SALT LAKE CITY — Many people are willing to pay extra to have something recycled. But what if that’s not happening?
Utah residents have been charged tens of thousands of dollars over the past several months at the Salt Lake County Landfill to dispose of one thing: mattresses.
If you roll up to the landfill gate, there is a sign clearly posted that you will be charged $15 per mattress or box spring, on top of the regular fee to enter the dump.
If you ask about the cost, it’s not uncommon to get a response like the one Phillip and Carrie Damon recorded on camera.
“What is that fee for?” Phillip Damon asked the landfill attendant.
“It’s a recycling fee,” the attendant replied.
It’s a fee the Damons said they were happy to pay for, as long as the mattresses were being recycled. The couple runs a local disposal business called “Everything Goes,” hauling trailers of junk to the Salt Lake County Landfill several times a day.
They haul a lot of mattresses, meaning that $15 fee adds up quickly.
“I feel like I’m being misled,” Phillip Damon said. “I’m frustrated with the expense of it.”
The reason the Damons feel misled is because every trip they make to the landfill, they see mattresses scattered across the property, mixed with garbage not being recycled.
The KSL Investigators took a drive through the landfill with the Damons, as they pointed things out.
“Mattress, mattress, mattress, $15, $15, mattresses everywhere,” he said. “That mattress is not getting recycled. They’re just putting it over the side of the hill and covered it with dirt. They charged me for recycling and it’s not getting recycled.”
The Salt Lake County Landfill has had a contract with a recycling company called “Spring Back Utah” since August 2014.
That business breaks down mattresses and box springs and recycles almost every part. The owner, Jeff Jewett, said the landfill hasn’t brought him a single mattress for several months.
“The amount of mattresses that go in (the landfill), and the amount that are recycled is unfortunate,” Jewett said. “I think they would tell you there is a big discrepancy there.”
The landfill started charging the $15 mattress fee on Sept. 1, 2018. Since then, Jewett said the number of mattresses brought to him to be recycled has been light.
In part, he pointed to the mattress bins at the landfill which were exposed to wildlife and the elements.
“Once it’s wet, it’s not able to be recycled,” Jewett said. “The last time we received a load from them was Sept. 26, 2018. That was the load with eight raccoons.”
To find out exactly how many mattresses going through the gate at the landfill are actually being recycled, the KSL Investigators submitted a records request to the county.
According to the numbers from the Salt Lake County Landfill:
- 8,374 mattresses and/or box springs have been collected since Sept. 1, 2018.
- The landfill collected $125,490 in fees during that same time.
- 1,170 of the mattresses and/or box springs have gone to the recycler.
Do the math and just 14 percent of the mattresses are getting recycled.
To get an explanation, the KSL Investigators went to Ashlee Yoder, sustainability manager for the Salt Lake County Landfill.
When asked, “Does that number (14 percent of mattresses recycled) surprise you?” Yoder replied, “I would hope that it was more. I would like it to be more.”
Yoder said recycling is important to her and she wants to see more of it at the landfill. But she also wants to make something very clear regarding that $15 mattress fee charged at the gate.
“It’s a disposal fee,” Yoder said.
A disposal fee. Not a recycling fee.
So why have landfill employees been telling the Damons and the KSL Investigators, on multiple occasions, the extra $15 is a recycling fee?
“You’re telling me it was never for recycling?” asked KSL investigative reporter Mike Headrick.
“Well, I’m not going to go so far as say never for recycling,” Yoder said. “I think we hoped that we’d recycle as many of them as possible. We do want to recycle them, but the fee was imposed basically for the disposal cost.”
Which raises another question: What does “disposal cost” mean?
Yoder said mattresses are especially tough on the landfill. They take up large amounts of space, they create dangerous soft spots for the equipment, and the coiled-up springs inside mattresses sometimes wrap around and paralyze the heavy machinery. And it’s not a cheap fix.
Since the fee went into effect, KSL got a copy of the repairs made to these 60-ton machines, specifically because of mattresses.
The total cost of repairs since Sept. 1, 2018, is $77,247.98.
But when compared to the $125,490 in mattress fees the landfill has collected at the gate, and $8,190 paid out to recycle some of them, that leaves the Salt Lake County Landfill with an extra $40,052.
That’s $40,052 not used for the repair of equipment. That’s $40,052 not used to recycle. That’s $40,052 Phil Damon would like to see used the same way it’s been sold to him at the gate. That’s $40,052 Carrie Damon would like spent on more recycle bins throughout the landfill. And $40,052 Jewett would like to be used to protect the mattresses, move them to his warehouse, and recycle them.
As a result of the KSL investigation, Salt Lake County said it will educate its staff on giving correct information about the $15 fee to the public.
The landfill encourages people to take their mattresses directly to “Spring Back Utah” for recycling.
They’re located at 1929 South 4130 W., Suite D, Salt Lake City, UT 84104.
The fee is $10, which is $5 cheaper than the fee at the landfill.