Getting rid of mattresses is difficult. Most landfills don’t want them as they are bulky and the springs in them damage the crushing equipment. This is where Spring Back, the mattress recycling initiative comes in.
Nashville-based Spring Back Recycling is a non-profit organization that works to break down mattresses and build up the lives of formerly incarcerated men and women. The initiative also offers retailers, institutions, and consumers an alternative to dumping used mattresses in landfills.
More than 30 million mattresses are sent to landfills where they take up a lot of space and take decades to decompose. Spring Back breaks down mattresses into their raw materials such as cotton, metal, wood, and foam. Each of these components are sold to scrap buyers to be reused. The revenue generated sustains the venture, provides jobs and training while diverting mattresses from the landfill.
There are tremendous amounts of reusable resources inside each mattress. For example, there is up to 25 pounds of steel inside a junk mattress and even more in a steel-framed box spring. There is around 10-25 pounds of foam inside a junk mattress which can be reused to make carpet padding. Spring Back is not just a recycling unit but also an organization that is a social enterprise.
As the process involves a lot of manual labour, the organization provides training and job opportunities to formerly convicted and homeless people. They call this “building up lives while breaking down mattresses.” According to a recent piece by NPR, the process involves ripping off the cotton sheet, peeling away a layer of foam, and putting the steel springs into a baler where they’ll be compacted into a manageable clump. Each mattress takes an average of 7.62 minutes to break down, so efficiency is the key to this operation.
Belmont University finance professor John Gonas has taken the reins for the startup. He says he hopes to license the model in other cities to encourage Spring Back operations all over the country. Using the model of recycling mattresses and providing job opportunities is something that will gain a lot of traction. This is another example of how recycling can be an economically viable business model. It also shows that items that are hard to recycle, like mattresses only need someone to think about them differently in order to come up with a workable solution. Hopefully this model will spread throughout the US to tackle the problem of mattress recycling.
Image Credit: Paul Goyette, Wikimedia Commons