Usel was established in 1962 to provide supported paid employment for people with disabilities within its Belfast manufacturing base. In 1980 Usel merged with Workshops for the Blind to become the largest supporter of people with disabilities into employment in NI.
Today it employs, supports and trains up to 1,500 people with disabilities/health conditions across the province. It also delivers direct employment to people with disabilities through its factory situated in North Belfast which operates on a commercial basis and specialises in manufacturing mattresses, specialist sewing products and leather satchels. 75% of the workforce has a disability or health condition.
What USEL did
One of the industries the merger brought was mattress manufacture. USEL became aware of the increasing problems being caused by old mattresses going to landfill, with an estimated 215 000 tonnes of mattresses in landfills across the UK. These are difficult to compact, consume valuable landfill space and can take years to decompose. Their steel innersprings tear up landfill equipment, and they can also absorb hazardous materials into flammable air pockets, causing landfill fire.
USEL looked at waste streams from its mattress manufacturing and discovered that more than 80% of a mattress could be recycled into other products. It set up a small working group to look at various recycling systems in both the UK and abroad to see if we could develop a sustainable and cost effective recycling model. The system USEL employs involves manually stripping the mattress down to its component parts and treating each of the components separately.
The company sought advice and guidance from Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive. It worked with Belfast City Council who was very keen on the proposed approach and afforded the opportunity to pitch for an open tender for a project to recycle mattresses from its four main amenity sites. USEL was successful.
USEL removes mattresses from landfill from BCC amenity sites and disassemble them into various components which are then segregated and sent to other facilities for further processing and reused in a number of different ways such as carpet underlay, acoustic dampening in cars. Steel springs are sent to a local metal recycler to be melted down for reuse. USEL is the only organisation within the province to provide this service.
Impacts and Outcomes
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