Three years after California, Connecticut and Rhode Island passed mattress-recycling laws, statewide programs are flourishing under the management of the Mattress Recycling Council
BY JULIE A. PALM
Collectively, new statewide recycling programs in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island have recycled 1 million mattresses and box springs since the first program in Connecticut got underway just 18 months ago.
It’s a remarkable achievement for the mattress industry, but it’s also a big win for consumers, who now have a no-cost way of disposing of their old mattresses; a relief to states and municipalities that are keeping the bulky items out of their landfills; and helpful to companies that use the recycled components and materials to make entirely new products. All that’s according to officials with the Mattress Recycling Council, a nonprofit organization that developed and now manages all three recycling programs in accordance with the laws in those states.
“The industry identified the dual problem of too many mattresses going into landfills and legislators proposing impractical and costly ways to address this situation,” says Ryan Trainer, president of both MRC and the International Sleep Products Association. “The mattress industry worked with policymakers to increase recycling in a practical and efficient manner. Once we negotiated legislation that supported our goals, MRC quickly developed and implemented comprehensive recycling programs in three states that are up and running—and generating good results.”
Chris Hudgins was one of the ISPA and MRC staff members who worked closely with lawmakers and regulators in each state, as well as industry stakeholders, to draft the recycling laws. He acknowledges, “there was skepticism about whether the programs would be workable—let alone successful— from almost everyone in the beginning.”
“One big fear from retailers and manufacturers was that the new fees were going to drive down mattress sales, but we don’t see any evidence of that,” says Hudgins, who is vice president of industry and external affairs for MRC and vice president of government relations and policy for ISPA. “Consumers understand why they are paying the fee upfront and appreciate that they can recycle their used mattress at the end of its life at no additional cost.”
All three states passed their mattress-recycling laws in 2013. Connecticut’s program was the first to launch in May 2015, California’s followed in December 2015 and Rhode Island’s kicked off in May 2016.
Although there are differences between them, the programs operate in much the same way: Consumers pay a fee (ranging from $9 to $11, depending on the state) on every mattress and box spring sold, and that money is then used to pay for transporting and recycling the discarded mattresses. Fees appear as a separate line item on a customer’s receipt or invoice.
The consistency across the three states was intentional. The mattress industry, first through ISPA and then through MRC when it was formed in 2013, worked with lawmakers and regulators in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island to craft laws that would not only reduce the flow of mattresses into landfills but also spare retailers, manufacturers and other stakeholders—especially those operating in more than one of the states—from having to deal with a confusing mishmash of regulations and requirements.
From old beds to new products
Used mattresses and box springs enter the recycling process in several ways. State residents can drop off their old beds at no cost at participating collection sites or recycling facilities—an arrangement that not only cuts down on the dumping of mattresses along roadsides and in vacant lots, but also one that saves residents in a state like Rhode Island (where the previous cost of disposing of a used mattress set could run as high as $50) a significant chunk of change. Of course, many retailers regularly pick up used bedding at customers’ homes when they deliver new mattress sets. Under the state programs, retailers can either take those pieces to MRC-contracted recyclers themselves or store them until they accumulate a certain number, at which time MRC will pay to transport them to a recycling facility—either way there’s no cost to the retailer for recycling. Hotels and motels, colleges and universities, hospitals, military installations and other organizations that may have large numbers of used mattresses can use the same no-cost options as retailers.
“We expect the number coming from retailers and similar sources will increase over time and the numbers at drop-off locations to decrease as people get rid of their ‘legacy mattresses’ (those sitting in people’s basements and garages),” says Mike O’Donnell, managing director of MRC. “We’d prefer to have retailers and other sources intercept mattresses before they enter the solid-waste stream because they tend to be cleaner and in better condition, allowing recyclers to recycle more of the components.”
In Connecticut, the state’s recycling program already is meeting many goals, including the percentage of materials in used mattresses that is able to be reclaimed and sold to other companies for use in new products, says Justine Fallon, New England program coordinator for MRC. (MRC recently completed its annual report for the Connecticut program. You can read it here.)
“In just its first year, about 80% of the components and materials from the 150,000 mattresses collected and dismantled were recycled,” Fallon says. That figure beats the goal of 75%.
“We’ve taken these mattresses and kept them out of the waste stream and recycled materials into new products that aren’t bedding,” she adds. “That’s a great environmental story for the product and its long-term value as the used components find new life as raw materials for new products.”
Getting the word out
As with the launch of any new program, particularly one mandated by law, there were questions and even concerns from mattress retailers, manufacturers and others in the industry about exactly how these programs would work. With that in mind, MRC made education and outreach priorities from the start. Its efforts in advance of each state program’s launch were intense and they continue. MRC staff members have made presentations at dozens of mattress and furniture industry events, including the Las Vegas Market and ISPA EXPO, as well as to meetings of waste haulers and recyclers.
New information and regular updates about each state program are reported on the MRC website (MattressRecyclingCouncil.org), the MRC’s consumer-facing website (ByeByeMattress.com), in MRC and ISPA newsletters, on MRC social media channels and, of course, in the pages of Sleep Savvy and its sister publication, BedTimes. MRC staff members also are in direct contact with retailers and other stakeholders through letters, emails and phone calls—whatever it takes to get the word out.
