Anyone who purchases a mattress in Connecticut is charged an extra $11.75. It’s true for the box spring, too.
The fees are mandated by state law to cover the cost of recycling discarded mattresses and box springs.
The little-known Connecticut Mattress Stewardship Program has big aims – keep discarded mattresses out of landfills; repurpose the materials; save towns money on trash-hauling costs; stop people from dumping mattresses in the street; and provide jobs at recycling centers that break down mattresses and box springs.
The voluntary program, which began in 2015, was a ground-breaker, said Tom Metzner, an environmental analyst with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which monitors it.
“Connecticut was the first in the United States and one of the first in the world to recycle mattresses,” Metzner said. “Canada, which is a global leader in recycling, actually called us to ask how we do it.”
It’s not easy.
Mattresses and box springs are bulky and hard to transport. They are difficult to crush at municipal incinerators. At recycling centers, the springs become tangled in equipment. At landfills, they take up a lot of space.
“Nobody wants them,” Metzner said. “A private transfer station will charge you $30, $35, or more to bring one there.”
But if mattresses and box springs can be disassembled, 80 percent to 95 percent of the components – foam, cotton, wood, and steel springs – can be recycled.
Connecticut has two facilities, one in Bridgeport and one in Hartford, that do that.
“We are recycling mattresses like we never did before,” Metzner said. “Last year we did more than 200,000 mattresses, which is magnitudes higher than we did when we started.”
The program is run by the Mattress Recycling Council, a nonprofit organization founded by bedding manufacturers to run state recycling programs. Besides Connecticut, the only states that have programs are Rhode Island and California, though Oregon recently enacted one.
“Mattress recycling laws are being considered now in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Maine,” said Dan McGowan, Northeast program coordinator for the council. “It’s only a matter of time until more states adopt it. We are seeing the movement.”
It’s a great idea, Fairfield County recycling chiefs said – except for some difficult practicalities.
Dan Colleluori, director of recycling and sanitation in Stamford, said he tried the program five years ago. Then he ended it. The reason?
“We had a container at the recycling center that would fit about a ton of mattresses a month. People came and dropped them off,” Colleluori said. “The problem was, some had bed bugs, and they would contaminate the whole load.”
The mattress council’s recycling center rejects infested mattresses, Colleluori said.
“They would send the whole load back . Then it all went in the garbage,” he said. “So we were collecting mattresses for nothing.”
Greenwich found a way around the bed bugs, said Patrick Collins, the town’s environmental operations manager.
“We don’t take mattresses if they obviously have bed bugs,” Collins said. “We inspect them as they come in. We take a careful look. But not everybody has the staff to do that.”
That’s the case in Stamford, Colleluori said.
Norwalk doesn’t have the space to collect mattresses, said Jessica Paladino, waste programs manager for that city. There’s no room in the transfer station for a container or for residents to come and go, Paladino said.
Instead, Norwalk holds mattress drop-off events with the Mattress Recycling Council, Paladino said.
Norwalk held two events in 2017 that collected a total of 88 mattresses weighing more than 2 tons, she said. Events were canceled during the pandemic, but her department is working on a schedule for this year.
The council brings a truck and employees, who check for bed bugs, McGowan said. There are criteria.
“Clean and dry is the standard,” McGowan said. “We expect rips and stains. It’s when a mattress has been in the back of a compactor, covered in kitchen waste and no longer in the shape of a mattress, that we can’t recycle it. Or when it’s been left outside and it’s too saturated or infested with insects.”
The council pushes towns “to keep a permanent container, so it’s available to people when they have a mattress to get rid of,” McGowan said. Among Connecticut’s 169 towns, 146 participate, most with permanent drop-off sites and the rest with collection events, he said.
The council gets mattresses from municipal yards and curbside pick-ups; from retailers who take away customers’ old mattresses when they deliver new ones; from private haulers like Junk Luggers; and from hotels, nursing homes, colleges, and more.
The council has collection sites and recycling facilities operated by businesses and nonprofits such as Salvation Army and Goodwill, which incorporate job training programs and employ people.
“The facility in Bridgeport pays a living wage with benefits, and they hire people who were previously incarcerated and others who are difficult to employ,” Metzner said. “It’s a social mission. It can use more participation from the towns.”
Collins said the program works great in Greenwich.
“It saves about $6,000 a year by taking mattresses out of the garbage stream,” Collins said. “Being able to recycle all this material is just tremendous.”
Colleluori said he hopes to find a way to participate.
“Stamford does 30 or 40 tons of mattresses a year. I’d like to save money anywhere I can,” Colleluori said.
Metzner said the state’s role is to identify issues and get the bedding manufacturers to address them.
“If we can get people from the city, the Bridgeport facility, and the council at the same table, maybe they can work this out,” Metzner said. “We’re seven years into a good program, and it’s time to see what can be improved.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier headline for this story implied that the statewide efforts were stymied, when much of the bedbug problem is currently limited to Stamford