A Mattress Recycling Program That Changes Lives

This morning I set out to find how mattresses were recycled, and here’s what I learned.

Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill are medium-sized Massachusetts cities with three things in common: “High poverty rates, low educational attainment levels, and a strong manufacturing heritage.” The three cities also have 25 separate criminal gangs among them.

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

It might not be obvious how you could combine those elements to effect societal change and help the environment. But Greg Croteau and UTEC, the nonprofit organization he founded, have figured it out. UTEC recruits from the streets, nearby prisons and even hospital emergency rooms (following incidents of gang violence), and has assembled a workforce of young people of whom 83% have a criminal record, 76% were in a gang and 68% don’t have high school degrees.

What UTEC offers them is guaranteed work, removing the barrier a criminal background often brings. UTEC has a variety of programs, but everyone starts off in mattress recycling. Here’s how they break the mattresses down:

Why does UTEC insist on mattress recycling as the first job? Because it both requires and fosters teamwork. Even the strongest ex-con cannot easily pull a king-size mattress off of the truck and muscle it onto the cutting table. “You got to work together, so you rely on the person standing next to you a lot of the time,” UTEC Operations Manager Jim Buccholz told Boston’s WBUR.

“And sometimes your coworker can be a member of a rival gang. Call it a workplace lesson in peaceful coexistence.”

Additionally, as mentioned in the video, mattress team members have themselves invented the processes they use in breaking the mattresses down.

UTEC makes mere pennies from the usable raw materials gleaned from each mattress (wood from the frames, metal from the springs, etc.); it’s the pick-up fees paid by hotels, colleges, hospitals and municipalities the provides for the worker’s wages.

They have yet to come up with a use for the high-density foam, which no one will pay for; Buccholz is mulling the idea of turning them into filling for dog beds. “We’d love to up-cycle some of these materials and create another business.”

All told, UTEC processes about 25,000 mattresses a year, diverting the salvageable parts of them from landfills.

Once a UTEC hire has passed through the mattress recycling program, they’re eligible to step up to the next tier of training, which provides them with more concrete job skills.

UTEC’s on-site commercial kitchen provides culinary training; they run both a catering service and an event space with on-site catering provided. (UTEC also runs a café, but it had to be mothballed during the pandemic.)

In UTEC’s woodworking shop, workers learn to turn scrap wood into cutting boards, which are sold by Whole Foods (a UTEC partner), local retailers and online.

Workers also learn more advanced woodworking skills to prepare them for jobs in construction and skilled trades.

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

Throughout their time at UTEC, academic education is offered as well. The young adults going through the program spend about half of their time on the physical work, and the other half in small-class environments with tailored instruction; those without a high-school diploma can earn their GED, while others can do coursework for college credits.

This focus on education is, in UTEC’s eyes, every bit as important as the job skills training. “In short, criminal activity leads to a disruption of education, which eventually leads to increased likelihood of further criminal involvement and decreased employment opportunities,” they write.

UTEC’s measurable results, as of last year, were fantastic. After leaving prison, the average chance of re-offending is roughly 50/50. But for UTEC graduates, a staggering 87% stayed out of trouble. UTEC employs Transitional Coaches to help their grads re-integrate into society, providing them with a support network.

Moreover, the math of UTEC makes sense. It costs the state of Massachusetts an estimated $42,000 to $52,000 to incarcerate someone for a year. The cost of paying and training a UTEC participant for one year? $20,000.

The following video has more about UTEC’s mission and outcomes:

(Note: UTEC stands for “United Teen Equality Center,” the name chosen during their founding in 1999. Since then they have expanded admissions to include those up to 25 years of age, hence they no longer spell out the acronym, but are known simply as UTEC.)

Source: core77

No votes yet.
Please wait...