We look inside TIC Group’s first state-of-the-art mattress recycling plant in Melbourne, and hear details of the second, which is already being planned.
Each year Australians send around in excess of one million mattresses to landfill. To put this in perspective, if these were stacked on top of each other, the pile would reach the International Space Station.
TIC Group, a well-established reverse logistics company based just outside Melbourne, has recently started operating its mattress recycling facility in Tottenham, a few kilometres from Melbourne CBD.
The company has invested in cutting-edge technology from the Netherlands to deconstruct mattresses for recycling. In keeping with TIC Group’s long-held sustainable operating values, the new plant aims to recover more than 85 per cent of material from the mattresses it processes.
“It’s a complete game changer for the challenge of diverting mattresses from landfill,” says Michael Warren, TIC Mattress Recycling Managing Director.
Councils will be familiar with the environmental problems caused by mattresses. They are a bulky waste for landfilling, taking up 0.75 cubic metres of space, they are difficult to compact and “float” in the cell. If landfilled, valuable commodities are also lost, with the average queen-sized mattress comprising 12.5–15 kilograms of steel, 3 kilograms of foam, and about 6-7 kilograms of outer textile.
“To date recycling has either been manual systems, involving Stanley knives, which are slow and expose people to workplace injuries, or shredding-type systems which don’t recover much of the recyclable materials,” Michael explains. “Whereas our plant is unique! It’s an automated way to deconstruct mattresses safely, while minimising human handling and maximising the amount of material that can be repurposed.”
Turning a problem into a solution
The project to bring automated mattress recycling to Australia started about four years ago. A TIC Group board member was leasing a factory to a traditional mattress recycler, DreamSafe. When DreamSafe went into receivership, it left 40,000 end- of-life mattresses in the factory. The clean-up cost was originally quoted at $1 million dollars.
The board member promptly started to investigate other options.
With a lack of automated deconstruction processes for mattresses in Australia, a global search was conducted to find better alternatives to recycle mattresses and achieve higher resource recovery levels.
“Following a review of technology in France, Wales and the Netherlands, it became clear that the Dutch technology was best suited to our criteria of high resource recovery and effective and safe recycling methods,” says Michael.
TIC has since entered into a joint venture partnership with the Netherlands company that owns the intellectual property to the process.
Over two years, substantial changes have been made to the original Dutch design so the technology can handle Australian mattresses. These modifications came after TIC sent Australian mattresses to the Dutch facility for testing, and found that the items had significant differences, which meant the plant machinery needed rethinking to work properly.
“In Europe, the mattresses are mainly made from foam. The original dissector cut at a 270-degree angle and peeled over the various layers,” Michael explains. “That doesn’t happen with Australian mattresses as they have hog rings, so the dismantling equipment had to deal with that challenge.”
How the new plant deconstructs mattresses
TIC’s Australian plant uses conveyor belts, cutters, dissectors and peel rollers to commence the separation of the various materials within a mattress.
The foam and quilting is baled separately. Steel and the remaining flock is passed through a shredder and, with the use of air and vacuum, the metal is separated from the flock for recycling.
“When people visit the site, they can’t believe how clean the work environment is,” adds Michael. “The dust extraction system helps to minimise floating rubbish and fibre particles in the air, which is better for plant workers from an occupational health and safety point of view.”
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