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Minn. Firm takes new approach to mattress disposal

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — A Duluth company has come up with a new approach to an old problem — how to recycle mattresses that take up space in landfills. Olaf Industries developed a compactor to crush the steel coils so they can be recycled into other steel products.

Olaf Industries has licensed the technology to an Australian company. Olaf's founder, Clint Deraas, told the Duluth News Tribune for a story published Monday that the Australian government has been pushing companies there to recycle mattresses to recover valuable materials and save landfill space.

Forty million mattresses and box springs are thrown out every year in the United States alone, the newspaper said.

Deraas' hydraulic press crushes and binds steel bedsprings into a tightly packed, 75-pound "brick" of steel. So far Deraas has sold only one of the machines, to Goodwill Industries in Duluth, which has been using it for three years.

"We know how well it works for Goodwill, but it's been slow to get others interested," Deraas said. "In Australia, the government is really pushing recycling, and they have incentives for this kind of thing."

Officials from the Australian company are expected to tour Goodwill's mattress-recycling operation in Duluth on Wednesday.

Goodwill dismantled more than 19,000 mattresses and box springs last year, keeping more than 195 tons of steel, 50 tons of cotton, 20 tons of foam and 28 tons of wood out of local landfills.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approached Goodwill a decade ago to see if something could be done to divert bedding from the waste stream of 10 northern Minnesota counties. The Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth got involved to find markets for the materials. The effort started in 2004. Now, mattresses come from as far away as Brainerd and Cambridge, and less than 10 percent of the parts end up in landfills, Conkins said.

The prototype spring press cost about $120,000. So far Goodwill has run 500 tons of steel through the machine. It used to give the steel away and was unsure where it ended up. Now a Duluth foundry, ME Global, is paying $290 per ton for old bedsprings.

"They're taking everything we can give them," Conkins said. Last year Goodwill sold 195 tons of steel to ME Global.

Conkins wishes, however, that there was a better market for the cotton recovered from mattresses. There's a glut because so many mattress-recycling operations have come on line across the U.S.

"We were one of the first three or four in the nation. Now there's something like 45 mattress recyclers, so there's more cotton coming onto the market," Conkins said. "That's good for recycling, but it's more competition for us."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.