In an old brick building on Freedom Drive in Charlotte, piles of old mattresses are being turned into gainful employment.
Diane Metz, 47, has been working at Spring Back Recycling for several months. Eight hours a day, she rips mattresses and box springs apart and separates the material for recycling.
It’s hard work, but she enjoys it.
Metz said she got the job at Spring Back when she was homeless, living in an uptown parking garage after losing her job at a hospital.
With the help of Spring Back Recycling’s local owners, Metz has moved into a three-bedroom house near Sugaw Creek Park with two of her children, and they’ve since gotten two dogs.
“This is what we’ve always wanted,” she said.
It’s also what Daniel Fogarty, Jess McDowell, John Austin and Reggie Nious, who oversee Spring Back Recycling in Charlotte, have wanted: to offer work for those coming out of difficult situations such as rehab, homelessness or prison.
“This provides an opportunity for men and women to get a job and re-enter the workforce,” Austin said.
Spring Back Recycling is meant to be a springboard at which people can gain work experience, demonstrate responsibility and reliability and move on to long-term employment.
Spring Back pays well – almost $10 an hour – and if there are enough mattresses on hand it can provide work immediately when people need it.
The idea for Spring Back Recycling came from the 2010 Belmont University Enactus team, which works on social-entrepreneurship projects to help residents achieve self-sufficiency.
The team looked at mattress recycling as a way to help people and the environment. The pilot program in Nashville was a success, and Charlotte’s Spring Back is the fifth mattress-recycling franchise in the U.S.
Fogarty, executive director of Beds for Kids, brought the idea to Charlotte. Beds for Kids provides beds and other essential furniture to Charlotte-area children and families in need, and he found that many of the donated mattresses were too used to give away.
Tossing mattresses into a landfill is not a good solution, Fogarty said; mattresses are bulky, heavy and can release toxic gases when they are trashed.
Three states – Connecticut, California and Rhode Island – have passed legislation requiring mattress retailers and manufacturers to provide financial support for mattress-recycling centers. North Carolina does has no such legislation forthcoming.
Spring Back in Charlotte opened in early 2014, and about three months ago Fogarty and McDowell, who also works with Beds for Kids, teamed with Austin and Nious, who run a nonprofit ministry called Adventure Resources that helps people find jobs.
“For us, it really is a sense of God’s timing and bringing this together,” Austin said.
Fogarty said Spring Back employed nine people in 2014. One of its first employees now has a full-time job driving a truck.
Employment levels at Spring Back depend on the number of mattresses that are donated. One person can disassemble about 25 mattresses a day, so Spring Back needs 125 mattresses a week for every full-time employee.
Mattresses, which are about 90 percent recyclable, can come from individuals, but most arrive by the truckload from larger institutions such as hotels or college dormitories, which are required to regularly change the mattresses.
Spring Back charges a fee that is less than the landfill disposal fee, and it makes money selling mattress foam, metal, wood and other materials for recycling.
The four leaders see Spring Back primarily as a way to help people, but they also want to create a self-sustaining business.
“It’s a different way of looking at the problem,” Austin said. “It serves people and helps the environment, and we are not constantly asking people for money.”
Spring Back of Charlotte hopes to double the number of mattresses it recycles this year to 6,000, and Austin and Nious already are looking to start other businesses with a similar model. “We’re trying to develop a pipeline for long-term employment,” Nious said.
The business is working for Metz. At her previous job, she said, she struggled because she sometimes couldn’t get in to work and didn’t have a way to contact her supervisor.
Her job now involves a one-hour bus ride to Spring Back, and she hopes to start saving for a car.
Spring Back “has helped me financially and with being more responsible,” she said. “Since I have a home now, that makes me have to come to work.
“It’s been a real blessing.”