Youth robotics team aim to put mattress recycling issue to bed

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A group of seven local girls under the age of 12 have helped convince City Council to spring into action when it comes to mattress recycling.

The FIRST Lego robotics team from Sunset Park Public School, called The Frozen Royals, staged a presentation in Council Chambers on Monday night, where they pitched the politicians on the idea of lobbying the provincial government for an Ontario-wide mattress recycling program.

Tasked with tackling a waste issue and finding an innovative solution to help solve the trash-themed mission for a FIRST Lego competition two months ago, the team decided to focus their efforts on the inefficiency of throwing unwanted mattresses in the dump instead of recycling them.

From there, the girls took apart a double mattress themselves and, after two hours of work, removed every single component.

According to their powerful presentation on Monday, roughly 1,200 mattresses end up in the city’s Merrick Landfill each year and take up an immense amount of avoidable space, reducing the sites life span. Because of the springs and some of the other materials, they never fully decompose taking up a lot of unnecessary space at the landfill.

However, despite each and every part of a mattress being reusable, the city does not recycle them due to the exorbitant costs and lack of local options. The fabric and foam, for example, can be reused for carpet, underlay or insulation, while the steel springs can be used for steel beams or toy cars.

What’s more, the costs to store the mattresses and transport them to the few existing recycling facilities is unfeasible, at least for now. The closest two locations that offer those services, the team said, are in Toronto and Montreal.

After the girls educated council on the topic, Coun. Tanya Vrebosch, who originally asked the girls to present to her colleagues after judging their first regional competition, later moved a successful motion alongside Coun. Mac Bain requesting Waste Diversion Ontario to require mattress manufacturers to create a province-wide recycling program.

The idea is for the manufacturers to pay a fee via a surcharge each time a mattress is produced, and that money will then be used by cities all across the province to keep mattresses out of the landfills and use a recycling program.

“They brought forward a topic that can not only make a municipal impact but can also have a provincial impact as well,” Vrebosch said on Monday. “Until this presentation, I had no clue that mattresses take up so much room in our landfill and that mattresses are 100 per cent recyclable.”

“The girls have worked really hard researching mattresses and what to do with them, a better way to deal with waste and they’ve really looked into the landfills,” said team coach and parent Kari Campbell. “One of the biggest issues that they’ve learned about is extending the life span of our landfills, so being able to pass this motion to have a different solution for dealing with the mattress waste is pretty incredible for them.”

Waste Diversion Ontario’s mandate is to provide oversight for the development, implementation, and operation of diversion programs for waste designated by the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

However, as Bain elaborated, the provincial legislation around the funding of stewards and recyclable products is about to change. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change introduced new legislation in the Fall and the whole structure is going to change over the next few years.

“Within nine-months, [Waste Diversion Ontario] will probably no longer exist and they will probably be transitioned to a new entity,” said Bain. “It will probably take a year to come in and then the legislation and regulations will probably be another three years until it’s completed.

“But I still think it’s important that […] we move this forward this evening and we do this, as a council, again when the new entity is struck,” he added. “We’re planting the seed with the Ministry, letting them know it’s important, the presentation that [the team] made, and how important it’s going to make with landfills across Ontario.”

The Frozen Royals are now shifting the scope of their project to the provincial scale as they gear up for the big competition in Oshawa.

Meanwhile, the team have already presented their product and pitch to Merrick Landfill operations coordinator Michelle Cross, who they say is excited that the issue will get some spotlight thanks to the girls.

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