On July 31st, 2020, Houston Furniture Bank celebrated an important milestone: 100,000 mattresses recycled at Houston Furniture Bank! To mark this happy occasion safely during the coronavirus pandemic, we presented a live, virtual program on Facebook and YouTube.
The event was hosted by Houston Furniture Bank’s Board Chairman, Hal Lynde, and featured a number of esteemed guests including Terrence McDonald, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and founder of the Cascade Alliance; Larry Cress, Vice-Chairman of the Houston Furniture Bank Board; Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner; Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale of Gallery Furniture; and Oli Mohammed, Executive Director of Houston Furniture Bank.
An Important Community Resource
Houston Furniture Bank’s Mattress Recycling program was founded in 2012, as a pilot project with support from the City of Houston. That year, the program recycled 6,000 mattresses that would have otherwise gone to Houston’s landfills, instead transforming their metal, foam, and plastic into new products. Over the years, the program has grown considerably. By 2019, it employed seven people and recycled 27,000 mattresses. This year, even in the midst of the pandemic, the program hit a major milestone, recycling its 100,000th mattress.
Hal Lynde began the program by thanking the many individuals and organizations whose support has brought us to this moment, making special mention of the many volunteers who have helped the Houston Furniture Bank reach the 100,000 mattresses mark.
Larry Cress, Houston Furniture Bank’s Board Vice Chairman, recalled how the program’s beginnings. Terrence McDonald, the founder of what was then a new organization, the Cascade Alliance, visited Houston Furniture Bank in 2012 with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to share what his organization had learned in Oregon. The Cascade Alliance’s goal is to turn the problem into solutions: helping nonprofits turn waste-streams into sources of jobs and revenue. Houston had a huge need, Cress remembered: The organization was facing an overwhelming number of old mattresses being donated that were destined for landfills while also working to provide families with a safe, comfortable place to sleep.
McDonald, who oversees our nation’s first and largest mattress-recycling facility, pointed out that mattresses are a major stressor on landfills: nationwide, they “make up about 1 percent of the waste stream by volume.” This represents tremendous potential, he said, as it is “one of the great identifiable products that can be removed from the waste stream and recycled— if we have the will to do so.”
The Mattress Recycling Center not only keeps mattresses out of the landfills, said Oli Mohammed, Executive Director of Houston Furniture Bank. It also makes it possible to connect Houstonians with the essential furniture they need. That need is higher than ever, said Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner: During the coronavirus pandemic, he said, “people are having a hard time paying their rent, paying their mortgage, and have concerns about falling into a state of homelessness.” he said. “These mattresses literally do help to keep kids off the floor. Literally, this program will help to provide that needed furniture in an apartment or in a home that will make a house a home.”
Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a local hero, businessman, and a longtime supporter of the Houston Furniture Bank, made an appearance during the program. “Houston Furniture Bank is a godsend for all of us in Houston that are in the retail furniture business.” he said. “Thank goodness we have the wonderful Houston Furniture Bank here that is leading the charge not only in Houston, but across the country, in mattress recycling.” McIngvale joked that he is “very interested” in mattress recycling “because I want everyone to get rid of their old mattress and buy a new one.”
A future of opportunity
The guests emphasized that the program still has lots of opportunities to grow. Every year, between 500,000 and 750,000 mattresses are thrown away into Houston’s landfills, explained Mayor Turner. “If we don’t do more recycling, if we don’t expand on programs like the one that we are talking about, quite frankly, we are going to run out of landfill space, and all of us will be adversely affected because of that.” McDonald’s organization, the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Eugene, Oregan, is currently recycling over 500,000 mattresses each year, and he said that he sees a similar potential in Houston. “It took eight years to get to the first 100,000, ” said Oli Mohammed. “We can easily do the second 100,000 in 4 years! The connection between mattress recycling and the Houston Furniture Bank’s mission of “Making Empty Houses Homes” could not be clearer, he added. “Three hundred thousand children sleeping on the floor every night, while we are throwing away 700,000 mattresses in the landfill, would not make any sense anywhere.”
Mohammed had many people to thank: Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Furniture Bank Board, for their leadership; the Houston Furniture Bank team, especially Bill Lindsay, the Director of Operations, Carye Blackwell, the Mattress Recycling Manager, and the seven Houston Furniture Bank employees who are recycling over 100 mattresses each day, for their hard work. “We have a group that is really dedicated to the cause,” he said. Mayor Turner also made sure to recognize “the over 40 people employed by Houston Furniture Bank,” who make sure that families have access to the furniture that they need. “Thank you for serving over 100 families each month,” he said.
Mayor Turner and Houston Furniture Bank’s leadership highlighted the contributions of Harry Hayes, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Solid Waste Management at the City of Houston, who oversaw the rollout of the program and whose team continues to work in partnership with Houston Furniture Bank today. What was once a pilot program has now been expanded to include six neighborhood depositories throughout the city. And Houston Furniture Bank’s leadership credited partnerships with local companies for the program’s continued expansion. Larry Cress noted the participation of companies like Serta, Mattress Firm, Ikea, American Furniture Warehouse, Gallery Furniture and local hotels.
Houston Furniture Bank is proud to mark this occasion, proud to count on the support of so many members of our community, and proud of our employees, our board, our volunteers and our partners. We are proud to be a part of a national movement of nonprofit organizations that are creating jobs, saving resources, helping families, and turning problems into solutions. We look forward to the continued growth of this program, and to continuing to serve our community.