New rule requiring mattresses, box springs to be recycled raises some concerns

  • Rich Pitts, owner of Valley Recycling in Northampton, stands in front of a load of mattresses dropped at the facility before Tuesday’s regulation change. Pitts says he’s unsure how well the new regulations will work. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rich Pitts, owner of Valley Recycling in Northampton, stands in front of a load of mattress dropped at the facility before the Nov. 1st, recycling restriction take place banning mattress from disposal and transport for disposal in Mass. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A load of mattress dropped at Valley Recycling before the Nov. 1st, recycling restriction take place banning mattress from disposal and transport for disposal in Mass. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rich Pitts, owner of Valley Recycling in Northampton, unloads a mattress for a customer at the facility before the state’s new recycling rule takes effect Tuesday, banning mattresses from disposal and transport for disposal in Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Vollinger unloads a mattress at Valley Recycling in Northampton, before the Nov. 1st, recycling restriction take place banning mattress from disposal and transport for disposal in Mass. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/31/2022 8:36:52 PM
Modified: 10/31/2022 8:36:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Valley Recycling has seen an influx of mattresses and box springs that people are tossing out over the past month.

On Saturday, the Northampton recycling center is only open for four hours, but managed to take in 100 mattresses from area residents. By Monday afternoon, the company had collected 100 more.

“It has been crazy,” said Rich Pitts, president and owner of Valley Recycling.

The frenzy Pitts described was in response to people’s last-ditch effort to rid themselves of old mattresses before the state’s waste disposal ban regulations take effect and mattresses are no longer allowed in the trash or combustion facilities.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has expanded its waste disposal ban regulations to include mattresses as well as textiles from the list of materials that are banned from disposal or transport for disposal. Those regulations go into effect on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

And while the increase in mattresses collected may be good for business, Pitts fears that the new state requirements — and the subsequent fees passed that now come with recycling them — will lead to people burning mattresses or chucking them out of their vehicles on every back road in the state.

Valley Recycling, which has a number of customers from trash removal haulers like 1-800-GOT-JUNK, has typically charged between $15 and $25 to dispose of mattresses. With the new regulations, prices have increased to $50 for clean and dry twin, full and queen mattresses, and $65 for dirty, stained and soiled mattresses, as well as king-size mattresses.

According to Pitts, fewer than 20% of the mattresses he’s taking in are considered “clean.”

“The regulations say that the state doesn’t want wet, moldy, stained or bed-bug-infested mattresses, but sometimes it’s hard to make that call. What happens if we bring our container to be recycled and they say the mattresses aren’t clean? What do I do with it now?” he said. “I’m honestly concerned if recyclers can handle the sheer volume of mattresses that will be coming in.”

Reducing waste disposal

The impetus behind the new regulations is the DEP’s 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan. As part of the plan, the state has a goal to reduce waste disposal in Massachusetts by 30% over the next 10 years — from 5.7 million tons in 2018 to 4 million tons by 2030. By 2050, the state has aimed to achieve a 90% reduction in disposal to 570,000 tons.

Residents and businesses in Massachusetts dispose of approximately 230,000 tons of usable clothing, footwear, linens and other textile products annually, according to the DEP.

By the state agency’s estimate, about 95% of this material could be reused or recycled rather than being thrown away, and since more than 75% of mattress components are recyclable, the ban encourages people to recycle.

“Recycling mattresses and box springs reduces the need for additional landfill and incinerator capacity, captures valuable materials for reuse, and supports a growing business sector here in the commonwealth,” DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg said in a statement.

Zero Waste Massachusetts, a coalition of like-minded advocates pushing to reduce and eventually phase out waste disposal, described the state’s plan as a positive step forward.

“Burning or burying items that can be recycled or composted is like throwing away our future,” Janet Domenitz, director of student-directed and student-funded organization Massachusetts Student Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG), said in a statement. “Incinerators and landfills pollute our air and water, emit greenhouse gas emissions and harm our communities. There is no ‘away’ in throwing things away, and we’re glad DEP is moving toward less disposal.”

Municipal action

To soften the landing of the new regulations, several municipalities have implemented recycling programs and initiatives prior to the Nov. 1 start date.

This summer, the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District created five regional mattress collection sites in the county after securing five $10,000 state grants to pay for storage facilities at the transfer stations in Colrain, Bernardston, Deerfield, Montague and Wendell.

The program is only for clean and dry fabric-covered mattresses and box springs, including foam and crib mattresses, according to Jan Ameen, executive director of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District.

The district launched its new recycling program on Oct. 24.

Regardless of size, all regional mattress recycling sites are now charging $35 per mattress or box spring.

If it’s dry and clean, the mattress will go into the new container, but if an attendant determines it to be dirty, it will go in the bulky waste bin. The price remains the same.

In Montague, attendant Dave Withers said he typically would see about 20 mattresses come into the transfer station a week, but has seen about a 30% increase since the district announced the ban and price increase.

“Honestly, maybe one in 100 is so disgustingly gross you don’t have to think twice about it. And I’d say in my three years here that I’ve probably seen about 1,000 mattresses come in,” he said. “I’m not that worried.”

Withers did say that the fee increase was more concerning. Prior to the program’s start, Montague’s fee to collect a mattress was $25.

“I just hate to see the prices go up because right now people are struggling with high gas prices, heating oil and everything else. So a $10 jump is a lot for people, and I just hate to see that,” he said.

‘Ahead of the curve’

Southampton Highway Superintendent and Transfer Station Manager Randall Kemp said the town was able to secure a 20-foot storage container designated for mattress recycling from state grant funding in July 2018.

“Not to toot my own horn, but toot, toot. We’re way ahead of the curve here,” said Kemp.

However, instead of the recycling program being optional, it’s now mandatory.

The town only permits members to use its transfer station — $75 for a standard pass and $50 for seniors.

Clean and dry mattresses and box springs are $20 to be recycled. Those that attendants deem to be dirty are dumped into bulky waste and come with a $30 fee.

As for textiles, Withers and Kemp agreed that people seem to have no problem with keeping clothing out of the trash. Both said, however, that many people aren’t as familiar with the extent of textiles being collected.

Under the state’s regulations, usable textiles including clothing, footwear, belts, hats, handbags, throw rugs, drapes, towels, sheets and other linens. Ninety-five percent of this material can be reused as clothing or repurposed as rags or recycled into new fiber-based products, said Kemp.

“The material doesn’t need to be perfect — it can be worn, ripped and stained, and still be kept out of the trash,” he said.

Material that is contaminated with bodily fluids, oil, mildew or mold will not be accepted.

For the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District, each transfer station in the county, aside from Bernardston, has Salvation Army bins to collect textiles. Bernardston uses CMRK in Northborough for textile recycling.

In Southampton, Kemp has also been proactive in motivating residents to divert clothing and fabrics from the waste stream and landfills. In fact, he’s even challenged them online to reduce and recycle items through donations to the D.A.R.E. bins at the town’s transfer station on Moose Brook Road.

From 2019 t0 2021, residents donated 21,975 pounds of textiles. From his records through September of this year, Kemp said residents have already diverted 10,610 pounds of textiles from the waste stream.

“I keep urging people when they get new items like a new bed or a new refrigerator to ask what the company’s disposal options are. It’s cheaper than what we can do and I encourage them to consider those options,” he said.

While Kemp and Withers remain confident with the programs that are in place, Pitts said the impact of the new regulations still remains to be seen.

“Time will tell, but I don’t see this getting better anytime soon,” said Pitts.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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