Key state Senate committee backs mattress recycling bill

SACRAMENTO — A key state Senate committee has blessed a compromise among bedding manufacturers, environmentalists and local governments about how best to keep about 2 million used mattresses a year from being dumped on California streets or into landfills.

Still to be determined is exactly what kind of consumer fee or tax would be levied on mattress and box spring purchases, which manufacturers have estimated might be around $25. The money would create a first-in-the-nation "recovery and recycling" program that would be run by the mattress industry and overseen by California regulators.

The bill also would require retailers to offer free pickup of old mattresses when delivering new ones.

Although the proposal received no public opposition, it still faces major obstacles to becoming law. According to the state Constitution, the still-unspecified consumer fee is considered a tax, and thus must be approved by at least two-thirds of the Senate and the Assembly. That would require an aye vote from every member of a group of conservative Democrats or support from predominantly anti-tax Republicans.

"We have work to do," said state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), referring to the process of rounding up the minimum of 54 votes in the Assembly and 27 in the Senate.

Mattresses were just one of three consumer product recycling bills considered by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on Wednesday. The panel also approved a statewide ban on plastic supermarket bags and a measure aimed at promoting greater recycling and composting of fast-food packaging.

The mattress bill, by coauthors Sens. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), is needed to counter "a health issue and a tipping-point, blight issue in many communities," Hancock testified. The committee approved the bill, SB 254, on a 6-0 vote, with only Democrats voting in support. It was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Used mattresses can become breeding grounds for mold and pests, supporters said. Their presence in communities often sets the stage for other forms of vandalism, such as graffiti, they added.

Until last week, the mattress industry, which helped defeat a Hancock recycling bill last year, had been backing a rival measure by Correa.

The International Sleep Products Assn. feared being saddled with an expensive, bureaucratic state program. But the compromise mollified those worries by allowing the private sector to develop its own program with a goal of recycling or reusing three-quarters of all used mattresses by 2020.

The bill's first provision — requiring retailers to offer free pickup of old mattresses when they deliver new ones — would take effect July 1, 2014. An industrywide mattress recycling council must be organized by April 2015.

The result is a system similar to what California currently uses to encourage recycling of electronic waste, such as computers and monitors, tires, carpets and paint.

"This bill will increase recycling, create recycling jobs without endangering retail jobs," said Ryan Trainer, executive vice president and general counsel of the Sleep Products Assn.

Passage of the measure will be boon for the infant mattress recycling industry, Correa predicted. The director of a Los Angeles recycling center, he said, recently told him that he would run two or three shifts of workers a day to handle the increased volume of used mattresses should the bill pass. Recyclers say that at least 85% of a used mattress' components can be turned into usable materials.

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