Nonprofit saves mattresses from landfills, recycles their parts

Billy Shaw breaks down a mattress at the opening Friday of the Avenue of Life’s mattress recycling center.
Billy Shaw breaks down a mattress at the opening Friday of the Avenue of Life’s mattress recycling center. Special to The Star

Chris Bussen, manager of the Lee’s Summit landfill, can pretty much guarantee you there’s an intact mattress sitting in his dump that was used in World War II.

“See, with a mattress, you’ve got the box spring, the boards — wood that maybe we could use if it was separated out,” he said. “But mattresses are designed to keep their shape and not break down.”

That’s where a new mattress recycling operation comes in. It’s the latest venture of the nonprofit Avenue of Life. And if all goes as planned, it will keep bulky debris out of ditches and landfills, recycle useful materials, reuse an abandoned building and give jobs to needy people.

Earlier this month, Avenue of Life staffers, area waste managers and city officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting inside a chilly, bare-bones facility at 5117 E. 31st St. — once a Missouri Department of Transportation building and now Avenue of Life’s KCMO Business Training Center.

Avenue of Life expects eventually to have a group of projects in the building with the common goal of creating market-based solutions to help people break the cycle of poverty. The year-old nonprofit also has an “equipping center” at 500 N. Seventh Street Trafficway in Kansas City, Kan., where clients can get help from volunteer doctors and dentists, among other services.

The mattress factory employs seven full-time workers, said Desiree Monize, who heads Avenue of Life.

Monize said officials of the Mid-America Regional Council solid waste department approached her with the idea of sponsoring the mattress-recycling facility. She applied for a grant and was able to lease the former MoDOT building for a minimal amount.

MARC, Monize said, has set a goal of diverting 80 percent of waste from local landfills by 2023.

Bussen said his landfill alone — which receives about 5 percent of the metro area’s waste — has sent about 400 mattresses to the facility in the past three months.

Landfills in Lee’s Summit and Sugar Creek are partnering with the facility. The project will also receive mattresses from universities, hotels and and companies such as IKEA.

Mattresses are a problem for landfills, Monize said. They don’t compress well, so they’re hard on machinery.

Monize visited mattress-recycling facilities in other parts of the country. She also spent much of the early part of this year meeting with city and county officials, getting their agreement to divert mattresses to Avenue of Life’s new facility.

At the landfills, a special bin will collect mattresses from garbage haulers and private parties.

Avenue of Life will charge individuals $5 to drop off a mattress, or will pick one up for $10. Its workers will take the mattresses and box springs, reduce them to their components — cotton, foam rubber, wood and metal — bale those pieces up and sell them as commodities.

“The commodities do not generate a high return,” Monize said. “We hope to break even. But there will be a huge impact on the environment, and seven people will have a job. We feel like that’s a good return on investment.”

Monize said the facility expects to process 3,000 mattresses and box springs each month.

“We feel that’s realistic, based on what other cities have done,” she said.

Avenue of Life

For more information: www.avenueoflife.org