ago and still every night since when I choose bed or floor , the latter prevails even though my injury has healed...or perhaps BECAUSE it has healed. (sleeping on medium pile carpet padded underneath - I lay a bed sheet over that, use a pillow for my head and under my knees if on my back; On my side I fold the pillow in half and use the other pillow between my knees) It works!!
  • Trish H. 15 days ago
    We now have a Sleep Number, parts can be recycled or reused but is still like new at 12 years and we bought it new. Previously we had a Soma type for 15 years, the tubes are replaceable and recycled when we were done w/ them. We kept the tube enclosure and filled it with foam from the fabric shop topped w/ worn out pillows. I'd say I'm getting my use out of them. Another bonus to this type is they are cleanable and don't need rotating and so far have not worn out, also easy to move. 30+ years and not a need for more mattresses. Friends had a very nice air mattress for 10 years, recycled their guest version but still sleep on it w/ a topper. When the topper wears out it becomes a pet bed. People starting life over from nothing can always use them. Veterans homes is another place to try. Growing up we donated them to the Salvation Army.
  • Kim L. 17 days ago
    We donate our furniture whenever it is time to replace something. Not only does it keep it out of landfills, but it also helps someone in need. It's a win-win situation!
  • Kristine t. 20 days ago
    I think everyone should try to do the recycling thing for the world and the kids in this world
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