Waste is a global problem and, every year, universities around the world encounter the difficulty of recycling unwanted household items when students leave their halls of residence. Items left behind commonly include clothes, textbooks, electronics, furniture and non-perishable food. This year, one university in Ontario, Canada found a surprising number of one particular item was being handed over for recycling – foam mattress toppers.
Wilfrid Laurier University set up A Move-out program in 2015 for students to drop-off their unwanted items as they move out of campus residences. The program has been a great success, with thousands of kilograms of waste being recycled rather than simply ending up in landfill sites.
This year, the program was given a challenge as 30 foam mattress toppers were dropped off. Tasked with recycling these cumbersome items was Brooke Dietrich, a summer sustainability assistant at the program’s Sustainability Office HQ.
Foam mattress toppers are notoriously hard to recycle because not only are they large, bulky items, they aren’t made from the most eco-friendly materials. Their decomposition can lead to the release of harmful chemicals, such as hydrogen cyanide and flame retardants.
Dietrich also found that many places that usually accepted used goods could not take the foam toppers for hygienic reasons.
Undeterred, Dietrich spread the word on social media and discovered a local volunteer organization called Ground Search and Rescue KW, which helps find lost pets and fosters strays until they can be rehomed.
A perfect match
This was a joyous find for Dietrich as Ground Search and Rescue KW had the innovative idea of taking the foam mattress toppers and turning them into pet beds for rescued cats and dogs. The charity could not use them all but was able to find a similar group in another Canadian province that was able to take some.
As a pet lover and owner of 3 rescue dogs in her life, Dietrich was thrilled that these discarded items were able to provide a home and bring comfort to much needed causes.
She is hoping that news of this success will spark other universities across the country to send their left-behind foam mattress toppers to pet rescue centers and foster homes, and spawn more charitable organizations like Ground Search and Rescue KW.
What can you do?
Pet beds can be expensive, so having the option to use recycled products is vital for pet rescue homes to enable them to provide a cozy and snug place for animals to sleep.
The foam mattress toppers are great for providing pets with a soft home, especially older pets and ones that have been living on the street for a while as the foam can help support their joints.
If you have an old mattress topper that you don’t know what to do with, perhaps try a quick internet or social media search and see if there is a local pest rescue charity you could donate to.
Or if you have pets of your own, you could turn your unwanted mattress topper into a pet bed for them and create something greater than your own comfort. Simply cut your foam topper down to a size that is sensible for your pet and wrap it in some durable sheets or fabric.
And if you are a first-year university student, have a look to see if your uni has a program similar to the one started by Brooke Dietrich at Wilfrid Laurier University, and give yourself peace of mind that your foam mattress topper will be put to good use.