Mattress trade group shuns state-based EPR

Mattress trade group shuns state-based EPR

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

The International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) doesn't want states to begin passing stewardship laws aimed at mattress recovery and recycling. The trade group, which represents mattress manufacturers, is so opposed to these proposals that it's seeking to convince Congress to pass a national stewardship law for its products that would preempt state laws. And that idea has its detractors.

Mattresses can be a big headache to dispose of. They're bulky, take up space in landfills, are regularly illegally dumped, can soak up muck and grime and can be a refuge for bed bugs. And, as they can be expensive for municipalities to handle, many find that they are not economically viable to recycle.

Across the country, there have been efforts by state and local governments to increase recycling of mattresses and box springs. And some industry groups have also shown more interest in recycling used mattresses, including the ISPA.

According to Christopher Hudgins, vice president for government relations and policy at the ISPA, his organization has been working for the last year and a half on federal stewardship legislation. Although the ISPA has no "hard language" on their proposal that has been made public, he says it would function much like other stewardship schemes: consumers would pay a fee that would fund a stewardship "council" tasked with collecting and recycling used mattresses. The council would be overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce and would reimburse the agency for that oversight, he says.

Hudgins says that currently California, Connecticut and Rhode Island are likely to take up legislation that would establish state-based stewardship programs for mattresses, and the ISPA prefers a national approach. He says the ISPA is particularly concerned about potential legislation in Rhode Island. Last year, lawmakers in that state considered a bill Hudgins says would have been overly burdensome to the mattress industry.

"Our belief is that a federal solution is the best approach for the industry and customers as well," Hudgins says. "Our worry is we'll have 50 different state laws, which is more costly than having a national law."

Hudgins doesn't expect a federal law to be passed any time soon, but is actively in conversation with members of Congress on the issue.

"I think there has been a good response," he says of his interactions with lawmakers. "Nobody's saying this doesn't make any sense."

But that good response isn't shared by some groups generally supportive of product stewardship.

Mark Murray, the executive director of Californians Against Waste, said in an email exchange with Resource Recycling that the California State Legislature was on the cusp of passing a mattress stewardship law last year, but the final bill stalled in the state Senate. He wrote that CAW is planning on working with state Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) to introduce legislation to require manufacturers to recycle 75 percent of their end-of-life mattresses.

"While we would be supportive of a federal mattress recycling policy, the proposal by the International Sleep Products Association is far too weak and vague to address the multi-million dollar problem of mattress dumping," he wrote in an email. "That said, there would appear to be zero chance that Congress will even introduce — let alone pass — a federal mattress recycling policy. In my 25 years of working on solid waste and recycling policy, the federal government has never enacted a recycling policy on any product or sector. Not on e-waste. Not on beverage containers. Not on anything."

According to Murray, CAW has been in contact with the ISPA on how to craft a mattress recycling policy that both could support. He says they disagree on who should pay for the program, with the ISPA advocating a point-of-sale fee and CAW wanting manufacturers to shoulder this burden. He says that the ISPA doesn't want recycling goals, while CAW does.

"It's a smoke screen," says Scott Cassel, the CEO and founder of the Product Stewardship Institute, of the ISPA's proposal. "What the ISPA is seeking is not viable."

In addition to being very difficult to pass at the federal level, Cassel says that the ISPA proposal isn't adequately funded and doesn't require enough from the industry.

In response to the ISPA's contention that a national mattress stewardship law would be more manageable than a 50-state patchwork, Cassel says the paint industry has advanced a viable solution toward this problem by creating PaintCare, a nonprofit stewardship organization, while successfully pushing for laws in four states modeled after each other.

Cassel also says rolling out legislation state-by-state allows plans to be tested and lessons learned from them.

Hudgins responds to these criticisms by arguing that any stewardship program should leave out a recycling goal at least until a baseline can be established. He also defended the consumer fee, saying there should be shared responsibility for stewardship. Additionally, he says the PaintCare model wouldn't apply to mattresses because they are different products and there are different challenges in collecting, transporting and recycling each.

"We tend to get painted by [CAW] and others as obstructionists that don't want to accomplish anything, and that's not the case," he adds.

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One Size Fits All

Rechargeable battery manufacturers seek the opposite of the ISPA: state-by-state EPR legislation. The US Conference of Mayors supports mattress EPR legislation. EPR for furniture and mattresses begins in France this year (do any ISPA members do business in France?). And Vancouver, British Columbia banned mattress disposal, grew three mattress recycling businesses, and diverted hundreds of thousands of mattresses. But we better wait for the federal government to pass national recycling legislation for the first time, even though there is "no hard language" and the ISPA "doesn't expect a federal law to be passed any time soon." Sounds like a plan.

Mattress Stewardship Law - Support Advanced Disposal Fees!

In the early 1990s, North Carolina enacted Advance Disposal Fees on White Goods and Tires despite much industry opposition. The industry was NOT hurt as the fees were applied equally to all types of auto and truck tires and appliances. The fees were reasonable 1% on tires and $10 on white goods, later reduced commensurate with further analyses and changing market conditions, etc.  These ADF were coupled with state-wide landfill bans on both items, Initially there were varying market responses,including stockpiling of tires against improvements in tire recovery technology. White Goods were incorporated into the existing scrap metal infrastructure overall.  Now the tires are used for TDF and some retreading, etc. Freon is recovered from white goods.

The end results twenty years later are successful programs that keep almost all tires and white goods from being illegally dumped, a consistent predictable and equitable source of funding for recycling these materials is available to Counties (and some Cities) to operate the programs (not without some glitches of course!) Tire dumps in North Carolina have just about been completely eliminated as has rural roadside dumping of appliances. There is money in the ADF to assist with dump clean up too.

ADF for mattresses (and boxsprings) is a relativley simple and potentially very effective solution that could be readily applied at the State level as was done effectively for tires and white goods. It does not do everything more complex product stewardship approaches do, but a careful and diligent mattress recycler can already find markets for all the components of conventionally built mattresses.  Mattresses don't need any further improvements  or toxicity reduction, etc. that would be induced from product stewardship -- except perhaps revisiting the whole issue of effectiveness of  flame retardant additives in saving lives v. the potential health hazards of exposure, but that's a different discussion.  There will be a separate set of challenges from the high tech beds now coming on the market, but that is a small percentage and should not prevent the immediate consideration of ADF for mattresses and box spings. A higher ADF on those if they prove harder to recycle could handle that problem as it arose.