“Just because the programs have launched, MRC outreach to retailers hasn’t stopped,” says Amanda Wall, marketing and communications coordinator for MRC. “In addition to the comprehensive MRC and Bye Bye Mattress websites, where retailers can find answers to most questions, we have customer service support in our offices so retailers can speak with a ‘live’ person.”
When it comes to retailer relationships—when doing everything from setting up the portal used for reporting fees to creating consumer-education materials—MRC aims for simplicity, ease of use and “making sure we’re being fair and equitable to everyone—from small brick-and-mortar stores to regional chains to online retailers to the larger, national companies. It’s something we think about every day,” Wall says. Examples of these efforts include creating video explainers for those retailers who learn information better that way, working directly with less technologically savvy retailers who aren’t as practiced at registering or reporting data online, and making documents available in English and Spanish (plus additional languages in the future) to eliminate language barriers.
Making sure consumers understand the fee also is critical to the success of the mattress-recycling programs. The ByeByeMattress.com website is user friendly and filled with the latest recycling information for each state. In addition, MRC staff members reach out to consumers through public service announcements, paid advertising, social media and attendance at events like Earth Day festivals. MRC will promote mattress collection events in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island as part of Keep America Beautiful’s America Recycles Day on Nov. 15.
“People like to participate in recycling and feel good about it,” Fallon says. “And to be able to recycle their old mattresses through no-fee recycling by having them picked up by a retailer or taking them to a drop-off site is a win-win for them.”
Resources for retailers
- The Mattress Recycling Council has a robust “Resources” section of its website, MattressRecyclingCouncil.org, where you’ll find registration guidelines, FAQs, an informational video series, guides to answering consumer questions, ready-to-use consumer-education materials and much more.
- Designed primarily with consumers in mind, the Bye Bye Mattress website, ByeByeMattress.com, also is a good resource for retailers. It includes a newly improved locator to find recyclers, mattress collection sites and collection events, not just in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island, but across the United States. Direct your customers to it for good explanations of how recycling fees are used, recycling program specifics in your state and the many benefits of mattress recycling.
Register and report.
If you sell mattresses in California, Connecticut or Rhode Island—whether hundreds a day through your chain of sleep shops or one a year through your small furniture store and whether you sell in brick-and-mortar locations, online or through contract channels—you must register with Mattress Recycling Council, collect the fee set by your state on every mattress and box spring you sell, and report and remit those fees monthly to MRC. It has worked to make registration, reporting and remittance easy here.
A key to the success of these statewide mattress-recycling programs is a level-playing field: Every company that sells mattresses and box springs needs to participate, says Mike O’Donnell, managing director of MRC. “There are no ‘free riders.’ It’s important that everybody participates.”
And, thus far, “we’ve had very good compliance with the laws from retailers,” says Chris Hudgins, vice president of industry and external affairs for MRC and vice president of government relations and policy for the International Sleep Products Association. “One of the issues some retailers bring up is ‘I’m collecting and remitting the fees, but I don’t know if my competitor down the street is.’ But we’ve seen good compliance, even with online retailers.”
Retailers that don’t register or fail to collect, report and remit the mandated fees are subject to financial penalties and could be barred from selling mattress sets in the state. They also must pay all per piece fees they failed to collect initially, retroactive to the day the law went into effect in that state, Hudgins says.
If you operate in California, make sure you’re selling only products from registered mattress manufacturers.
Under these state laws, mattress manufacturers whose products are sold in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island all must register with MRC. In California, retailers are required to sell mattresses and box springs only from registered producers, and the California law includes an additional provision that requires MRC to provide California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (better known as CalRecycle) each month with a list of registered manufacturers and the brands/products they sell in that state.
If you operate in California, make sure you are ready for a random inspection.
CalRecycle staff members are conducting random inspections to verify that retailers and other parties are complying with the state’s mattress-recycling law. For guidelines on what types of information are sought during these inspections and how to prepare for such a visit, check the “Snooze/Recycling” section of the October Sleep Savvy.
Pay attention to what might be happening in other states—and get involved.
At this point, MRC thinks it’s unlikely that other states will pass mattress-recycling legislation in 2017, Hudgins says. MRC carefully monitors the progress of potential mattress-recycling legislation at the state level and, while ISPA and MRC don’t actively encourage states to start statewide programs, they do work closely with lawmakers and regulators in states that are considering such bills. If new legislation is drafted and introduced, MRC’s goal is to make certain it’s similar to the laws in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Industry stakeholders, including retailers, are an important part of that advocacy process and are encouraged to get involved. To receive news about proposed mattress recycling legislation in your state and other recycling matters, sign up for MRC updates.
By the numbers
- 39.5 million: Approximate population
- 1 million: Goal for number of mattresses recycled
annually, with the number growing steadily
- 7: Number of recyclers contracted by the
Mattress Recycling Council (with 11
processing facilities total)
- $11: The fee collected when a mattress or box spring is sold to California consumers
- 3.5 million: Approximate population
- 150,000: Goal for number of mattresses recycled
- 3: Number of MRC-contracted recyclers
- $9: The fee collected when a mattress or box spring is sold to Connecticut consumers
- 1 million: Approximate population
- 65,000: Goal for number of mattresses recycled
- 2: Number of MRC-contracted recyclers
- $10: The fee collected when a mattress or box spring is sold to Rhode Island consumers
Stay up to date
- Want to get the latest news about mattress recycling sent directly to you? Sign up for regular updates from the Mattress Recycling Council.
- Follow MRC on social media. Look for it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a publications director. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at email@example.com.