West Coast Charity Runs Mattress Recycling Facility in California

Arlington, VA - The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, is operating the first-of-its-kind full mattress recycling center in the metro Oakland area in Alameda County, California. The Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry Polyurethanes Recycle and Recovery Council (PURRC) supports the recycling center financially. Since opening its doors in December 2000, the center has recovered components from more than 28,000 mattresses. The daily-reclaimed mattress material count includes approximately 800 pounds of polyurethane foam, 3,700 pounds of steel, 1,800 pounds of cotton plus wood from the foundations and box springs.

"This is a pilot program for recycling mattresses, which we'd like to spread across the country. Mattresses contain from six to eight pounds of polyurethane, which has a high material recycle value," said Lyle Harris, business development director for recycling, St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County. "The impact on landfills is incredible. 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."

Mr. Harris received startup technical assistance from the International Sleep Products Association (SPA). ISPA President Russ Abolt explains, "ISPA is extremely supportive of this effort which recycles mattress components in an environmentally responsible manner, and also provides employment for the disadvantaged. We view it as a win-win situation for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, its clients, the industry, and society." The Society works with job placement and social service agencies in Alameda County in hiring the workforce for the facility.

The key to the center's success is identifying steady markets for all the recycled mattress materials. Saleable materials include the foam, steel and cotton fibers. Although Harris is working on an outlet and quilted topper material, he reports that the reclaimed foam is in demand for carpet underlay use. Annually, approximately 900 million pounds of flexible polyurethane foam scrap (from both process and post-consumer scrap) are recycled into bonded carpet cushion and other products according to the Alliance for the Polyurethane Industry.

The 10,000 square foot facility, DR3, for divert, reduce, reuse, recycle, receives 60 percent of its throughput from the Oakland/San Leandro area. On average, the facility recycles 100 mattresses each day. Mr. Harris is also exploring the possible component reclamation of sofas, hideaway beds and other furniture.

"Mattress recycling has never been adequately addressed," adds Steve Lautze with the Recycling Market Development Zone of the City of Oakland. "Mattresses are designed not to come apart. If most of it can be recycled, that's a major accomplishment. Although DR3 is a 'work in progress', it's an innovative approach, which could have national impact."