Thursday, June 10, 2010

Recycling an inflatable mattress:

My daughter wanted to have a slumber party for her 7th birthday, so we had 3 girls over for the night.  My plan was to blow up the inflatable mattress and have 2 girls in her loft bed with 2 on the floor underneath.  The mattress is about 3 years old, and has been used quite a bit for camping trips, tent camping in the backyard, and sleepovers at the high school where my husband works (something the students get to do occasionally.)

I was disgusted to find, as I unpacked the mattress, that I must have failed to thoroughly dry it before packing it last time it was used, nearly a year ago.  The soft surface was covered in a thick layer of mold!  I used layers of blankets for the girls to sleep on and threw the mattress outside to deal with later.

On the next dry day, I used a bit of bleach (I know, I know) in a spray bottle to try to kill the mold, hoping to salvage the mattress.  Then Mike reminded me that, the last couple of times we used the mattress, it deflated by morning.  I was still thinking I could scrub the mold off and maybe patch a leak, just because I knew I couldn't bring myself to throw this huge amount of PVC into the trash.

Here's what I know about PVC: The manufacturing of the stuff creates dioxins, which are leaked into the environment.  People who work in PVC factories frequently get throat and lung cancer from breathing the fumes.  People who live in areas surrounding the factories have a much higher incidence of cancer, and PVC companies spend huge amounts of money making settlements in order to keep the information from making the news.  There is no safe way to dispose of PVC.  Burning it creates nasty toxins.  If you just leave it in a landfill, it photo-degrades, releasing dioxins into the environment.  The stuff is evil.  And it is everywhere, because it is such a perfect material for things like air mattresses, raincoats, and shower curtains.

So, here I was, knowing all of this because I once watched a really great documentary called "Blue Vinyl", and with a queen-sized pile of moldy PVC serving as a new kind of home decor.  What is an obsessive-compulsive recycler to do? 
First, I began by cutting the seams of the mattress, along the sides.  I found that there were flaps inside holding the top and bottom together so that, while inflated, it would maintain a mattressy shape.  So, I cut these apart as well.
And, like other normal people, I saved each and every one of these clear flaps of pvc, because you never know when they might come in handy, right?

As it happens, one of my dogs has had some kind of stomach upset lately, and it has been pouring rain for days, and she therefore has opted to spew feces all over our covered back porch, which is the launching pad for the dog yard.  This porch tends to be decorated with all sorts of flotsam, with the dogs spending so much time there, and I had just finished spraying it down once again before I stared on my mattress deconstruction project.  As I cut the top surface away, I suddenly realized the practical purpose:
It is the perfect size for the porch, and will make future clean-ups much easier.  I folded the bottom segment and stored it for now.  I am thinking of using it as a booth floor at Cracked Pots, or a mat for my studio floor, or for putting down when I cut glass outside.  The sides of the mattress were also cut out, in one long strip about a foot wide.  I might use that to sew some handy waterproof totes.

I feel pretty triumphant for managing to keep this thing out of the waste stream....for now.  Unfortunately, this material will not last forever, and will probably make its way to the garbage can, little by little, despite my best intentions.  This is the problem with plastics.  We can recycle and reuse, but they do eventually get thrown out.  This is my second air mattress, and I will not buy another one.  They are so useful, and my daughter is begging me to replace it, but there has to be a better way.  We will be camping at the end of this month, and I really hate sleeping on the cold, lumpy ground.  I would love suggestions for an inexpensive, eco-friendly way to create a somewhat soft bed.  Feel free to send me ideas.


  1. thanks for the info on pvc. i did not know how difficult it was to recycle. could also be used as a back yard water slid for the kids. or as a tarp for the grill.

  2. You are a crack up but definately genius, frugal & innovative!

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