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Throwing Out Clothes, Textiles and Mattresses Now a No-No in This State

Textiles and mattresses are no longer allowed in landfills and other municipal waste disposal facilities in Massachusetts. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced on Nov. 1 that home textiles such as curtains, sheets and towels, as well as clothing and other fabrics and mattresses are banned from disposal or transport for disposal.

John Fischer, deputy division director for solid waste at the Massachusetts DEP, said the move came as the state’s landfills are filling rapidly, with some slated to close in the coming years.

“Our approach to try to address that capacity need is to reduce as much as possible the amount of waste we send for disposal,” he said. “We recently last year published a new solid waste master plan for our state, which is our statewide policy framework. In doing that, we looked to identify the remaining materials in our trash that had really, really good remaining recycling potential.”

That solid waste master plan established the goal of reducing disposal statewide by 30 percent (from 5.7 million tons in 2018 to 4 million tons in 2030), and a long-term goal of achieving a 90 percent reduction in disposal to 570,000 tons by 2050. 

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Fischer said textiles and mattresses make up a significant portion of that waste. Across Massachusetts, residents and businesses dispose of approximately 230,000 tons of textiles annually. More than 5 percent of waste brought to combustion facilities consists of clothing, curtains, towels and other fabrics. And about 85 percent of those textiles being thrown away could be reused or recycled.

With mattresses, their heft poses a major problem in landfills and waste facilities.

“The tonnage amount is relatively small, but mattresses are important because they take up a lot of space and they’re difficult to handle at solid waste facilities,” Fischer said. “So they’re more of a volume issue than a weight issue, but they take up a lot of capacity because of how much space they take up.”

Along with the ban, Fischer said the state has worked with cities and towns across Massachusetts, as well as existing recycling companies, to expand recycling and reuse options for textiles and mattresses.

“We gave some grants to cities and towns for equipment to start their programs, and then we set up a statewide mattress recycling contract where those towns could have access to recycling services,” Fischer said. “At the same time, we started giving grants to businesses that were looking to either begin or expand mattress recycling services. We’ve been able to give grants to several mattress recycling operations to ramp up their operations and further grow our recycling infrastructure.”

Fischer said the state has already seen significant progress in mattress recycling capabilities.

“We now have processing capacity to recycle about 460,000 mattresses in Massachusetts on an annual basis,” he said. “We feel like we have a really good robust capacity to recycle mattresses [in] this space.”

For textiles, the state already had an expansive textile reuse and recycling infrastructure in place, including curbside collection services in some areas and drop-off bins in others.

“In the town where I live, we have a program through our schools where there are textile collection bins at each school, and when residents deliver those textiles to those bins, they partner with a textile recovery company that comes around and collects them,” Fischer said. “And then the town and each individual school gets credited a hundred dollars per ton of textiles that’s collected from their bin.”

The state also launched a grant program for textile and mattress recovery companies that will begin awarding funds next year. Fischer said putting these programs in place is important to make the waste ban actually effective in not only diverting textiles and mattresses from landfills, but also encouraging reuse and recycling.

“When we develop a new waste ban, we always strive to take a comprehensive approach and make sure that we have an infrastructure in place to manage that material before we actually implement a disposal band,” he said.