Ohio Mattress Recovery and Recycling founder Chuck Brickman never dreamt he would end up in the mattress recycling business, but a television program on landfill waste took him by such surprise that he felt compelled to make a difference.
OMRR was founded in 2007 as the only mattress recycler in the U.S. offering pick-up service. In 2010, the company recycled 1.5 million pounds of mattresses, and that number only figures to steadily rise. At the same time, the mattress industry has little to no regulation as far as recycling is concerned, so Brickman spends much time trying to educate consumers and companies.
“A great majority of the population is sleeping on mattresses that, considering the contents, are probably 80% recyclable,” Brickman explains. “We’re now able to recycle approximately 95% of the materials [in mattresses we receive].”
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and this afternoon we’re so honored to have Chuck Brickman on with us. Chuck is the founder and President of Ohio Mattress Recycling. Welcome to Green is Good, Chuck.
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Thank you for having me.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Chuck, this is such a relevant and important issue. Hopefully, most of our listeners in the United States and around the world, and this show is heard around the world from China and the U.K., to France and Korea, they all sleep on mattresses. We all sleep on mattresses, but we don’t give a lot of thought to what happens to the mattress after we’re done using it. This is a very unique and important story, so thank you for joining today, and thank you for all the great work you’ve done. Mike and I read a little bit about your company before you came on. Last year alone, you recycled 1.5 million pounds of mattresses, just in 2010 alone.
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Yes, we did.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Share with us a little bit about your journey. Chuck, how did you dream up that you should even go in this business? How many years ago did you start this company? Talk a little bit about the journey of becoming one of the leading eco-preneurs in the United States.
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Actually, four years ago, we were watching Planet Green TV, and they had somewhat of a blurb on the nuisances to some of the landfills. They had a tractor-trailer load of mattresses being dumped, and they said that, obviously, as you shared, that everybody in America and the world, not everybody, but a great majority of the population, are sleeping on mattresses. Considering the components of the mattresses, the cotton, the steel, the polyurethane foam, that they’re probably 80% recyclable. They couldn’t understand why they weren’t being recycled. So, we did some research and did some marketing on our own, and just came to the conclusion there was only one other company that was operating out of North Carolina that was recycling mattresses. They were recycling mattresses, but they weren’t providing the pick-up service. So, we kind of modeled our business as a mattress recycling service that was able to pick up and recycling service, in essence, all together. From that, we’ve grown. The first year, we did six schools in Ohio. The second year, we expanded to 37. The third year, we got up to 97, and last year we worked with over 180 colleges, universities, businesses, institutions, cruise lines, military contracts, to help divert the mattresses from landfills. When we started, we were recycling close to 80%, and now we’re probably close to 95%. The small percentage that we’re not able to recycle is with the box springs, which is the wood that’s part of the deconstruction process that we’re not able to use because of contamination and so on and so forth.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Ninety-five percent, approximately, of everyone’s mattress, if it’s recycled by a great recycler like your company, Ohio Mattress Recovery and Ohio Mattress Recycling, that mattress doesn’t have to go and fill up a landfill.
CHUCK BRICKMAN: No. The irony of the situation, the compaction ratios of a mattress are almost three times that of normal waste. The fact that we’re able to help divert the mattresses not only is good for the environment, but it’s good for the landfill owners and operators as well because it’s maximizing their landfill usage by keeping the springs and the mattresses out of the landfills because they’re able to put in more commercial residential waste.
MIKE BRADY: Chuck, you used the term the compaction of mattress material. Explain that to those of us that aren’t quite up to speed on what that term means.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: The consistency of the mattress is you have the polyurethane foam, the outer coverings, and the inner springs are made of steel. When the big machines that compact the regular trash in the landfill run over, most of the commercial and residential waste is compacted to a much smaller degree. The springs are ran over and they pop back up. They cause damage to the compaction machines. As soon as they’re run over, they compact just for the short term, and then they usually go back to the normal, at least 75% of the normal spring size.
MIKE BRADY: Yeah, they do. That’s what springs are made to do. OK, got it. Thanks for clearing that up, Chuck.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about, Chuck, your journey a little bit and what, from a business proposition, it means. Mike and I have never had a guest on to talk about this. I wouldn’t know where to send the stuff locally in terms of mattress recycling here in California. Talk a little bit about, first of all, stewardship and the major mattress manufacturers. Are they promoting recycling, and are they part of closing the sustainability stakeholder loop, working with you?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: No, unfortunately, since the birth of our business and as of recently, we’ve tried to reach out to the Sealy’s, Simmons, Serta, to see if we would be able to work with both their wholesalers as well as their retailers because the majority of these businesses will bring your new mattress and will remove your old mattress as a service to their customers. We know these mattresses are coming back to their wholesale and retail divisions, stores, outlets, and so on and so forth, so we reached out to them to inquire as to what can we do to help you better service your customers and help them become more environmentally responsible. We’ve had absolutely zero reciprocity from them. We’ve also reached out to the International Sleep Producers Association, which is an organization that works with the major mattress manufacturers, Sealy’s, Serta, and Simmons, Posturepedic, to see if there is something we could do to help them work together because it’s very similar to the tire industry, which 10 years ago, anybody could send a tire to a landfill until people started to realize this material is recyclable, we’re burying things that we should be recycling, and they attached tipping fees to the tires. If you take your car to a Midas, Meineke Muffler, to have four tires put your car, they’ll take your old tires for you, but it’s going to come with a disposal fee of $2 to $7 per tire. We explained to them that we understand that you’d like to continue to provide this service to your customer, but just like anything, waste management doesn’t take garbage for free. There’s a cost associated with disposing of anything. We’ve just had zero reciprocity or interest from the industry, which is unfortunate because for a few dollars, they could be making environmentally sound and sustainable decisions.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, messaging that to their clients.
