Soft Landing: From Waste to Wages
Soft Landing is a recycling social enterprise that not only diverts hundreds of thousands of old mattresses from landfill, but also generates training and employment opportunities in the process.
Environmentally, end of life mattresses are a growing issue in Australia with more than 1.6 million being disposed of each year, equating to approximately 1.2 million cubic metres of waste. Being difficult to dispose of, mattresses are often illegally dumped and those that are sent to the tip can create further hazards in landfill.
“Mattresses cause significant issues in landfill due to their bulky size and low density. Taking up to 10 years to break down, they cause voids in the tip face which make the landfill unstable,” explains Bill Dibley, Soft Landing National Operations Manager, “Mattresses have also been linked to fires at landfills.”
To address this, Soft Landing has taken a unique perspective on how these mattresses can be given a new life, looking for opportunities to reuse the raw materials within existing markets for steel and foam and creating new products from the unwanted components.
“We have long term partnerships with BlueScope Steel and Dunlop Flooring for our steel and foam,” explains Co-Founder and National Business Manager, Andrew Douglas, “Where we had no market for recovered textiles we developed a punching bag manufacturing machine that could use the textile for fill.”
Their success has seen 162,675 mattresses diverted from landfill in the last financial year alone, with a further 273,000 mattresses on track to be recycled next year. Alongside this environmental benefit, the recycling process has had the added impact of generating training and employment opportunities to those facing significant barriers to work.
Each mattress is currently deconstructed by hand, filleted with a Stanley knife before the foam and latex materials are peeled away. This process, once mastered, can be completed in 5-10 minutes. Wooden frames and steel springs are separated by a purpose built splitting machine.
Soft Landing currently employs 54 full time and 18 part time staff across five recycling centres in NSW, WA and ACT, which services 85 contracts.
“Having a job is more than just getting a pay packet. It instils a sense of self-worth in people. Many of our staff had been unemployed for a long time and had been told that they were no good at their previous jobs or not suitable at job interviews,” explains Dibley, “Our model ensures people with barriers to employment are quickly able to succeed when they commence with us. This is via the nature of the work and the supportive and understanding environment we have created.”
Soft Landing’s success has seen them continue to grow and scale, now looking to expand further into Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart while partnering with the TIC Group in Sydney and Melbourne to integrate leading technology into their deconstruction processes. This will help achieve their vision of diverting 500, 000 mattresses from landfill by 2020.
“We have stayed true to the vision of the business which had twin goals of positive environmental and social impact,” notes Douglas.