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J.L. Phillips and Terry Stone say BedHead Mattress Recycling has brought in 400-500 mattresses since April from the likes of Pittsburg State University.
J.L. Phillips and Terry Stone say BedHead Mattress Recycling has brought in 400-500 mattresses since April from the likes of Pittsburg State University.

Business Spotlight: Right Side of the Bed

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In Billings just off U.S. Highway 60 lives a new kind of sustainable business seeking to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning mattress recycling industry.

J.L. Phillips and Terry Stone have spent a year and a half building BedHead Mattress Recycling from the ground up so it can tear mattresses down to their bare materials.

Operated under BHMR LLC, the co-owners say BedHead Mattress Recycling is making a name for itself early before landfill laws regarding old mattresses take hold on a national scale.

Recycling laws already exist in Rhode Island, Connecticut and California, where legislators have taken action on a growing problem. Phillips says mattresses hit landfills to the tune of 50,000 per day, and take 10-12 years to degrade on their own.

Stone compares the issue to tires. Whole tires currently are banned from dumping in Missouri landfills and Stone says it’s only a matter of time before mattress legislation hits the Show-Me State.

“The laws will come one way or another, sooner or later,” he says. “We’ll be well-positioned at that time.”

Sustainable startup
Getting started was difficult. BedHead’s co-owners say given how young the mattress recycling industry is there isn’t exactly a blueprint.

The partners originally placed the business in a 4,000-square-foot building with a low ceiling in Nixa before realizing the property was too small for their purposes. The 18,000 square feet in Billings, complete with high warehouse ceilings, was a better fit. The site previously housed Wilcorp Industries Inc., which for two decades made packaging adhesives and sealants for 3M Co. (NYSE: MMM).

“It was a challenge,” Phillips says, noting their first year in business also included finding clients, both those looking to dispose of mattresses and those who buy the resulting parts.

Moving forward, the challenge is building a workforce to take on an increasing number of mattresses. Besides Phillips and Stone, the company employs one other full-time employee and 2-3 part timers. Phillips’ grandson helped this summer to earn some extra cash.

Starting in earnest this April, Phillips says BedHead has taken in 400-500 mattresses since, and the owners expect to easily more than double that number by year’s end, but declined to disclose revenues.

Individuals can bring in mattresses to recycle – at a $5 charge – but the real money is in larger loads from the likes of Pittsburg State University in Kansas. For that particular client, Stone says the process was a win-win: it gave the university an easy way to rid itself of old mattresses in a public relations friendly, environmentally sustainable way and BedHead got the business.

At the Billings plant, the recycling process is relatively simple.

A technician strips the quilted fabric, removes the cotton or metal springs and separates it all into piles. From there, it’s shipped to various clients, who melt the steel down to reuse  or separate the cotton for refurbished products. Phillips says 80-85 percent of the mattresses the company recycles are used for other purposes. It’s a stark contrast given the amount of mattresses lazing around in landfills.

Selling the stripped down mattress parts works similar to commodities, Stone says, noting prices can change depending on need.

“They fluctuate just like corn, beans and oil,” he says, declining to disclose client names.

Landfill woes
To address the landfill issue, a group of mattress manufacturers collectively called the International Sleep Products Association formed the nonprofit Mattress Recycling Council to give states an option when laws go into place.

The MRC operates recycling programs in Rhode Island, Connecticut and California, where newly enacted laws require retailers to collect a recycling fee on any mattress or box spring sold. Rhode Island’s law took effect in May, following similar legislative actions in 2015 by Connecticut and California.

MRC Marketing and Communications Coordinator Amanda Wall says there’s currently no pending legislation in Missouri.

“Right now, it’s definitely state by state,” she says. “We’ve seen it be an issue in states that have aggressive zero-waste goals.”

Nonetheless, Wall sees value in a business like BedHead. It’s another option for consumers who may be environmentally conscious.

“Mattresses don’t compact well. They’re not meant to. For years and years, you want them to be able to hold your weight and support you,” she says. “They tend to be a nuisance for landfills.”

BedHead Mattress Recycling is working with the city of Springfield to set up a landfill collection bin.

The company currently works in a four-state region – Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma – and will pick up or receive old mattresses for a fee.

“It’s a void that needs filled,” Stone says. “Mattresses are a real problem.”

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