Mats and Mattresses: Diverting Waste and Saving Money

July 30, 2014

One of the five areas of focus for Yale’s Sustainability Strategic Plan for 2013-2016 is Materials Management: how we select, procure, use and dispose of the materials we use every day. Waste management plays a crucial role in achieving Yale’s goal of 50% waste diversion rate by June 2016. Through reuse, recycling, and composting strategies, Yale is exploring a number of innovative waste diversion options.

To help achieve this goal, Yale Facilities collaborated with the Department of Athletics to reclaim unused high jump and pole vault mats from Coxe Cage, home to the Men and Women’s Track & Field programs. Collectively, these large athletic mats weigh several tons and typically end up in landfills, according to Bob Ferretti, Yale’s Waste and Recycling Manager. Instead of disposing of the mats, Bob Ferretti and Ed Mockus, Yale’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Facilities Operations, found an alternative solution, donations.

The two facilities and operations specialists considered a number of different donation options for the mats before settling on several local schools. This innovative approach to a classic waste problem helped Yale keep a large amount of material out of the waste stream and benefited the local community.

Pole vault and high jumping mats are not the only commodity that has been diverted from Yale’s waste stream. Over the past few years, Ferretti has conducted another program to prevent slowly degrading materials from entering landfills. The program, which involves recycling dormitory mattresses, is run in conjunction with Park City Green, a non-profit mattress recycler based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “We have worked with Park City Green to recycle all of the mattresses that we are replacing,” Ferretti said.

Approximately 660 mattresses were brought to Park City Green this year. With each mattress weighing nearly 50 pounds, the initiative helped Yale divert over 15 tons—30,000 pounds—of waste from the municipal solid waste stream. At the Bridgeport facility, the company dismantles the mattresses and recycles all of their components, “from the metal springs to the textiles,” Ferretti said. Up to 85 percent of a mattress can be recycled.

Park City Green works with mattress providers to find unique recycling options that fit their needs or serve their purpose. How does Park City Green achieve such a high recycling rate?

  • Wood frames or slats are broken up and used in landscaping as mulch or compost.
  • Metal frames and mattress springs are sent to scrap yards and the polyurethane foam – a common volatile organic compound (VOC) – is used as padding for carpets.
  • Cotton is used to fill car seats or even oil booms, which make useful barriers for containing oil spills in bodies of water.

Considering that mattresses take many years to decompose in landfills or are otherwise incinerated—a process that can release greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air—recycling them is a more environmentally friendly option. Recycling is the most cost-effective option too, which may come as a surprise to many. The mattress recycling program is thus win-win situation for Yale: waste is diverted and money is saved.

Tweet @YaleSustain if you have an innovative reuse or recycling strategy for Yale!