It’s not a load of rubbish — manufacturers find decreasing material scrap and recycling is good for business — and the environment, too
Mattress makers and industry suppliers have invested in equipment, re-engineered production processes and made other efforts to reduce the amount of waste created when manufacturing mattresses and other sleep products. They have two central — and related — motives: to cut the flow of refuse going into landfills and to shrink their manufacturing costs.
The companies BedTimes spoke with have been practicing the three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — for years, sometimes decades. But they continually seek ways they can do more to create less waste.
“It’s a problem that’s common throughout most of the industry: What to do with the waste we generate? But we can make a real difference by making an effort,” says Richard Diamonstein, managing director of Paramount Sleep. “And it’s a comprehensive opportunity because it not only is environmentally responsible, but it’s a way of running your business to control costs. It’s ingrained in us at Paramount to look for opportunities to reduce waste and recycle.” Paramount Sleep, a mattress manufacturer based in Norfolk, Virginia, produces its own brands and also holds U.S. licenses for the A.H. Beard and Hypnos bedding brands.
Leggett & Platt Inc., an industry supplier based in Carthage, Missouri, with facilities around the world, has one of the industry’s most formal and comprehensive sustainability endeavors, focused in three main areas: conservation, recycling/reuse and energy efficiency.
“We have to continually challenge what we do. It’s easy to get caught up in the competitive world of the mattress industry, but we feel it’s important to slow down and evaluate how we can continue improving the environmental side of our business,” says Jason Jewett, L&P Bedding vice president of product development. Jewett says the company’s Eco Initiative helps L&P do that by encouraging individual facilities and their employees to be proactive in environmental stewardship. The program started in the United States in 2009 and was expanded to international operations in 2013.
“It incentivizes each branch, manufacturing location or office location to find ways to improve our environmental position overall,” Jewett says. “It may be a case where something we’ve thought of as scrap or waste, someone takes the initiative and finds a secondary market for it.” Whatever the particular project, Eco Initiative encourages employees to find solutions that are environmentally and fiscally responsible, as well as self-sustaining, Jewett says.
The best-known “R”: Recycling
Recycling is a typical starting point for companies wanting to reduce their environmental footprint. Recyclables include everything from the paper, plastic and aluminum that most of us also collect at home for recycling to more specialized scrap from manufacturing processes.
Northstar Recycling helps companies recycle more and landfill less, says President Noah Goodman. In fact, it’s the company’s mission statement and the message that greets visitors to its website. Northstar Recycling is a fifth-generation family business with headquarters in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. It services companies in a variety of sectors across the United States and Canada, and its mattress industry customers range from single-location independent producers to major manufacturers with multiple facilities.
“We can help set up a plantwide recycling program that’s going to help our clients separate and recycle every single byproduct from their manufacturing process,” Goodman says. “We start on-site with a recycling audit that determines all the different items that can be recycled — everything from mattress trim and thread spools to plastic and metal strapping. We identify each material’s generation point and work with the plant to set up collection areas and provide equipment like balers to help them maximize revenue.” Northstar Recycling provides on-site trailers for collection, oversees the entire removal and recycling process, and then issues rebate checks to its customers for the collected recyclables.
“In general, we can collect and find a market for everything except bathroom and breakroom/cafeteria-type waste,” Goodman says.
When companies in the mattress industry first contact Northstar, most have a “rudimentary recycling program in place,” Goodman says. But many, he notes, “are being overcharged or overserviced for their trash service, meaning they may have overly large equipment on-site for trash collection that may be scheduled for pickup whether it’s full or not.” Because of that, part of Northstar Recycling’s service includes “rightsizing” its customers’ entire waste removal and hauling systems.
For companies that want “landfill-free” waste disposal, Northstar Recycling will help them divert any remaining trash that can’t be recycled to facilities that will incinerate it to produce energy from the generated heat.
Diamonstein says Paramount has baled scraps of materials such as cardboard, plastic and foam for more than three decades, storing the materials temporarily in a semi-trailer parked in one of the plant’s truck bays until it’s picked up by a recycler. “We’ve been doing that all along instead of sending it to a landfill so any of the preconsumer ‘fall off’ we have isn’t thrown into a dumpster but recycled whenever we can,” he says.
A. Lava & Son Co. is a Chicago-based company that produces sewn mattress covers; provides contract manufacturing, quilting and sewing; and distributes a wide variety of mattress components. Given its specialties, the company churns through a lot of fabric, leaving a multitude of cardboard tubes from the centers of fabric rolls. For disposal, A. Lava contracts with a company to haul them away by “the semi-trailer full” and recycle them for other uses, says Adam Lava, co-owner and vice president. Same thing with foam scraps from quilting rolls. Those are baled and then sold to be shredded and turned into carpet padding.
