Several years ago, I was asked to be a judge in an International Contest called Discarded Dreams. The contest sought submissions from around the globe, asking for ideas on what to do with old mattresses. The entries ranged from wild to wacky, but in the end we were left with what most people would suspect; a worn out mattress.
Mattresses are one of the most wasteful items we manufacture as a society. They are usually comprised of memory foam, which is a petroleum and chemical based material. They are usually wrapped in a plastic fabric like microfiber or polyester, with some fancy name so it doesn't sound like plastic. These mattresses, marketed under fancy and recognizable names, are made to last 5-7 years and when they wear out, are not good for anything. They end up going into landfills where they sit and do not decompose.
When you buy a mattress these days, its common for the store to offer free haul away of your old mattress. But there is not some mattress fairy who makes it go away. Where do they go?
Yes, some mattresses go to the dump, but there are other places old mattresses go. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or Berkeley and the East Bay, most worn out old mattresses are diverted to DR3, a mattress recycling facility in San Leandro. DR3 is quite a spectacle to behold. When I visited I guess I had a certain expectation, because I was pretty amazed at what I saw. It is a giant, cavernous warehouse with massive high stacks of old mattresses, dirty and moldy. Its amazing what really nasty old mattresses some people sleep on, and if you don't believe me, you can go there for yourself and see.
At DR3, they disassemble the old mattresses, shred the foam, shred the fabric and sell the old coils to be melted down and used again. But there is another pile of mattresses there, ones that don't look too terrible. These mattresses get loaded on a truck and shipped out of state where there are more liberal used mattress laws. They are bought up by mattress restoration facilities that refurbish them. Basically, they spray them with chemicals, put on new fabric and sell them as refurbished mattresses.
In the state of California, there is a little known law that allows mattress stores to do the same thing. You can legally sell a refurbished mattress in the state of California! There are two approved methods to sanitize these used mattresses. First is to put it in a heated chamber, an oven of sorts, and cook the mattress, killing any organisms. The other more common practice is to spray it with an insecticide that is so toxic you have to wear a head to toe suit and head gear and breathing apparatus to use it. You can tell if the mattress you are purchasing is refurbished, as it will have a red tag saying "reconditioned" on it. Of course, they don't have to tell you it's covered in chemicals so toxic you can't come in contact with it when you spray it.
So, either landfill recycled or sprayed. Not really very appetizing choices. The alternative of course is to go back to what our ancestors did and either make your own mattress out of natural bio-degradable components or purchase an organic or natural mattress, which at the end of its much longer life would be biodegradable. And at Nest Bedding, we strive to make our mattresses and our components to be affordable so you have no reason to purchase the fancy plastic mattress that doesn't last long.