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Energy & Environment

After Holiday Sales, Where Do All The Old Mattresses Go?

Mattresses pile up at the North Mecklenburg Recycling Center in Huntersville.
David Boraks
Mattresses pile up at the North Mecklenburg Recycling Center in Huntersville.

Memorial Day weekend means remembering America's war dead, cookouts, and a big push to sell you a new mattress. That means thousands of old mattresses are being retired throughout the country – to the landfill. It’s a growing problem in Mecklenburg County.

If you're lucky after that new mattress arrives, the company that sold it to you will cart away the old one. But what happens to it then?

Jeffrey Smithburger
Jeffrey Smithburger

"Nobody ever thinks about the end life of mattresses," said Jeff Smithberger, Mecklenburg County's director of Solid Waste Management.   

"There are a few states that have product stewardship responsibility requirements, where the people that sell mattresses have to help you get rid of those mattresses. But that doesn't occur here in the South," he said.  

So mattresses pile up at landfills and bulky waste sites.

"We get about 500 mattresses a week," Smithberger said. "And that doesn't sound like a lot. But you start to multiply that times how many months there are in a year, and we suddenly end up with a whole lot of mattresses."  

He said they can get 700 or more after holiday sales weekends like this one, and overall, Smithberger said, the number of discarded mattresses is rising.

Part of that is population growth, but sales are up even faster. About 30 million mattresses were sold in the U.S. in 2018, up about 5.4 percent from the year before, according to the International Sleep Products Association. Smithberger said he thinks that's because they don't last as long as they used to.  


Whatever the reason, the mattresses keep coming — many to county drop off centers like the North Mecklenburg Recycling Center in Huntersville. Mattresses and box springs are piled up on a 20-foot mountain of old carpets, furniture and other unwanted items.

"Usually we have a walk-in floor trailer. It's an 18-wheeler. And we would line the floor of the trailer with mattresses," said Derrick Harris, the drop off center's supervisor.

Mattresses used to get trucked from there to a landfill. But lately, Mecklenburg County has been tossing them into an industrial grinder at the Foxhole waste site in south Charlotte, at the South Carolina line. Smithberger said he's working with a consultant to find buyers for all the foam, wood and metal coils that come out of them.

"We grind it up, and try to pull out the metal by magnets, try to find homes for the foam, and we're now looking at trying to find some areas that can use the wood products that come out of it," Smithberger said.

If it works out, that should help Smithberger sleep just a little bit easier.