Discarded mattresses can take up a significant amount of landfill space, don’t degrade well, and can create a dangerous “soft spot” in a landfill, according to Terry McDonald, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County (SVDP), located in Eugene, Oregon.
That’s why SVDP created its “DR3” mattress recycling program. DR3 stands for “divert, reduce, reuse, recycle.” The program’s centerpiece is a 26,000 square foot mattress recycling facility in Oakland, California, that serves Alameda and San Francisco counties and seven surrounding counties.
If SVDP is in Oregon, why did it set up a recycling program in California? “California,” says McDonald, “is progressive and interested in waste-stream diversion. They have set ambitious goals for themselves, so they’re eager to find new things to pull out of the waste stream.”
The total number of mattresses going out of service every year in the nine-county area is about 350,000, McDonald estimates. Of that number, SVDP diverts about 10 percent for reuse and about 20 percent for rebuild. They deconstruct another 10 percent.
Between its Eugene and Oakland facilities, SVDP manufactures about 200 rebuilt mattress sets every month, says McDonald. Some of these they sell, and some they give away to low-income people. They also recycle various mattress components, including about 600,000 pounds a year of polyurethane foam, most of which is remanufactured into carpet pad.
SVDP gets many of their mattresses from city or county transfer sites — sites where waste is unloaded and then repacked for delivery to landfills. They get others from hotels, universities, and hospitals, usually through middlemen who replace the mattresses in such facilities. SVDP does not accept mattresses from the general public, and they do not accept mattresses that are moldy or saturated with water.
SVDP is dedicated to the responsible re-use of resources, but that is only part of their purpose. Their overall mission is to assist the poor and the homeless and to provide opportunities for them to become self-sufficient. To help achieve this, SVDP also has a wood shop, an appliance shop, a glass foundry, a propane tank recycling program, a computer recycling program, and numerous other businesses. An added benefit of SVDP’s mattress recycling program is that it has created 20 new jobs.
The environmental and social impact of recycling more than 100,000 mattresses a year is identifiable and significant. More importantly, perhaps, SVDP’s DR3 Program serves as a model for other organizations. SVDP recently helped Goodwill Industries set up a successful mattress recycling program in Duluth, and a company in Dundee, Scotland, has modeled its program on SVDP’s.
“The important thing,” says McDonald, “is that other people around the world have gradually started to catch on.”
For more information on mattress recycling, contact the International Sleep Products Association, www.sleepproducts.org For more information on polyurethane recycling, contact the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, www.polyurethane.org
Information supplied by Stephanie Bernard, Stephanie_bernard@americanchemistry.com