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Right, exactly. In our experience, especially in the New England markets, there are quite a few environmentally responsible organizations and consumers that want to know why aren’t materials being recycled, what happens to these mattresses that you recycle. We’ve expressed to them that there is a need, that your customer base is asking that you’re making environmentally sound business decisions, and still there’s no interest.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: For those who just joined us today, Mike and I are so honored to have Chuck Brickman on. He’s the owner and the President of Ohio Mattress Recycling. You can see his great website. Mike and I have it up right now at www.ohiomattressrecovery.com. Chuck, talk a little bit about, then, the policymakers and the legislators. If big business won’t come along and help close the sustainability stakeholder loop here, are you getting any help from legislators and policymakers, both on a statewide or federal level right now, to demand mattresses being recycled?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Unfortunately, in the Midwest, we’re receiving very little support. In the states and areas the country that are more progressive with their environmental initiatives and responsibilities and pressure on commercial businesses and services to make environmentally responsible, sustainable decisions, such as the New England states, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland, Connecticut. They do have these tipping fees established in that if you’re a mattress retailer in Connecticut and you have 150 mattresses that you would like to send to the landfill, they’re willing to accept them, but the tipping fees are applied to those mattresses very similar to the tires in the rest of the country, so that if people decide that we’re going to send these mattresses to the landfill, there’s a disposal cost or tipping fee of anywhere from $12 to $22 per mattress. So, the more progressive areas of the country, Colorado, California, the New England states, New Jersey, they are establishing these tipping fees to force the industry to become more responsible and to keep them out of the waste stream.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: How about with regards to the federal government and the Department of Defense and other branches of the federal government? Are they demanding that their materials be handled the right way also, in terms of recycling and keeping them out of the landfills?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: The Department of Defense is putting more pressure on the decision makers to try to recycle a portion of the proceeds for each project they do, but none specifically on a more universal, national level.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Interesting. With regards to waste, what seems to be the new trend, Chuck, is the trend and the emergence of urban mining, like you mentioned earlier, tires, and now you’re talking to Mike and I and our listeners about mattresses, electronics, other things that have been historically thrown away are now being kept out of the landfills at great places like yours, at great brands like yours, and being recycled the right way, and basically mined for all the elements that go into it instead of going into a landfill and needlessly wasting the landfill space. Is that a trend that you see growing with regards to the visibility that you have with regards to mattress recycling? Is mattress recycling just in its infancy, and you expect it to grow for years ahead?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: I’d certainly like to think that we’re in the infancy stage, considering that we’re only recycling on a national level anywhere between 3-5% of all mattresses that are being disposed of. I would certainly hope that the mattress industry, similar to the tire industry, would come to terms with the fact that we need to satisfy our customers and our customers need the environmentally sound practices of sustainable business practices. For a couple dollars, they could be spending to do the right thing, that they need to put that pressure on the mattress manufacturers, the retailers, to provide that service to them, which, in essence, will help reduce the amount of iron ore being mined to make the steel to make the mattress springs because the mattress springs could be reused.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Ninety-five percent of the material that comes out of a mattress that you said is recyclable, does that go to smelters? It goes to new resources and reuse again? Is that how it works?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Some of them go to reuse facilities. The majority of our mattresses go to smelters who melt the steel and create new steel with the steel that was melted.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. That is just wonderful. Talk a little bit about tax incentives for businesses to do the environmental right thing. Do you see those winds of change in the air? Do you feel that there are incentives, tax and otherwise, for businesses to do the right thing with regards to their mattresses and other forms of waste that doesn’t have to go to the landfills?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: At this point, there aren’t any that I know of. I certainly feel that should there be some incentives that are put in place for both the public and private sector to do the right thing, I would think that that would certainly motivate, especially the private industry. If they know they’re going to receiving, even if it’s as minimal as a 2 to 5% tax break on their overall taxable income by showing that they are using sustainable and environmentally responsible business practices, I would certainly think some of the businesses that are let’s save a dollar businesses would be motivated by that.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Mike and I are on your website right now, ohiomattressrecovery.com. Great website, lots of tools and lots of information. Talk a little bit about right now, your current client base seems to be colleges, hotels, and cruise ships. Why are they the first adopters? You’re basically an eco-preneur that’s creating an industry, it seems like, Chuck. Why are the first adopters colleges, hotels, and cruise ships, from what you know and what you see?