Within the past few months, elected officials have noticed an uptick in illegally dumped mattresses on the side of the road. This persistent problem has prompted officials from the Redwood City, North Fair Oaks and San Mateo County to address this health problem.
When Manual Ramirez was appointed to the North Fair Oaks Council by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, his number one priority was to clean up the garbage in the area.
“Garbage was my number one,” Ramirez said. “It was—and still is—a huge problem.”
But the county’s lack of consistent patrolling and scarcity of resources continued to leave the North Fair Oaks community neglected, Ramirez said.
“The county hasn’t been as active as they could,” he said. “They’re overwhelmed.”
However, a strained budget should not be an excuse for disregarding potential health hazards, he added.
Just within the past week, the county has reported 25 illegally dumped mattresses on the side of the street, compared to the average 10.
But even 10 is too many, local officials believe.
Members of the County Public Works Department, the Sheriff’s Department, a representative from Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, members of the Latino Community Council of Redwood City and Sleep Train’s management team met on Tuesday evening to brainstorm solutions to this unrelenting problem.
Not only is it an eyesore to the community, it poses a health risk to children who often play on or near these dirty mattresses that may contain bodily fluids, Ramirez said.
“These mattresses always seem to end up near the parks, and then kids start to play with them not knowing what germs could be on them,” Ramirez said.
Why the Increase in Dumped Mattresses?
County employees from the Public Works Department cite several factors for the increase.
Recology will collect mattresses from residential units for free at two free clean-ups per year. The rate charged at the Transfer Station is $19, which increased in January 2011, according to Lillian Clark of the Public Works Department. The extra charge if you have used your two free clean-ups is $82.92.
Additionally, many residents are purchasing their mattress online or from one-way retailers, who do not have recycling policies once customers need to dispose of their mattress, according to Ernie Schmidt, the chair of the Redwood City Planning Commission, who also attended the meeting. In contrast, companies like SleepTrain and Mancini’s provide a free recycling program when someone purchases a mattress from them. Sleeptrain takes old mattresses to US Mattress in Oakland, which then recycles them into refurbished mattresses.
Even when residents do want to properly dispose of their mattress, those who live in multi-family units or apartment buildings still face hindrances. Owners of the properties don’t have a large incentive to dispose of their renters’ mattresses because there are only two large pick-ups that they are allotted each year.
Additionally, when the county does pick up a dumped mattress, it must drop the mattress off with Recology, Schmidt explained. Recology then takes it to the South Bay Recycling. Recology’s cost of sending the mattress to the Recycling area is passed to the county, and essentially the taxpayers.
How to Stop the Dumping
Ramirez said that more communication across public departments would help catch the offenders and also deter future dumping.
At the meeting, the county Public Works Department agreed to start working with the Sheriff’s Department more actively.
Ramirez wants part of the Sheriff’s deputies’ job description to notify the Public Works Department when they see a dumped mattress during their patrol.
“We want to educate the people about this problem,” Ramirez said. “But we also want to warn people that they won’t get away with this.”
The county is also considering installing cameras around problem areas to determine who continues to abandon mattresses and other furniture on the sidewalks.
To further create effective solutions, the Public Works Department will be meeting with mattress companies, like Mancini’s, to see what their process is for picking up and disposing of the items.
The group will meet again in October to see how the cross-department communication has worked and to discuss plans that the Public Works Department has developed with the guidance of local mattress companies.
Correction: The original article stated the price of recycling a mattress as $53, when it is actually $19.