This Winnipeg organization recycles your old electronics and mattresses — driven by their environmentally sustainable and people-based mission.
If you’ve ever been stuck wondering what to do with an outdated cell phone or a worn out bed that’s lost its spring, you’re not alone. But look no further! Winnipeg’s Mother Earth Recycling has answered the call by turning electronic waste (e-waste) and discarded mattresses into employment and training opportunities in Winnipeg’s Point Douglas neighbourhood.
The organization got its start in 2012 as a partnership between Neeginan Centre, the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD) and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg. Their aim is to help community members find training and job opportunities while providing recycling services for the ever-increasing amounts of e-waste that accumulates within the province.
And since early 2016, Mother Earth Recycling (MER) has also been diverting mattress materials from the city’s landfill. The organization has partnered with various government agencies, non-profit organizations and private corporations to offer a much-needed and beneficial service — mattress and box spring pick-up for homes and businesses across the province.
Trainees & the learning process
Through these environmentally sustainable initiatives, MER strives to offer meaningful employment experiences and job skills to Indigenous Manitobans between the ages of 18 and 39.
The program brings on five trainees every six months, with support from CAHRD as well as both the provincial and federal government. Each participant works full-time while receiving job coaching from a staff member at MER.
Before they start working, trainees spend three weeks in a classroom learning everything from financial management and budgeting to first aid and ethics. As part of the program, they also learn about MER’s policies, operating procedures and earn their food handler certification, which helps better equip them to find future work in the job market.
It’s about getting trainees a stable working environment that they can succeed through,” said Jessica Floresco, General Manager of MER. “Our full-time job coach works directly with the trainees to make sure they have the support and resources needed to succeed.”
“When they get on the floor, the job coach also works with them to make sure they have stability in their home life,” Jessica said. The organization hires people who face multiple barriers to employment — then work with them for a period of six months.
“Many of the participants who come to us may be homeless or on the verge of homelessness,” she further explained. “Or they may be working with parole officers or Child and Family Services. We work with participants on all those things to make sure their home life is stable. If their home life isn’t stable, they can’t be stable in a work environment.”
MER also considers the future employment for their trainees. “We help them find jobs in the community where they can stay long-term and hopefully provide a healthy and stable future for their families and community,” she said.
Recycling, reusing & the MER shop
Most people don’t know what to do with their old electronic equipment like phones, computers and TVs. MER provides a handy option for recycling or refurbishing virtually all electronic
equipment — no matter how old. The organization accepts these electronics without restriction (see the example list here), and may charge a small disposal or collection fee if necessary.
If you’re not ready to recycle those electronics and would like them repaired instead, MER staff members are also trained to help get devices back up and running. According to their mission, it’s better to reuse existing equipment whenever possible.
MER’s shop provides a third option for those looking to purchase devices. The shop sells salvaged computers and other electronic devices when given permission by the original owners (and after destroying all personal data).
Privacy is a priority in these cases, as Jessica assured. “When we work with larger companies, like Assiniboine Credit Union, we do hard drive destruction. We make sure everybody’s data is securely destroyed.” As of 2018, Mother Earth Recycling has been providing e-waste collection for ACU, with an exceptional level of service.
While the goal of the Mother Earth Recycling store is to generate income, it also has a mission to serve the community.
Our purpose is also to provide electronics and technology to homes in the area that would otherwise not be able to afford it,” Jessica said. “Having access to the Internet to apply for jobs, write resumés, do research for school — all those kind of things. Our cheapest computer usually goes for about $100 and ranges up to about $350 depending on the quality and all the specs.”
MER has also worked with new businesses, helping them with tech needs during their nascent phase. “When SkipTheDishes first started, they bought their computers from us,” Jessica said. “Then when they grew, they brought them back and we recycled them.”
Trusted recycling experts
MER’s e-waste recycling facility is a certified depot of the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), the industry-led, not-for-profit organization that operates regulated recycling programs for electronics products across Canada. MER has met or exceeded EPRA regulations since it opened in 2012.
Meeting those standards is important when it comes to recycling. Since e-waste can contain potentially hazardous substances, it needs to be properly handled to avoid harm to human handlers or the environment.
We send about two trucks a week out to the EPRA site in Elie and everything gets recycled properly there,” Jessica said.
More mattresses than you can imagine
Mattresses can also be problematic waste in a landfill, with metal springs snarling machinery. Likewise, box springs don’t break down well and often trap greenhouse gases, even when buried.
Operating the province’s only mattress recycling program, MER processed about 4,000 mattresses last year alone.
Our goal is to get to over 10,000 mattresses this year. We have the capacity to do probably 50,000 to 60,000,” Jessica said. “In the city of Winnipeg, it’s estimated there are about 40,000 per year that go into the landfill, so we have the capacity to handle the whole city’s mattress recycling.”
By recycling your mattress, the material goes to good use. In fact, almost all materials from mattresses recycled at MER make their way into secondary markets. Foam is made into carpet underlay, metal into cans and wood into craft material or firewood.
“We can recycle 95 per cent of every mattress that comes into our facility,” Jessica said.
Your old mattress can create jobs and training opportunities, providing an income to someone who would otherwise go without.”
MER also works with retailers including IKEA and Sleep Country to divert mattresses from the landfill. “When they sell a mattress and they take the old one away, they bring that old one to us,” Jessica said. “Plus we work with about 10 municipalities in southern Manitoba, so they divert mattresses at their landfills and send them to us.”
Future plans in furniture
Just as MER branched out into mattresses, it’s looking to expand operations further into furniture recycling.
When our e-waste side had excess revenue, it went into the mattress side. Once that has revenue, it will go into creating the furniture recycling operation,” Jessica said of the social enterprise. “Every time we create a new line of recycling it creates jobs, creates more training, and it creates more economic stability for our community.”
“The main part of being a social enterprise is making sure our staff and community are safe, healthy and have access to the resources they need,” Jessica added.
How you can recycle your mattresses and electronics with MER
MER accepts clean and dry mattresses and box springs for a $15 per piece fee, which is a standard price in North America that helps offset the recycling fee.
Mattresses and box springs can be dropped off at Mother Earth Recycling’s facility at 771 Main Street (at the loading doors at the rear of the building off Austin Street), Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with no appointment needed.
MER also offers a residential pick-up service for no additional fee. While pick-up days can be scheduled, the exact time cannot be guaranteed. However, if you’re interested in scheduling a specific time, they can arrange that for an extra fee.
For more information on recycling your mattress with Mother Earth Recycling, check out their five steps here or call 204.942.7900.