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: I think that colleges and universities, historically, have been more progressive with their environmental practices, first and foremost, to be good models for the people that they’re educating. Whether you’re recycling paper, plastic, corrugated glass, mattresses, that this is the right thing. Even if it costs a little bit of money to do the right thing, there’s no reason that we should be landfilling these materials. I think colleges, historically, have been more progressive with their recycling efforts. The cruise lines, as well, obviously are dealing with worldwide population and a lot of the countries in Europe and Norway, Sweden, their recycling numbers are at 60 to 90% of the waste stream. I think they feel a bigger need to appeal and cater to the clientele that they’re servicing, which, obviously, makes them more apt to use environmentally sound business practices. I think it’s more of an issue of catering to their clientele and the colleges and universities are being more good mentors, stewards, and role models for the people they’re trying to educate.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Do you have a lot of competition? You mentioned that one company in North Carolina when you were getting the business. Now that you’ve started creating a national footprint, do you handle mattresses nationally, Chuck? Is that correct?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: We do.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: OK. Now that you’re building a national footprint, how much competition do you have?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: There are several operations that will handle the mattresses if they’re brought to their facilities. They are smaller operations. We like to pride ourselves on being the cheapest, as well as being able to provide the most superior customer service, and we’ve expanded our services to include not just mattress recycling, but when we’re working with our customers, to also provide the removal from room service as well as the installation of new mattress service, in that we can provide a closed loop business model that, if you’re a hotel that has 150 full-sized mattress sets that you need to dispose of, rather than call one company to handle the removing of the services, which per se, in the past, may have been done through a moving company or an installer service, and then calling a waste hauler, and then calling another installer, we’re trying to provide a packaged closed loop service. If you have 150 mattress sets to get rid of, we could show up onsite, remove them from the rooms, recycle them by loading them onto our trucks, and receive your new product coming in all at one cost, all at one time, which provides to our customers a much easier service of micromanagement. Instead of them dealing with three different contractors, they’re dealing just with us.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wait a second. If I was a mattress producer, a manufacturer, why wouldn’t I want to work with you? Because basically you would become a sales arm for me also as you get rid of people’s old mattresses, you’d be selling my new mattresses into those facilities.
CHUCK BRICKMAN: That’s really what we’re trying to evolve into. A lot of the, especially the more progressive schools that we are working with, because they are recycling, they want to know who are the environmentally responsible mattress producers. They would prefer to do their business with people who are being environmentally responsible and using sustainable business practices.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. Talk a little bit about the national hotel chains. Mike and I have had some great chains on the radio show, talking about their green initiatives. We’ve had the wonderful people from Starwood on, Gina Edner, and other chains. Are they starting to respond to this call to action? Are they seeing this as an opportunity to work with you and recycle the mattresses from the hotels across America?
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Yes, and a lot of the major chains, the Starwoods, the Marriotts, the bigger corporate structures are really gearing to the fact that this is what their customers need. Because they have a past history of service, excellence, and customer service excellence, they want to really gear and listen to their customers and what they’re asking for. What they’re asking for is green, sustainable business practices. I do see in the next three to five and 10 years, I would certainly hope that all of the industry is moving towards doing the right thing. If that means a couple extra dollars, in my experience, the consumers have no problem paying those couple of extra dollars to know that we are doing the right thing.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: We have lots of listeners both around the world and in the United States that are young students that want to become an eco-preneur and an entrepreneur like you, who have literally created not only a new company, but are creating a new industry with a very bright future. Can you share with our listeners some of the lessons you’ve learned now along this four-year journey and years to go in front of you? We’re down to the last two minutes or so, so I’d like you to share some of your great green pearls of wisdom.
CHUCK BRICKMAN: Some of the advice that I would have for the young listeners is to keep your head to the grindstone. There’s going to be times where you’re going to make 100 phone calls and 95% of the phone calls you make, people aren’t interested. If you really feel and know that you have a service or a product that you could provide that will be environmentally responsible, sustainable, and appeal to a clientele, to continue to do what you want to do and not to give up when the going gets tough because if you continue to persist, you’re just going to continue to open doors. As you open doors, you’ll be welcome to opportunities and to just continue and to do what you believe in because then it becomes more like a journey rather than a job.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. It couldn’t be better said. Chuck, you’re always welcome to come on back to Green is Good and share this amazing journey you’re on, and hopefully we can increase our recycling rates in the United States and we can also increase our mattress recycling rates. We expect you to be all over the world in the near future. For our listeners out there that want to recycle their mattresses and do the right thing, please use Chuck’s service at www.ohiomattressrecovery.com. Chuck Brickman, you are a wonderful visionary and eco-preneur, and truly living proof that green is good.