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Abandoned couches, used mattresses get new life

November 02, 2010

You won’t find Arizona State University resting on its old mattresses or abandoned couches when it comes to sustainability. ASU is finding new life in both with the help of Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI).

Recently, two couches found dumped behind the Student Union at ASU’s Polytechnic campus were diverted from the landfill, thanks to the collaboration of Jehnifer Niklas, ASU program coordinator of University Sustainability Practices, and ACI.

ACI contracts with a Central Arizona Community College vocational program, which offers an upholstery class to inmates.

When the couches showed up, Niklas knew she didn’t want them sent to the landfill.

She contacted Nicholas Angel, an account manager at ACI, and inquired about the possibility of the couches being refurbished by the upholstery class.

The class was able to refurbish the couches, which are now for sale at ACI’s retail outlet store in Florence, Ariz.

“We have these great new, refurbished couches we were able to salvage and divert from the landfill, which is huge because furniture takes up a lot of space,” says Niklas.

Angel is also pleased that two more items won’t end up in the landfill and it supports the vocational program. “The proceeds from the sale of the couches go back into the upholstery class, which helps inmates learn jobs skills that will hopefully help them gain employment upon release.”

ASU’s University Housing has a strong history with ACI. Over the last three years, more than 3,000 mattresses have been diverted to ACI to be stripped down and reused. 

Inmate workers strip the mattresses down to component parts which are used to create new mattress cores or home insulation. ACI has reached the point where they are able to recycle 100 percent of the materials from each mattress.

Currently, all mattresses used by the Arizona Department of Corrections are made from the recycled cores.

Bill Branson, a general manager at ACI, commends ASU’s commitment to sustainability. “Because the mattresses are now 100% recycled, none of the mattresses that are being removed from ASU are going to landfills, they are going back into other products.”

John Herrera, associate director of facilities management for University Housing, feels the partnership with ACI fulfills one of ASU’s sustainability goals—zero waste.

ASU is committed to achieving zero waste in two ways, averting waste through reduced consumption and diverting waste from landfills in such ways as recycling, repurposing and reusing.

“We divert material from the waste stream and ACI is able to re-use and recycle the materials for other uses,” says Herrera.

University Housing has also found a way to divert used carpet from the landfill using partnerships with local carpet vendors. In addition, thousands of pieces of furniture have been sent to ASU Surplus, which offers the furniture to ASU departments, recycles it or sells it to the general public.

Should students find they have unneeded or unwanted items, there’s another option to just throwing the items away.

Ditch the Dumpster is held each year at the end of spring semester in association with Swift Charities for Children. Most goods, even furniture, can be donated.

“Last spring through the Ditch the Dumpster program, 37,000 pounds of unwanted goods were diverted from the landfill,” says Niklas.

ASU recognizes that promoting sustainability begins internally with its own business practices, university policy and culture. ASU’s sustainability initiatives, coordinated by the Global Institute of Sustainability, are advanced by the efforts of people and departments from across the university; leading sustainable practices are addressed and implemented in the areas of energy, water, buildings and grounds, carbon neutrality, food services, transportation, waste and recycling, and purchasing and policies. 

Niklas encourages students, faculty and staff to go to ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability’s Web site ( where they can find information about ASU’s commitment to sustainability and what is being done across the four campuses to reach important sustainability goals.

Written by Tana Ingram

Media Contact:
Christine Lambrakis,
(480) 727-1173
(602) 316-5616