By Maggie Lile
As many of us know, climate change and environmental protection are both headlining issues of today. Landfills, a tool originally put in place to combat pollution put into our environment, have actually resulted in some pretty negative side effects; harmful gas is released into our atmosphere, as well as natural habitats are often destroyed in order to put these landfills in place. As landfills expand to accommodate the amount of waste dumped in them, it consequently destroys more of the environment. Recycling is an easy way to reduce the amount of waste in our landfills, ultimately helping the Earth!
One thing that is consistently showing up in landfills – something many people probably wouldn’t think about – is mattresses. Although it might not seem very urgent, it is a big problem that mattresses are dominating landfills. It’s a problem because mattresses are actually 90% recyclable, and could be recycled instead of contributing to the expansion of landfills. In fact, Americans dump 18.2 million mattresses into landfills each year, taking up around 800 million cubic feet of landfills. Along with that, each one of those mattresses can take up to 120 years to fully decompose. The terrible effects of mattresses in landfills are extremely damaging, which is why recycling them is the only smart choice.
What happens to the mattresses once they’re dropped off at the recycling facility? Workers dissect them and collect the foam, felt, polyester, and metal springs. The foam is turned into new upholstery, yoga mats, and carpet pads. The felt gets transformed into a weed barrier, often used in city landscaping. Polyester can become a fuel filter, or used in cleaning supplies. Lastly, the steel is used for new appliances, like the ones you use in your house everyday! This process gets wasteful mattresses from taking up space in landfills and puts them to good use as other helpful products.
After the dissection, 90% of the mattress is recycled into something new, as previously mentioned. What happens to the remaining 10%? Some recycling facilities have access to companies that produce “refuse derived fuel.” Refuse derived fuel is an energy source produced by all types of nonrecyclable waste, including mattresses, that can replace the use of fossil fuels in many industries. Refuse derived fuel has the potential to produce electricity, heat, cement, and much more. This type of fuel is very beneficial in the industrial world, as well as beneficial to the environment by eliminating the use of fossil fuels.
It is widely known that recycling benefits the Earth. Looking at the information, especially the statistics mattresses leave behind in landfills, it makes it much more clear why recycling is so important. Most of us don’t really realize the positive impact we can have on the planet when properly recycling our things – especially things that almost all of us have or will have to deal with at least once throughout our lives. In addition to helping the environment, a mattress’s second life can have an enormous positive impact on people’s everyday lives, our communities, and even big industries. It’s amazing to see how something so simple can have such a positive impact on our planet!
Maggie Lile is a student at Spring Grove High School. She is one of 17 area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 24th year.