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Mattresses and bedsprings may never fit into a blue box, but efforts are under way to try to make the unwieldy home furnishings the latest items subject to recycling.

There is a pressing need to figure out what to do with old mattresses. Not only are they a nuisance for homeowners to dispose of, but hundreds of thousands of them end up in dumps each year, creating a headache for municipalities.

Those involved in recycling say it's a major waste of resources to toss mattresses into dumps because close to 100 per cent of the material in them - ranging from the steel in their coils to the cotton in their padding - can be recycled. The only hitch is that the value of the salvaged material doesn't come close to the approximate cost - $10 per mattress - needed for disassembly.

One of Canada's major mattress retailers, Sleep Country Canada, has recently begun recycling old mattresses it collects when delivering new ones to customers in Quebec and Ontario.

Sleep Country has had a long-standing practice of giving to charities some of the more lightly used mattresses it collects. But most old mattresses aren't up to the rigours of accepting new sleepers. The company wanted to avoid throwing them into the garbage, so it hit upon recycling.

"It was a conscious effort to divert as much as we can that goes to the landfill," said Christine Magee, Sleep Country president. The retailer expects to recycle about 60,000 mattresses and box springs a year in Ontario, and give about 30,000 to charity.

Three other major mattress retailers - Sears Canada, the Brick, and Leon's Furniture - couldn't immediately provide information on their recycling practices.

The city of Toronto started a pilot project in September for recycling large items that don't fit into its new garbage bins, part of a highly touted municipal goal of diverting 70 per cent of residential garbage from landfills. An estimated quarter million mattresses and box springs are thrown out in a city of Toronto's size each year.

To date, the city has gathered about 56 tonnes of old mattresses and box springs in its pilot project and is considering ways of expanding it.