“This bill is killing me, Loni!”

That’s the message Nelson Bercier, president of

Sit ’n Sleep mattress stores, has for state Sen. Loni Hancock, who has authored one of two competing bills that would set up statewide mattress recycling programs.

Both bills aim to solve a long-festering problem: old mattresses being dumped on the side of the road or in an alley, forcing cities to haul them away at taxpayer expense.

Berkeley Democrat Hancock’s bill targets mattress manufacturers, requiring them to fund the recycling program. Even though as a retailer Sit ’n Sleep would not be directly affected by the legislation, Bercier said he expects those costs to be passed on to him and so opposes the bill.

“The Hancock bill would force me to raise my retail prices,” he said.

With 30 stores, Gardena-headquartered Sit ’n Sleep is one of the largest mattress retailers in the Southern California region, thanks to those catchy broadcast ads featuring accountant Irwin telling chain founder Larry Miller, “You’re killing me, Larry!”

Bercier, however, is not opposed to efforts to require mattress recycling and has thrown his support behind a bill sponsored in part by mattress manufacturers and carried by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The Correa bill would levy a small fee each time a consumer purchases a mattress and that money would be used to fund a recycling program. It would be similar to the fees collected when consumers purchase new tires or have their motor oil changed.

“The key is that the fee needs to be a line item on the receipt, so the consumer knows there is a recycling program and can feel good about contributing towards it,” Bercier said.

Supporters of Hancock’s bill dismiss the Correa bill as a “poison pill,” designed to stop their bill from getting through the Legislature.

Discarded mattresses

Both bills seek to address a nettlesome problem: people throwing old mattresses to the curb. While many mattress retailers offer to pick up old mattresses when delivering new ones, that has failed to put much of a dent in the problem. According to Hancock’s office, the city of Los Angeles picks up between 120 and 150 mattresses every business day, which translates into more than 30,000 mattresses a year. Sometimes mattresses will sit on sidewalks or in alleys for weeks before being removed.

“Illegally dumped mattresses are a terrible blight on our communities,” Hancock said in a press release introducing her bill, SB 254.

Then there’s the cost to taxpayers for city haulers to pick up and dispose of the mattresses, usually in landfills. Hancock said the state’s 10 largest cities spend more than $20 million a year hauling away old mattresses.

Supporters of the Correa bill don’t dispute those figures. They take issue with how the Hancock bill would pay for the recycling of used mattresses: requiring manufacturers to pay quarterly fees to the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (known as Cal Recycle). The department would determine the fee amounts at a later date.

The manufacturers would also have to get department approval for a plan – or plans – to recycle 75 percent of old mattresses by 2020. Those manufacturers that refuse to comply would be banned from selling mattresses in the state.

“Manufacturers have a responsibility for their products,” said Larry Levin, spokesman for Hancock. “Their responsibility goes beyond taking the money from California and running.”

The nation’s four largest mattress manufacturers – Sealy Corp. of Trinity, N.C.; Serta of Hoffman Estates, Ill.; Simmons Bedding Co. of Atlanta; and Spring Air Co. of Elk Grove Village, Ill. – are all headquartered outside California.

Hancock’s bill also would require retailers to offer mattress pickup services at no cost to consumers. The bill doesn’t specify whether retailers would be reimbursed from the funds collected from manufacturers.

Last year, the International Sleep Products Association, the main trade group for mattress manufacturers, opposed Hancock’s original mattress recycling bill, as did the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

Nonetheless, the bill made it all the way to the Assembly floor in the final hours of the session before being blocked by some moderate Democrat lawmakers from the Central Valley concerned about the impact it might have on local mattress makers and retailers.

Hancock reintroduced an almost identical bill in February.

Competing bill

This year, mattress manufacturers have joined a coalition called Californians for Mattress Recycling that also includes retailers like Sit ’n Sleep and some mattress recyclers.

The coalition convinced Correa to author his bill, SB 245, as an alternative to the Hancock bill. It would levy a small fee on each consumer purchase of a mattress; the money would go to a non-profit organization that would set up and operate a statewide mattress recycling program.

“SB 245 balances landfill pressures and environmental and industry concerns,” Correa said last month.

A key question with the Correa bill is whether the consumer fee is considered a tax that would require the legislation to get two-thirds approval in both the Senate and Assembly.

Both bills are headed for policy committees this month.

At least two local companies said they were OK with either bill.

“We’re comfortable with either bill,” said Ken Karmin, owner of La Mirada manufacturer-retailer Ortho Mattress Inc. “We hope that when these bills come out, they are pro employment and have a positive effect on the environment.”

Karmin said his company already pays a small amount to recycling companies to haul away and recycle old mattresses when they deliver new mattresses to customers. These companies break down the mattresses and sell the component parts: steel springs become scrap metal and wood frames get transformed into wooden pallets, for example.

Karmin added he would not mind paying a little more if it would help address the illegal dumping of mattresses that ultimately clog local landfills.

Still, he does have some concerns about both proposals. The Hancock bill, which targets mattress makers, must assure that all manufacturers pay the same fees to the state, he said. In the Correa bill, he continued, any recycling program crafted by the statewide non-profit should not cut out existing mattress recyclers.

“There’s a cottage industry of people who recycle mattresses for a living,” he said. “I would hate to see any of them lose their jobs because of this legislation.”

One of those mattress recyclers is Tchad Robinson, co-owner of Blue Marble Materials, a facility that opened last year in the City of Commerce and now recycles roughly 500,000 mattresses a year.

Robinson said he, too, does not have a preference for either bill.

“My main concern is that either of these bills could create a top-down approach that could dislodge existing recyclers,” he said.

He said neither bill seems to address another of his concerns: Some recyclers refurbish old mattresses and then pass them off as new when they sell them to wholesalers and retailers.

“We need to crack down on these rogue companies,” he said.

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