Thursday, August 28, 2008

Discarded Dreams . . . Coming Soon

In our journey to find a scalable social enterprise, we've been looking long and hard at the potential of mattress recycling. Hmm, you've probably never thought of it. Neither had we, but it is starting to make sense. We've just finished a feasibility study complete with location analysis on the potential for co-locating pilot facilities with local collaborative partners with strong social service delivery models for the "hard to employ" target clients that we seek to help most. Things look promising. During the pilot phase,the business looks marginally profitable as a single stream bulk item facility that brings mattresses in the front door and breaks them down to their commodity parts (cotton, wood, steel, shoddy, etc.) and tries to find markets for these core components.

Even at large volumes, the markets for mattress parts are not very financially attractive. So we got to thinking . . . what if we created a line of products developed from 100% reclaimed materials, in large part from the mattresses we are breaking down. This was the question that we asked the creative folks at Architecture for Humanity who, among many other things, run international design competitions on their Open Architecture Network. After a few conversations with Director Kate Stohr, we were slated to run a mattress competition that will ask the best and brightest product designers that age old question- "When a mattress falls in the dumpster, does anyone hear it fall?" That is, what are we going to do with all these mattresses besides pulverize them and re-landfill the resultant waste?
Thanks to help from Kate and lead sponsors at the International Sleep Products Association, we may have an answer to that question.

On September 1st, the Discarded Dreams Mattress Recycling Competition will officially open and we'll invite entrants to create innovative ways of converting used mattresses into useful products (which are 75%+ mattress components.) The competition aims to encourage entrants to form groups capable of creating a consumer product, instructions detailing how to make the product, and a plan for production on a larger scale. Entrants must create designs that take into account the volume of mattress waste generated each year. Groups are encouraged to utilize local resources, including existing manufacturing facilities and other waste products.

We know the problem. Without a line of commercially viable products to develop at the end of the life cycle for so many products including computers, hair dryers, carpet, Styrofoam, etc, the business of recycling them is a marginally profitable one, especially give the nature and construction of products like mattresses. They often end up in landfills because they cannot be broken down and their component parts are hard to utilize.

Until now.