Lava says excess fabrics at a production facility in Haiti are recycled in a slightly different way. Those are donated to charities that can repurpose them into blankets for orphanages, nursing homes and other organizations, he explains. The Haiti operation is part of CLASS (Culp-Lava Applied Sewn Solutions), a joint venture between A. Lava and Culp Inc., a fabric supplier based in High Point, North Carolina.
Waste reduction and energy efficiency were key drivers of its building design when Atlanta Attachment Co. built a new headquarters facility in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in 2008, says Hank Little, president of the machinery and equipment maker. So, the company recycles the plastic, aluminum and steel shavings produced by the plant, but also collects rainwater and recycles the wastewater from production processes. That wastewater is captured through the building’s drain system and moved into filtration tanks to remove impurities. Then the filtered water is returned to the county’s system. The sludge that remains is dried and compressed.
“It looks like a charcoal briquet,” Little says. “So instead of a 50-gallon drum headed for the landfill,” he explains, every other week, the company sends to the landfill an amount of little sludge bricks equivalent to a charcoal bag you might use for summer grilling.
Atlanta Attachment’s filtration system, combined with using “neutral” cleaners on metals, means the company no longer has to pay for hazardous waste collection, adds Ferrell Wilkins, chief operating officer. “Because of our system, the resulting water is as clear going out as when it came into the plant,” he says. Atlanta Attachment has been recognized by Gwinnett County for its environmental stewardship.
Most L&P facilities recycle waste, including paper, cardboard, urethane foam, chemicals and lubricants. But as a maker of components, the company also finds itself on the other end of that recycling process, incorporating materials recycled from other uses into its own products. For instance, it turns 316 million pounds of recycled foam, fiber and rubber into new carpet pad annually, and the Innovative Resin Technologies division — part of L&P’s Work Furniture Group — typically uses more than 1 million pounds of 100% post-consumer plastics and post-industrial waste to create components. Similarly, nearly 1.1 billion pounds of recycled scrap steel makes its way into L&P products, including innersprings.
In fact, innersprings may be one of today’s mattress components with the longest history of sustainability. Jewett notes that 95% of the steel used to make innerspring wire is made from melted steel scrap, either post-consumer or from other manufacturing processes such as the stamping out of auto parts. And, at the end of their life within a mattress or foundation, springs are recycled again.
Wm. T. Burnett, a supplier of foams and nonwovens to a variety of industries with corporate headquarters in Baltimore, has a long history of putting fall off, or trim, created during its production processes right back into the product, says Tim McRee, vice president of its nonwoven division, which is based in Statesville, North Carolina. The practice means the company recycles on-site nearly 100% of its component trim.
“In the high-loft products, fire barriers and densified products we make, where we have trim on the side of the rolls, that automatically goes back into the product,” McRee says. “In the case of rolled goods, we have a vacuum system that vacuums everything up so we never touch it and it goes back into the blend.” Similarly, waste from needle-punched products goes into a grinder and then back into the product, “so any waste is very minimal,” McRee says.
“Cost and efficiency play into the equation,” he says. “We want to minimize our costs, and we feel like whenever we run something we’re going to generate, say, 10% trim on products, but in turn we can reintroduce it back into the product. That’s efficient.”
Mattress manufacturer Sound Sleep can’t transform its production scrap into more of the same component but it is always looking for ways it can use scrap in other ways. John Larsen, owner and chief executive officer of the company, which has headquarters in Sumner, Washington, says his aversion to waste and interest in tinkering have helped him turn production scrap into cost-effective, quality components that go into Sound Sleep’s finished mattresses.
On a visit to Wm. T. Burnett about seven years ago, Larsen saw a carding line that gave him an idea for what to do with the foam and fabric sloughed off during the quilting and flanging stages of mattress making. He bought a snowflaker from a company selling used textile equipment and modified an existing quilter to sandwich the ground bits of material between two nonwoven layers. He named the resulting upholstery layer Eco Pad.
“I was tired of baling the scraps and selling it for less money than it was costing us to bale it,” he explains. “And it was just a terrible waste. We were baling this stuff and then it was getting shipped across country for dog beds or something.”
Sound Sleep is a vertically integrated manufacturer that produces its own spring units and cuts its own foam. Larsen came up with another idea last year that puts foam scrap to better use.
“In the process of cutting foam, we constantly have fall off,” Larsen explains. “Again, we were baling that and selling it back to the foam people for not that much money. So we put in a rebond system, like those used for carpet pad, and we make that into blocks that make a superior base for a no-flip mattress.” Sound Sleep is using the repurposed foam rebond in most of its foam mattresses and as layers in innerspring models. The new process required Larsen to buy tanks, a mixer and a boiler, but he says the investment already has been cost effective.
