Spring Back Now Recycles What Landfills & Other Recyclers Don't Want: Mattresses

Ever think about what happens to an old mattress once you throw it away? Mattresses have plenty of materials that can be reused, but most recyclers don't want them. Landfills don't like them either. They're bulky and don't really pack down. The springs can also get caught in machinery and cause extensive damage.

Some folks in Tennessee saw this as an opportunity. Spring Back Recycling, a nonprofit, collects old mattresses and breaks them down into their usable parts, mainly cotton, metal, wood, and foam. According to greenjunkmachine.com, a mattress has about 10 to 25 pounds of foam, which is used to make carpet padding, and up to 25 pounds of steel. A steel-framed box spring has even more.

Creating Much-Needed Jobs
But Spring Back isn't just a recycling outfit: it's also a social enterprise. The recycling process requires a lot of manual labor; Spring Back employs previously-incarcerated and homeless men to do the work. They take apart a mattress and bundle the materials separately, which are then sold to scrap buyers in the area for reuse in other applications. Spring Back describes its mission as "building up lives while breaking down mattresses."

NPR ran a story about Spring Back, and explained how the process works:

Cutting into a mattress at Nashville's Spring Back workshop, Ron Harness runs his box cutter around a queen-size bed to fillet the fabric, in a process he admits is labor intensive. Even the best processing machines can only chew up a used mattress; recycling one requires manual labor.

Harness rips off a cotton sheet, peels away a layer of foam, and shoves the steel springs into a baler, where they'll be compacted into a manageable clump. Harness has deconstructing a mattress and box spring down to a science. He keeps one eye on a stopwatch.

"It's actually 7.62 minutes on a mattress, is my average, and 5.03 minutes on a box [spring]," he says.

Related Content on Treehugger.com