Spring cleaning; Group’s mattress recycling may spread

A pilot mattress recycling program launched by the St. Vincent de Paul Society on the West Coast ultimately could spread across the country.

The society's Lane County organization, headquartered in Eugene, began operating the first-of-its-kind center in metropolitan Oakland, Calif., in December 2000 to recycle polyurethanes at a minimal cost. The 10,000-sq.-ft. center has been so successful that the society is looking to set up similar sites in other large cities.

Since opening its doors, the operation has recovered components from more than 28,000 queen size futon mattresses, said Don Schomer, market development director of Bayer Corp. Schomer also serves as chairman of the Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry's Polyurethanes Recycle and Recovery Council. The center reclaimed about 800 pounds of polyurethane foam daily during that span, he said.

Lyle Harris, director of the Oakland center and Lane County recycling business development director for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said mattresses contain from six to eight pounds of polyurethane, and the material has a high recycling value. ``The impact on landfills is incredible,'' Harris said. ``Each mattress takes up 23 cubic feet of landfill space. Over the past year, we have been able to divert 93 percent of the material from each mattress from going into landfills.''

The key to the center's success has been to come up with steady markets for recycled mattress materials, Schomer said. The society was put in contact with potential buyers by the polyurethanes council, he said. In addition, the council provided some financial aid and other assistance. The society also received start-up technical assistance from the International Sleep Products Association.

Spring cleaning; Group's mattress recycling may spread

Mattresses offer three salable materials: polyurethane foam, steel and cotton fibers, Harris said.

For instance, reclaimed foam is in demand for carpet underlay use, he said. About 900 million pounds of flexible polyurethane foam scrap is recycled into bonded carpet cushion and other products annually, the API said.

While the center has a solid waste contract with Alameda County, Calif., Harris said it also works with mattress manufacturers with a product take-back policy. ``Engaging retailers and manufacturers in direct product take-back is a more active avenue of recycling,'' he said.

Harris has no real timetable on when the society will take the recycling program national. But it could begin happening soon. The business development manager has his eye on Los Angeles or Denver as the next site for a mattress recycling center.

That operation, like the one in Oakland, would be run from the society's Eugene office, Harris said. ``Everything we do is in Eugene,'' he said. ``We worked with the Oakland society and came up with an understanding of what we wanted to do. We then got funding and found a good manager. I fly down once a month.

``We set up recycling [operations] for appliances and other materials in other states in the past,'' Harris said. ``We keep the management under our control.''

The society can now take its model center to any major metropolitan area in the United States, he said. Harris also is looking into recycling components in sofas, hideaway beds and other furniture

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