When University Housing replaced 900 twin mattresses in University of Wisconsin-Stout residence halls this month, all of them ended up being repurposed.

The mattresses were sent to LRP Recycling in Framingham, Mass., via semi to a processing center. There the wood, steel, fabric, cotton and foam were separated.

The wood, depending on the type, is either made into mulch, energy fuel, animal bedding or wood chips. The steel inner spring can be melted and poured into new steel products such as nuts and screws. The cotton and foam are sold to companies that use the materials for insulation and foam padding underneath wall-to-wall carpets and in other cushioning applications.

“The company reuses almost all of the mattress,” said Justin Fults, UW-Stout’s associate director of facilities operation at University Housing. “It’s important to University Housing that we try to be sustainable as possible and reduce our carbon footprint.”

According to LRP Recycling’s website, recycling 900 dorm mattresses would save about 44,100 pounds and 11,400 square feet of waste from going into a landfill. LRP Recycling also works with hotels and military bases to recycle mattresses and furniture, as well as furniture at schools.

In addition to a greener solution, using LRP ended up being nearly one-quarter the cost, Fults said. Recycling cost about $2,200, mainly to have the mattresses transported. Sending the mattresses to the landfill would have cost about $10,000 in tipping fees, or about $15 per mattress.

Residence hall mattresses are replaced regularly, Fults said. About 3,000 students live in the halls. The new mattresses are more of a foam construction with a durable outer covering that is stain-resistant.

Most UW System schools are trying to find ways to reduce their waste, Fults said, noting he expects the trend to continue, particularly at UW-Stout.

“Our students are focused on recycling and sustainability and reusing products,” Fults said. “We need to be on board with the same things they want.”

UW-Stout has a Sustainability Office. The campus is a Charter Signatory of the American College and Universities President’s Climate Commitment, an effort to address climate change by committing the campus to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions.

Sarah Rykal, UW-Stout sustainability manager, said recycling the mattresses was a win environmentally and financially. “We really care about reducing our landfilled waste at UW-Stout,” Rykal said. “We’re always seeking out new waste streams to keep out of the trash. University Housing saw a great opportunity to recycle a large number of mattresses.”

The Princeton Review named UW-Stout one of the top “green” colleges in 2018. The education services company’s Guide to 399 Green Colleges profiles schools that are the most committed to sustainability. The schools were selected based on their academic offerings, campus policies, initiatives, activities and career preparation for students.

Areas of environmental stewardship and sustainability that helped UW-Stout make the list include: a Sustainability Steering Committee; sustainability-focused undergraduate and graduate degree programs; part of the university food budget allocated to local and organic food; and transportation options, including Bikeshare, car-sharing and car/van pooling programs, free or reduced-price transit passes, a free shuttle program and free or reduced parking passes for car/van pooling vehicles.

Learn more at the Sustainable Stout website.

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UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.

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