Reduction through re-engineering
Of course, if you can eliminate waste from the start, you don’t need to recycle or find new uses for it, which leads companies to continually rethink their production methods. How can a product be efficiently produced with the least amount of scrap? Will that require new equipment or a new workflow?
Mattress producers go to companies like Atlanta Attachment for answers to some of those questions.
“Our customers want labor savings and material waste reduction,” Little says. “Anytime you can save labor and material in a piece of equipment, you have a winning combination.” Given that, whether Atlanta Attachment’s product designers and engineers are drawing up a new piece of equipment or re-engineering an existing machine, they seek ways to reduce overall material usage and cut down on waste.
“Everybody wants to minimize material use and, if they have scrap, they want to repurpose it,” Little says. “It can add to the complexity of the design of a product, say, if you have to trim waste and then move the waste out of the process for another purpose, but we always design with efficiency in mind.”
Production areas where machinery improvements often can make a significant difference in terms of using mattress materials more efficiently include lamination, compressing and roll packing, and cutting and sewing, Little says. “I can tell you that if we create a machine that’s more productive but uses more material, it’s not going to sell,” he adds.
Like its customers, Atlanta Attachment wants to reduce waste in its own manufacturing processes. For example, Little says, “when we cut plates of metal, we nest our patterns and do a lot of common-line cutting. Anytime we can get better utilization of a 4-(foot)-by-8-(foot) sheet of metal, we do it.” The company follows the same thinking in its offices and is moving toward paperless systems, including invoicing.
Lava says that because his mattress industry customers “task us to be as efficient as possible,” his company also seeks out manufacturing techniques and technologies that reduce waste from the get-go. One example: When cutting fabrics, A. Lava relies on pattern-design software from Tukatech and methods like nesting fabric pieces. “We get the best, most efficient yields and reduce waste,” Lava says.
Richard Fleck, Paramount Sleep president, says streamlining mattress designs has helped Paramount reduce scrap. “It used to be that a lot of manufacturers had multiple sizes that required different foam encasements, every foam topper would be different, etc.,” he says. “Now we buy standard-size materials already in a specific size so we don’t have to cut anything. It’s more efficient and produces less waste.”
Jewett says environmental stewardship also is a key part of the product design process across L&P divisions.
“Our product designs contribute to our environmental mission. It’s an important part of the process, including what sort of packaging we will use,” Jewett says. “We repurpose a lot of packaging that can be backhauled from customers’ locations for use over and over again.” For instance, in the bedding realm, L&P’s Semi-Flex steel wire foundations are shipped on specially designed, heavy-duty steel racks. “Some have been in use for probably 15 years,” he says.
In addition, the mattress industry is taking cues from broader consumer trends, such as efforts to reduce the amount of plastics used in products in the first place, Fleck says, noting local and statewide efforts around the United States to ban plastic straws or plastic bags at retail. “We’re looking at nonwoven bags and other solutions for wrapping mattresses,” he says.
Weighing costs and benefits
Companies are constantly running cost-benefit analyses on their waste disposal efforts. Those that approach Northstar Recycling typically “are looking to increase their revenue from recyclable byproducts and wanting to reduce the amount of materials going to landfills and those associated costs,” Goodman says. An optimally run, comprehensive recycling program can create a significant income stream for businesses. “It’s not just savings, but recycling provides additional revenue, sometimes in the thousands of dollars a month,” he says.
Yet some companies BedTimes spoke with say they don’t make a significant amount of money from materials picked up by recyclers.
“None of us likes to fill our dumpsters with garbage,” Lava says. “When we talk about recycling something like foam, it’s probably a wash financially. Whatever they (recyclers) pay us, it probably costs us that much to bale and stack and put on the skids. But we’re happy that we are doing our part to help the environment and planet.”
The drive to re-engineer products to cut waste earlier in the process can have bigger financial payoffs, some say.
“We use a lot of expensive raw materials,” Diamonstein says. “So to be competitive, we have to be efficient in our design and manufacturing process. Again, it ties into an environmental story but also is just part of running an efficient facility. ”
Reducing waste from the start by doing things like streamlining mattress designs doesn’t just bring environmental benefits and directly reduce material costs. “Less waste means less handling so it’s more ergonomic,” reducing worker injuries, Fleck says. And because collecting and baling waste takes time, cutting scrap from the start is more efficient in terms of staffing, he says.
Talking it up
Consumer demand for environmental stewardship isn’t the primary driver for most companies’ waste reduction, reuse and recycling efforts, but it is a factor. Companies BedTimes spoke with say they know consumers value products made with sustainable practices.
