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Environment & Science

Here's why we're putting a GPS tracker in a mattress (updated)

Matt the Mattress, pictured waiting to be picked up curbside in Silver Lake
Matt the Mattress, pictured waiting to be picked up curbside in Silver Lake
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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Update 2:24 p.m. Monday: Matt the Mattress was picked up from his curbside retreat in Silver Lake at 12:07 p.m. on Monday. He made a short trip down the 5 Freeway before getting off the freeway in Lincoln Heights. Then he went to a  property owned by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works.

Is this the end of the road for Matt? We have a call into the representatives from the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation to see if they'll let us take a look at Matt — and, hopefully, let us have the tracker back. Watch this space for more.

Previously: This week, Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson and KPCC Environment Correspondent Molly Peterson left a mattress on the side of the road with a GPS tracker inside it. The mattress is somewhere in Silver Lake waiting for the city to pick it up. We've named it Matt the Mattress.

Why did we kick Matt to the curb? The short answer is we want to see where he ends up. Here's the long answer:

Lots of mattresses end up in landfills

When you want to dispose of your mattress in the city of Los Angeles, residents are asked to get in touch with the Department of Sanitation's "bulky item pick-up" service. Off-Ramp's Kevin Ferguson talked about this last year. 

The L.A. County Department of Public Works estimated government agencies collected 60,000 mattresses in 2012. Of those thousands of mattresses, the County says just 600 of those were recycled. The rest go to landfills for now.

The California state government wants to change that

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 254 — a bill mandating that mattress manufacturers and retailers recycle their products. A state agency has been formed and regulators are currently figuring out  how to enforce the new law.

An unknown amount get refurbished

When a mattress gets recycled, the parts inside — the foam, the springs, the wood — get repurposed into other stuff: scrap metal, insulation, carpeting. 

When you refurbish a mattress, you turn an old mattress into a new one. Licensed refurbishers apply new fabric to the outside of the mattress and disinfect the old one assuring it's free from contaminants. The problem is, not all refurbishers are licensed — and retailers will rarely admit they sell refurbished mattresses. 

Could Matt turn into Matt II? 

We want to keep you updated

Watch this space for updates on Matt the Mattress's voyage. Will he go to a landfill? An unlicensed refurbish? The house of a person who really, really wants a mattress? We'll have that here, and more updates on Off-Ramp's Facebook page.