Posts Tagged ‘mattress recycling’


Photo: UTEC Inc.
A Massachusetts nonprofit that works with youth who got off on the wrong foot in life teaches job skills, including working effectively with others, at its in-house businesses. This business breaks down old mattresses for a range of clients.

Recent posts on recycling have overlooked one of the biggest challenges for landfills: mattresses. Fortunately, there are places that break down mattresses and recycle the components. I know of two: one in England; one in Massachusetts. If you know of others, do mention them in the Comments.

PRI’s radio show The World recently featured a recycling story from Sheffield, England. It’s about hydroponically “feeding the world with foam” from old mattresses.

“Tony Ryan, a professor at The University of Sheffield in England, and his team just did that at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

“The mattresses are now repurposed as a growing medium for plants. The soil in Zaatari is salty and low in organic matter making it less than ideal for farming. Lack of space and water are some of the issues that prevent people at the camp from having their own gardens to grow crops.

“The Zaatari camp is home to 80.000 refugees from the Dara’a region of Syria, many of whom are experienced farmers. Now, the foam in the mattresses became hydroponic systems that supports crops, giving farmers the opportunity to apply their years of experience and skills and at the same time produce food to eat and sell.

“Ryan says that this unconventional method uses just 20 percent of the water that it would take to grow something in the ground. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR oversees the project.”

More here and here.

Closer to home, a Massachusetts nonprofit that works with urban teens who have gotten in trouble uses mattress recycling as a way to teach job skills. In fact, the nonprofit runs its own mattress-recycling business. See this.

In the past, I volunteered to write a couple newspaper articles to promote UTEC’s work (repairing bicycles, making cutting boards), and I’m always getting surprises about some new and important challenge the group has tackled.

To diverge from mattresses for a moment, I want to tell you that UTEC has been registering its participants and getting out the vote.

A recent email informed me, “We are proud to share that 100% of young adults enrolled in programming are registered to vote. #UTECVotes is our ongoing campaign to make sure all UTEC members and staff are registered and informed voters. See UTECvotes.org. On Super Tuesday, as on every election day, we made a day of empowering UTEC young adults to impact their communities of Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill.”

(Remember my post on the Movement Voter Project? Now you see how grassroots nonprofits can expand voting.)

Photo: University of Sheffield via PRI’s The World
Plants in a hydroponic system grow in the foam of former mattresses at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.


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Dan Holin, who used to run a Concord-Lowell volunteer partnership called the Jericho Road Project, is now director of special projects at UTEC in Lowell. (UTEC doesn’t use the longer title its youth founders originally came up with, but since people ask, it was United Teen Equality Center.)

UTEC describes itself as a nonprofit that “helps young people from Lowell and Lawrence, Mass., trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. It works to remove barriers that confront them when they want to turn their lives around and offers young people paid work experience through its social enterprises: mattress recycling, food services and woodworking.”

On May 15, Acton’s Pedal Power joined members of the Concord-based Monsters in the Basement bicycling club to share their bike-repair expertise with young people who wanted to acquire bikes and learn to maintain them. Holin, a serious biker himself, organized the event to give UTEC young people two things that he said they normally lack: transportation and fun.

At the event, one of them, Sav, recounted his story of change. Before UTEC I never talked to anyone,” he said. “I was a problem child on the streets. I was hanging around with gangs, selling drugs. I don’t do that now. Seven months ago, I moved from a place with nothing positive. Atlantic City. I let my family know I’m ready to live life. It was hard for me to get into something good: I’ve got a lot of tattoos and a record. But I’m in the culinary program here. It’s a family. They make you feel like you are somebody that has a chance. They give me love like a family. They changed my life for the better. There are so many new things to do here. Yesterday I went kayaking.”

More here.

Sav, in sunglasses, got a good bike at UTEC’s bike event in Lowell on May 15. The bike will provide transportation to his job at UTEC. It will also provide some much needed fun.


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