On the Today show this morning,
Katie Couric Meredith Viera said, “You can’t live in New York without finding old mattresses and TVs along the curbside because people don’t know what else to do with them. But there is someone who will take them.”
Her interviewee, Chip Giller of Grist.org, suggested going to Craigslist or freecycle.org to offer your mattress to others.
In most areas of the U.S., you can’t recycle your mattresses, and they’re even hard to give away — charities like Goodwill often refuse to take them. Old TVs can be tough to unload too. But if your items are still in functional condition, consider that other R, “reuse,” instead of just “recycle.”
One of the best ways to give new life to your old belongings is through the Freecycle Network, an online community with chapters all over the U.S. and around the world, through which people offer up items they no longer want and other people happily snap them up. (Read an article about Freecycle’s founding.) The online bulletin board Craigslist, which also has hundreds of local versions, has a section where you can offer things up for free too. You can get rid of just about any usable item (and some items you didn’t even think were usable) via Freecycle and Craigslist, and you can find great free stuff too.
While this may seem like a good idea, these days mattresses you see curbside (and there is one pictured in the Grist article linked to above) are often there because people had bed bugs and threw them out. While tossing out mattresses and furniture is not usually necessary (or even a good idea), it is a really common reaction to discovering bed bugs.
While Giller and Viera might assume that people would not offer their bed bug-infested mattresses on these online communities, the sad fact is that you can easily have bed bugs without knowing it–a significant percentage of people do not react to their bites. (I’ve heard estimates from 30% to 70%, but I don’t think there is good data on this yet.) Mattresses and furniture items do not always look infested. And bed bugs are spreading at an alarming rate, all over the US, from New York to Cincinnati, San Francisco to Boston, as well as in other countries.
This is probably why Goodwill does not accept used mattresses. (It’s likely they have enough trouble keeping bed bugs out of their shops and warehouses due to donations of furniture, clothing, and other items they do accept.)
While I strive to be as Green as I am able to be, I can tell you that getting bed bugs can do some serious damage to the environment, in the form of tossed out, destroyed, and replaced items, the use of plastic bags to isolate infested materials, the unusual amount of laundry, not to mention the spraying of pesticides.
A typical bedbugger’s XL ziplocs used during an infestation would probably make for a nice little landfill mountain. Bed bugs are not easy to get rid of, and spread easily to neighbors and others. One bed bug-infested mattress can lead to many people getting bed bugs and tossing out lots of otherwise-good stuff. So encouraging people to reuse and share mattresses, when this can spread bed bugs further, just does not make sense. The best thing for the environment would be for fewer people to get bed bugs in the first place.
Avoiding someone else’s Craigslist or Freecycle mattress is a good idea, because you cannot be certain it came from a bed bug free home, and neither can the person who donated it.
Caveat dumpster, and Caveat Craigslist.*
If you’d like to drop Today a note about this concern, as I did, you can email them: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Yes, I know my Latin is not grammatical. It should be Caveat Dumpster-Diver. And Caveat Cragislist-user. But it’s catchy don’t you think? ,
Thanks to poorBugger for mentioning this segment in the Forums.