Solid Waste & Recycling

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Recycling Polyurethane Foam

The amount of flexible polyurethane foam going to landfills every year is hard to estimate, because the sources are many, diverse, and often small. Even if we don't know the exact amount, however, we ...


The amount of flexible polyurethane foam going to landfills every year is hard to estimate, because the sources are many, diverse, and often small. Even if we don’t know the exact amount, however, we do know that it can be reduced. Fortunately, many companies have recognized the growing need for recycling and are offering attractive alternatives to landfill.

A leader in flexible foam recycling is Reynolds Urethane Recycling, Inc., located in Middleton, Wisconsin. One of the first companies to recycle flexible foam in Wisconsin, Reynolds now has facilities in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska. Before starting to recycle in 1992, founder and owner Paul Reynolds noticed that the recycled polyurethane was coming from Europe, while much of the American materials seemed to be going to landfill.

He asked himself the question, “Why not recycle the American stuff?”

By now, of course, other firms in the Upper Midwest are recycling polyurethane foam, so what makes Reynolds different? For one thing, says Reynolds, other recyclers mainly only recycle carpet cushion, while his company also recycles mattresses and foam padding from furniture, as well as esters and reticulated materials.

“We pursue a variety of industries, including the clothing industry, airlines, bus companies, and the packaging industry. We seek out any company that uses flexible polyurethane foam.”

Reynolds Urethane Recycling also stands out because it is one of the few companies to have its own trucking division. This enables them to pursue shops with relatively small quantities of recyclable materials.

“We target mom and pop businesses, upholstery shops. Most of our clients are little,” says Reynolds, adding that they also accept delivered materials. “If someone comes with one cushion or with a semi full it doesn’t matter.”

The company now recycles more than 200,000 pounds of flexible polyurethane foam a month. Recycled materials are made into a wide range of new products from carpet cushioning to pet beds.

To continue moving forward, Reynolds has diversified into carpet recycling. It’s a natural transition, since the company already recycles carpet cushion for many of the major carpet stores.

“If we can pick up three different things at one stop,” says Reynolds, “it’s more efficient.”

Reynolds’ goal is to have every major carpet store in the U.S. recycling within two years.

“This isn’t just a matter of keeping cushions out of landfills. We can say, here’s something we won’t have to use this gallon of oil to make.”

Since starting a new carpet recycling project in February 2007, they have already recycled half a million pounds of carpet.

Written by Stephanie Bernard. Learning more about Reynolds Urethane Recycling at reynoldsuri@aol.com and learn more about polyurethane recycling at the Center for the Polyurethane Industry of the American Chemistry Council’s website at www.americanchemistry.com/polyurethane


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