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A New Kind of Bedding: From Bedrooms to Gardens ... and Beyond

November 30, 2016

To Avoid Landfills, Mattresses are Being Recycled Into a Slew of New Products 

 

What happens to the 15 to 20 million mattresses and box-springs that are discarded each year in the U.S.?  Some get ditched along roadsides and alleys but many more end up in landfills, where each piece takes up at least 40 cubic feet of landfill space. Mattresses are a major headache for landfills. They’re hard to compact, become saturated with toxic and flammable materials, and the springs easily catch in landfill and incinerator equipment. This has led many landfills to keep mattresses separate from other solid waste, driving up costs for communities.

 

The good news is that about 95% of each mattress can be recycled into useful products, and one material in particular, polyurethane mattress foam, is just beginning to find some unexpected secondary market uses.

Spring Back Colorado’s Denver warehouse (Photo: Spring Back Colorado, 2016)

 

Spring Back Colorado fully breaks down mattresses by hand into four basic components. Spring Back’s President, Christopher Conway, knows from his years of experience that the steel springs, textiles, and wooden frames are all relatively reliable and easy to bale up and sell into the secondary recycling market. But it’s the fourth component, polyurethane and organic latex mattress foam, where things get interesting. Mattress foam has become the most unpredictable material for Spring Back Colorado to send on its way to a second life. One of foam’s most common reuses has been as wall-to-wall carpet padding. But, fickle flooring trends currently favor wood floors and tile so there is less demand for foam carpet padding. To complicate matters, mattress foam can be made from either renewable plant oils like soy, castor beans, and other natural oils, plant-based latex, or petroleum-based products.

 Spring Back Colorado President Christopher Conway in the Denver warehouse (Photo: Spring Back Colorado, 2016)

 

“Foam recycling is where there’s enormous opportunity to get creative!” says Conway, “This is where we imagine a secondary market just waiting to take off - and we’re seeing the potential for hydroponic gardening and other very innovative manufacturing re-uses coming our way.” Conway has spent the past several months reaching out to local University research programs to partner with students and other researchers who are on the forefront of developing new uses for old materials.

 

"Over the last several months, as part of the University of Colorado Denver's 11-Month MBA program, we have been fortunate enough to collaborate with Christopher and this amazing organization in researching new uses for polyurethane foam. We are excited about the potential usage in the growing hydroponics industry." said Deb Krause, MBA student at CU Denver. "Using recycled material is an excellent way to help the environment overall and we believe it will be an excellent match for the hydroponics industry."

 

Spring Back Colorado’s Denver warehouse (Photo: Spring Back Colorado, 2016)

 

In hydroponics, a “growing medium” takes the place of the dirt or soil and polyurethane foam has been used with good results as this kind of medium. Almost any inert material (a material that doesn’t decay or break down quickly) can be used as growing medium. Hydroponic growing media simply need to be  porous enough to hold the moisture and oxygen that the root system requires to grow. The growing medium won't be able to grow anything on its own, and, if you placed plants in hydroponic growing media, and watered it with plain water, the plants would starve from nutrient deficiency. The growing media simply helps support the plant’s weight as well as the moisture and oxygen the roots need. The nutrients the plants need are provided by a nutrient solution, and this solution is what moistens the growing media.

 

 Textiles and Foam are baled and await shipment in Spring Back Colorado’s new Fort Collins warehouse (Photo: Spring Back Colorado, 2016)

 

Some of the most widely used growing media includes Rockwool, Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (called, Hydrocorn or Grow Rock), Coconut Fiber/Coconut chips, and Perlite or Vermiculite. While there are a lot of materials that can be used as growing media in hydroponics, they can all have very different properties. With any hydroponic system and growing media the goal is for the roots to be moist, not soggy or saturated.

 

Polyurethane foam is not commonly used, and hydroponics stores don't carry it. But it's plentiful and could be easily mass-produced using recycled mattress foam from Spring Back’s operations. What’s more, it’s not just about the environmental benefits at Spring Back Colorado. “What sets us apart is that we provide jobs, training, and support to people who have barriers to sustained gainful employment” says Conway. “We’ve had amazing support and a very warm welcome both in Denver and in Northern Colorado, where our new warehouse is located. It’s satisfying when people realize that employing the disenfranchised to recycle mattresses not only helps the environment but can give people a second chance on their journey of recovery.”

 

Spring Back Colorado has been recycling mattresses in Denver since 2012 and offers both scheduled pick-up and drop-off services from residences and commercial spaces alike. In Denver they now fully recycle 4,000 mattresses per month while creating meaningful job opportunities for the disenfranchised, formerly incarcerated, recovering addicts, homeless veterans and others facing barriers to employment. Eighty-four men have benefited from the program in four years – seven of them U.S. veterans. So far, Spring Back has kept over 90,000 mattress sets out of Colorado landfills.

 

"Spring Back's sustainability efforts to reduce waste in landfills and re-purpose mattresses, along with Christopher's mission to rehabilitate disenfranchised men in the community, serves as an inspiration and motivation for me" said Krause’s fellow CU Denver MBA student Shelby Schwartz. "Our goal has been to provide Spring Back with alternative foam uses to cushion the business against volatility in the carpet industry, which has the potential to really threaten Spring Back's operations at any moment. We're driven to help Christopher find ways to ensure that his doors stay open and his dream of helping the environment and his community stay alive" Schwartz says.  

 

Spring Back Colorado’s Denver warehouse (Photo: Spring Back Colorado, 2016)

 

Spring Back Colorado has been awarded a $297,500 grant for 2016 as it expands its recycling program to Northern Colorado and creates new green-sector jobs. The funding is part of the Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity (RREO) competitive grant program, which is administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).  A recent study commissioned by CDPHE revealed that the state’s recycling industry sustains more than 85,000 jobs and accounts for approximately 5 percent of Colorado’s overall economic output, generating nearly $1.3 billion per year in state and local tax revenue.

 

Spring Back Colorado’s Denver warehouse (Photo: Spring Back Colorado, 2016)

 

 

 

For more information about Spring Back Colorado, please visit http://www.springbackco.org/.

For more information about RREO grants, visit www.colorado.gov/cdphe/recyclinggrantrebates.

 

Sources

http://www.homehydrosystems.com/mediums/mediums_page.html

http://mattressrecyclingcouncil.org/recycling/mattress-recycling-facts/

http://www.gpnmag.com/article/alternative-hydroponic-substrates/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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