Full transparency—I’ve never thought much about recycling. It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m anti-environment or intentionally wasteful, it just never was much of a focus in my home. Looking back, I think it’s because when my trash was out of sight it was then out of mind. We placed everything in our trashcan, hauled it out to our garage every couple of days, then to the curb once a week. After the trash company picked up our dumpster I didn’t give a second thought to what happens with our trash.
That changed about a year ago.
Our Mattress Hub Corporate Offices are also attached to the distribution center that services our Wichita and Derby, Kansas stores. There is a lot of volume that flows through this warehouse daily and with that volume also comes a lot of trash.
I remember pulling up to our offices one morning and like many days in Wichita the wind was really blowing. I looked around and there was plastic blowing all over our premises, so I walked around and gathered it up to put back in our dumpster. That’s when I noticed the amount of plastic, and cardboard boxes, and mattresses in our trash piles. It stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t believe the amount of waste we were creating.
I called over our warehouse manager and asked some questions. This warehouse in Wichita was responsible for an estimated daily waste of:
– 18-25 mattress bags made of plastic
– 10-12 mattress boxes made of cardboard
– 8-10 old mattress haul-offs from our customers
This was every day of every week of every year for the last decade—and this was just one of three warehouses we have in Kansas! All of this “trash” was by-products of doing new mattress deliveries to our customers, and nearly all of this waste was ending up in our landfills. I was disturbed by the footprint of our waste.
After a little research I learned that every day in the United States nearly 50,000 old mattresses end up in our landfills. That’s an unbelievable number! If we were to take this daily output of mattresses and stack them on each other, it would be the equivalent of FOUR Empire State Buildings. Daily. These mattresses take up a lot of space and many of the components are not biodegradable.
This really unsettled me.
The question turned to responsibility. Do we have a social responsibility to be better stewards over the resources and waste we create while doing business in a community? For many years I wouldn’t have equated responsibility and waste together, but this was different. I was now aware of the problem we were contributing to and I simply couldn’t turn a blind eye to the issue.
So, for the last year we have been working to find solutions. Nearly 80% of a mattress is made of components that are recyclable. An old, haul-off mattress is cut open and the layers are separated. The foam layers are turned into carpet underlay or animal bed padding. The cottons are recycled into industrial oil filters and textile applications. The steel springs are recycled into new appliances and building materials or sent to steel mills. The wood from the box foundations are recycled into mulch or fuel sources.
With that in mind the next step turns to the process and program. We could try to keep this internal and develop a system of recycling. That is an option we like, but it will take time to develop and resources devoted to the infrastructure. I wanted to do something NOW.
A second option is to lobby our state government to require mattress recycling programs. Three states currently have programs that enforce recycling with mandatory fees (paid by the consumer) and established facilities. This option is working effectively in other areas, but this would be years in the making and it doesn’t seem to be a viable option yet in Kansas.
The last option is to partner with an organization to assist in processing these products. That’s when a friend in the industry turned me on to a program at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility where inmates are paid a wage to process a variety of products for recycling. It felt like a terrific opportunity to make immediate progress on our waste footprint while simultaneously support programs in our correctional facilities that reinforce work ethic and rehabilitation of our inmates.
One week and several phone calls later, our program was developed and launched with two of our three Kansas warehouses. With simple determination, effort, and the support of our friends at the Hutchinson Correction Facility, we have now put into action a program that will divert between 1,500 – 2,000 haul-off mattresses from landing in our landfills each year.
I’m proud of our staff and their creativity in finding a solution for this problem. I’m even more proud that we can say that our company is willing to do everything we can to positively impact our communities—in more ways than one. More to come as we continue to find ways to better The Mattress Hub.