What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath

Posted on 05. Oct, 2012 by in Greener Properties

I’ve seen many discarded on the street, curbs or sticking out of dumpsters. And I’ve owned or used my fair share as well. Yes, I’m talking about mattresses.

I started out with a humble twin bed. As an exchange student in France, I slept on a futon-type mattress, followed by another twin bunk my freshman year of college. Right before grad school, I upgraded to a full mattress of a higher quality than any previous mattress – a gift from my mother. My husband and I held on to that full mattress for the first 11 years of our marriage. By that point, our backs were feeling achy when we woke up and our burgeoning greyhound family left little space for us.

It was time to explore other options. We started researching green mattresses and were alarmed to learn that our mainstream mattress was likely off gassing toxic fumes while we slept. We also quickly learned that the term “green mattress” was at that time imprecise and vague — sometimes even dangerous. Some mattresses advertised as green were not at all environmentally safe or free from toxic materials. Many mainstream mattress vendors were jumping on the green mattress bandwagon, capitalizing on misinformation and loose industry standards about what qualified a mattress as green.

Our quest lasted a year. We exhausted ourselves testing out mattresses, researching, and asking questions. Finally, we decided to move forward with natural latex harvested from trees in Sri Lanka – renewable, but a considerable distance from Minnesota – to fit a queen bed. That meant we also had to buy a bigger bed frame. We opted for a frame made with local reclaimed lumber.

Several weeks later, two large boxes arrived via UPS. Inside each one was exactly half a bed’s worth of natural latex. We hefted the contents up the stairs to our bedroom and began to construct what has become the most comfortable sleeping environment I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience.

Unfortunately that’s not where the bedtime story ends. After the arrival of our new green bed, we still had a toxic secret hidden away in our basement. Our old mattress, once a source of comfort and solace, was now the recipient of our ire and suspicion. It had slowly been poisoning us while we slept. Its once-firm support grew soft and worn.

But we couldn’t just throw it away. Surely there was a more responsible method of ridding ourselves of this toxic behemoth. Then we learned that the only mattress-recycling operation in our state had long-since closed. If we wanted to recycle our old mattress, we’d have to drive it out of state.

Instead, we left it leaning against a wall in the basement for almost two years until a neighborhood clean-up effort presented us with an easier opportunity to dispose of the old mattress in a large community dumpster. We did so, but with sad resignation.

Thankfully, there are efforts elsewhere to tackle mattress recycling. One organization in Tennessee recycles the approximately 25 pounds of steel and padding from the average mattress while providing work for difficult-to-hire ex-cons. The non-profit plans to create a similar model for other states looking to set up similar programs. If that happens, we’ll all sleep better.

How many mattresses have you gone through in your lifetime? How many of them have been left behind after a move-out?

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