To tout its efforts, L&P has created a website, LeggettGreen.com, and explains its practices extensively on a section of its primary site (Leggett.com/Sustainability).
Sound Sleep promotes its sustainability efforts, including its Eco Pad, on its website, but Larsen notes that, initially, his sales and marketing team was less than enthused about highlighting the component, fearing consumers might be turned off by its origins as production scrap. Still, Larsen, says, both consumers and retailers in the Pacific Northwest where his company operates are sensitive to environmental concerns and want sustainable products.
“It makes it easier to market these kinds of things (like components made from post-production scrap),” Larsen says. “I had a dealer initially complain about the rebond foam because it made the bed heavier and then I told him rebond is more environmentally friendly and he said, ‘Leave it in.’ ”
A ways to go before “zero waste”
None of the companies BedTimes spoke with have reached that elusive state of “zero waste.”
“I wish I could tell you we have no use for dumpsters,” Larsen says. “But I still look at it on a regular basis to see how we can reduce what’s going in and what I can pull out and use in some other way.” Vexing him currently are “short pieces of fabric that don’t grind well” and “plastic centers from spools of thread.” “I’m on a plastics kick right now because it sits around for so long without decomposing,” he says.
But, like Larsen, producers continue to look for new methods, equipment and processes to help them reduce, reuse and recycle.
“One thing that our industry, or any industry, can bet on is that over the long term everything is going to get more expensive — energy, raw materials,” Jewett says. “So a reduce-reuse-recycle focus is a necessary part of controlling those expenses.”
In other words, dumpsters aren’t entirely a thing of the past but companies are striving to make them a relic of another manufacturing era.
MRC Programs Keep Used Bedding Out of Landfills
The efforts of mattress manufacturers and their suppliers to reduce factory-level waste dovetail nicely with the industry’s efforts to help recycle used mattresses and box springs at the end of their useful lives.
The Mattress Recycling Council manages the state-mandated recycling programs in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island that collect used mattresses and box springs, break them down and recycle their components for use in other products.
Richard Diamonstein, managing director of mattress manufacturer Paramount Sleep in Norfolk, Virginia, and chair of MRC’s board, says MRC helps bring full circle the environmental stewardship process begun at mattress manufacturers and suppliers’ facilities.
“Quite honestly,” he says, “that was the reason initially that the idea of MRC was attractive to me, because our industry makes a product that too often becomes waste heading for a landfill. Recycling mattresses and box springs keeps them out and turns them into useful components for other uses.”
A Complex Recycling Project Makes Coats From Water Bottles
A project that takes recycled water bottles from Flint, Michigan, and turns them into noise-dampening car engine covers, HVAC filters and even coats that transform into sleeping bags for the homeless demonstrates how companies can create sustainable products from the waste stream.
It also shows the complexity, determination and creativity sometimes needed to do so, says Sabrina Kilmer, an account executive with Wm. T. Burnett, a maker of foams and nonwovens with headquarters in Baltimore.
The process starts in Michigan, where plastic bottles are collected from General Motors Co. facilities and the city of Flint, where many residents relied on bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing for more than three years because of lead contamination in city water. Fiber producer Unifi Inc. then flakes the plastic, which is turned into resin and then fiber. Then Wm. T. Burnett uses the fiber to create EcoWeb, a 50% recycled (PET) moldable lightweight fiber blend that can be used as an alternative to cotton or resinated shoddy. That’s the material that goes into filters and acoustical components. EcoWeb initially was designed primarily to meet the criteria of GM’s Do Your Part sustainability initiative. But the product also finds its way into coats that transform into sleeping bags. Those are made by the Empowerment Plan, a Detroit-based nonprofit that employs the homeless to make about 6,000 coats a year.
“The last time I looked, there were at least 16 partners within this one project that makes filters going into products at every GM plant and coats being made through the Empowerment Plan that supplies jobs to the homeless,” Kilmer says. “Every partner gets something out of it, but we’re all trying to give something back, too.”
Kilmer’s title is account executive but a significant part of her job is research and development, finding uses for recycled materials, typically in automotive applications, and also building partnerships.
“The automotive sector seems to stay ahead of the curve in terms of recycling,” Kilmer says. And because of the way cars are manufactured, automakers’ specifications often allow for substitute materials and alternative products as long as they hit performance and price criteria.
But, Kilmer acknowledges, “the complexity of a project like this is part of what can hold people back” from finding similar ways to turn waste into new products. “Companies have to look at if they’re going to be able to make money,” she says. “But, often, as we move along, and with a little effort, we see we are able to help each other, conserve our resources and make money.”