*This story originally aired on September 10, 2013.
The Houston Furniture Bank is known for providing low-income families with things many people take for granted: dinner tables, chairs, and mattresses.
“Our ultimate goal is to say that anybody who comes to Houston, who lives in Houston, and does not want to sleep on the floor, you don’t have to sleep on the floor. Any child that needs a desk for their studies would have a desk for their studies.”
Oli Mohammed founded the Houston Furniture Bank in 1992, back then as part of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. Today, it is a social business with part of its revenue from donations and part from selling used furniture at its “Bargain Bazaar,” a bright yellow building just off Interstate-45 near the University of Houston.
Houston Furniture Bank Executive Director Oli Mohammed, right, and mattress recycling manager Solomon Henry.
In the spring of last year, the organization added another program to help generate some income for its services: mattress recycling.
“Ninety percent of everything in a mattress is recyclable.”
Solomon Henry is the manager for the mattress recycling program.
“The metal goes to a ‘Best American’ scrapyard. They take it and they bale it and recycle it. (…) And the toppers and the foam are used to make carpet pad for your home.”
Henry says every year, Houstonians dump 600,000 mattresses in landfills.
“If we can divert just 200,000 of those – man, there’s such benefits for us. Environmental-wise it’s saving land. Every time we take a mattress to the landfill and dump it, that’s taking up 23 cubic square feet of space.”
The benefits of the program are multifold. Not only does it give the Furniture Bank another revenue stream, help the environment and provide a way for people to get rid of their old mattresses free of charge. It also makes a point of giving a second chance to ex-convicts and recovering drug addicts, who have a hard time finding a job.
Two workers at the Houston Furniture Bank strip down a donated mattress
Henry himself went to prison more than 40 years ago.
“Even though they’ve done their time in Harris County, people still tend to frown on them because they’ve been to prison. Some of the most dedicated guys that you will find to work on a job (are) guys that have been to prison and have made up their mind to come out and do the right thing.”
The City of Houston has started a pilot program with the Furniture Bank. Residents can now drop off their old mattresses in special donated containers at two of the city’s six heavy trash depositories. Those are then delivered to the Furniture Bank instead of being dumped on landfills like the other trash.
Sandra Jackson with the city’s solid waste management department says the service has been well used since it started in September.
She says the city will continue to monitor usage and may expand the service to all of its neighborhood depositories
Oli Mohammed first heard about mattress recycling from the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County in Eugene, Ore. He sent Solomon Henry there to learn the craft. Click here for a story NPR did on that organization in July.
A Houston waste management truck drops off mattresses from the city’s heavy trash depositories at the Houston Furniture Bank.