Mattress Mick’s got nothing on this place. This is the greatest gathering of mattresses you’ve ever seen, taking up most of the floor space in a warehouse in Glasnevin.

With stacks and stacks 20 and 30 deep, even the most sensitive of princesses could get a decent 40 winks here. If it wasn’t, that is, for the occasional high-pitched squishing noise coming from the machine that bales up mattress innards in preparation for recycling.

Meet the man behind Eco Mattress

Eco Mattress does two very valuable things simultaneously. As a social enterprise, it provides jobs and hands-on work experience for people in the north inner city. It also recycles old mattresses, saving thousands of tons of material from going to landfill.

From steel springs and polyurethane foam to fabric and fillings, every part of the mattress is recovered for use in industry or as fuel. There’s probably only one man in Ireland who could have come up with an idea like that.

At the warehouse next door, they call him ‘the mattress guy’ but his real name is John Scally. With over 40 years of experience in waste management, plus several more in community training schemes, it’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified to do what he’s doing. He’s the Director here at Eco Mattress Recycling Ltd.

John Scally seated at his desk

An eco-friendly business with a community-focused ethos

John had previously worked with locals from the north inner city, who successfully used waste management and recycling as a vehicle for community projects. He kept this in mind as he sought out a new venture.

“After I retired from the council, I joined up with Sunflower Recycling,” he says. “We were producing some very good employees down there, through the community employment projects”.

However, the trouble was that being a very good potential employee didn’t necessarily mean you could get a job. And this was at a time, 15 years ago, of “full and plenty”, as John calls it.

I hadn’t a clue how I was going to do it, but I knew that I was going to.

“We were not able to get them employment, even part-time employment or work experience that would get them back into the groove,” he says. Or maybe into the groove for the first time.

As John points out: “Some of our people would never have had the experience of seeing someone in the family leaving the house to go out to work”.

“We may have been training them up to be lorry drivers,” he continues. “We may have trained them up to be forklift drivers, prepared them for work and I would have been happy to send them anywhere, because they were capable. However, we couldn’t find employers who would take the next step with them.”

People use us to get to where they want to go.

At this point John began to get a bit fed up. So he began to think up ways that they could create jobs for themselves. “I knew myself we had to find some kind of niche thing, because we couldn’t compete against the big guys,” he says.

That’s when the mattress recycling brainwave struck. “At that time, mattresses had come to be a bit of a pain in the neck for people who were dealing with getting rid of them,” he explains.

However, there was very little research available on the subject. No facts or figures, but that didn’t stop him. “I hadn’t a clue how I was going to do it, but I knew that I was going to do it,” he says.

John Scally looks out over the packed warehouse floor

Getting Eco Mattress off the ground

After a lot of exploratory work, John presented the idea to John Gormley, who was Environment Minister at the time. He asked for a more concrete proposal and an estimated startup cost. Soon afterwards, the money required came through.

It was the only grant John’s ever got, but a very welcome one nonetheless. Within a year or so, he was able to hire his first full-time staff member.

When choosing employees, John’s not interested in how long someone was out of employment or how long ago they finished an employment scheme. “The only question we ask when someone comes in that door is: ‘Do you want to be here?’

Everything Eco Mattress does is clearly on display here at its warehouse. “This is what we do. This is all we do,” John says. “There’s nothing more than what you’re seeing.”

So if someone says ‘yes’, they want to be here, they’re in. It’s that simple.

What it’s like to work at Eco Mattress

Currently, Eco Mattress employs six people full-time, along with others who are here as participants in back-to-work schemes. The jobs all pay above minimum wage. That’s because John doesn’t want anyone “pointing the finger and saying we’re using people”.

As far as he’s concerned, it’s the other way around. “People use us to get to where they want to go and I’m perfectly happy with that,” he says.

The guys on the floor are happy to share a joke with Dublin.ie, but they don’t stop working while they talk. Apart from the baling, all the work is done by hand. The speed at which an individual bedspring can be recovered is all down to manual dexterity and how good you are with a pair of pliers.

“They work harder than people in your usual job,” John reckons.

Mattress recycling van doors with contact detailsSo what are the logistics of Dublin’s mattress recycling sector – of which John’s business was the first member?

“We have to get rid of 600-700 mattresses a week,” he says. “We don’t accept here from the public, we pick them up ourselves in one of our vans.

“But it’s no good getting 700 mattresses in if you can’t get 700 mattresses out,” he adss. “So that’s what we do: We’re the Dunnes Stores of recycling mattresses!”

And how long does it take to reduce a mattress to its constituent parts?

“You wouldn’t want to spend more than 12 or 13 minutes,” John says. “Longer than that and I’d begin to wake up in the middle of the night! A single mattress you could do in five minutes, but we’re getting into a period of designer mattresses now.”

These are the bugbear of the business, because you get different kinds of springs – like pocket springs. This makes the job harder.

“Yes, it’s hard work, but this business has to work,” says John. He echoes that thought one more time as Dublin.ie takes its leave: “It has to work”.

Recycling your mattress with Eco Mattress

Eco Mattress offers door-to-door mattress collections around the country. They collect from Dublin’s northside Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Then, they head southside on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

To find out more, visit Eco Mattress’s website.

Laurence is a writer, cyclist and gardener. He’s always finding new things to like about Dublin, the city where’s he’s spent most of his life.

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