Two Latinos Are Architects Of New State Mattress Law


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Bill Sarno

The city of Hartford is not usually tagged as an environmental innovator yet credit for the new statewide mattress collection and recycling system that is expected to save many towns and cities money, create jobs and have environmental benefits largely belongs to the state capital and its Latino mayor and Latina assistant public works director.
The debut on May 1 of a more environmentally and financially friendly system for dealing with the thousands of bulky mattresses and box springs discarded every week in Connecticut culminated a four-year effort lead by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and the city’s assistant to city’s public works director, Marilynn Cruz-Aponte.
The road that took the state to its landmark recycling program was paved by the case study that Cruz-Aponte, who is of Puerto Rican descent, oversaw in 2011. This analysis looked at the Hartford and statewide mattress situation in detail and included some input from nearby towns.
Cruz-Aponte praised the Puerto Rico-born Segarra for listening to her recommendations and spearheading the effort to pass the needed legislation.
“I am proud the mayor heard me out,” Cruz-Aponte said.
Segarra lead a coalition supporting the legislation that included the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, other local governments, and mattress manufacturers and other interested parties.
Under this first-in-the nation program, retailers collect a $9 fee at the time of purchase which the industry’s Mattress Recycling Council uses to contract with companies to collect and cart the discarded mattresses to plants that specialize in recycling them.
“The nonprofit MRC absorbs the cost of  getting the mattresses to the recycler,” Cruz-Aponte noted, thereby relieving municipalities, who gather the mattresses at transfer stations and other facilities, of a significant expense.
What is particularly exciting about the Connecticut legislation, Cruz-Aponte said, is that by towns looking at this issue in a thoughtful way they were able to avoid a “top-down” solution with the state imposing something on them. “When you do the research like we did,” she said, it created a “win-win” situation for Hartford, and in general is “good for the environment, good economic policy and good for employment.”
About 96 percent of a mattress is recyclable, Segarra testified to the legislature’s Environment Committee in March 2013 during a hearing on the bill that would create the mattress stewardship. He estimated that in Connecticut about 350,000 mattresses would be broken down into reusable components. Segarra projected the savings to municipalities would total $1.3 million.
Not only do municipalities save money, the new program is spurring growth and jobs of the new mattress recycling centers located in East Hartford and Bridgeport.
There is also a “ripple effect,” Cruz-Aponte said, in that the haulers who transport the mattresses and box springs to these facilities to sense a need that they will have to expand. They are also working with the company that provides the containers where the mattresses are stored to come up with a new design.
The catalyst for a new approach to mattress disposal was a the bill, as much  as $30 per mattress the city received for processing these cumbersome items soon after the Hartford regional landfill became full. This closure was  hastened by the thousands of mattresses and box springs that had ended up there. Hartford alone was collected nearly 20,000 mattresses a year and scores of other towns also were contributing to the mountains of
When Hartford was presented with a $109,000 invoice for three months of mattress disposal, and faced a “horrifying potential annual cost of $400,000,” recalled Cruz-Aponte, it raised a lot of questions about how
to remedy this expensive problem.
“The City of Hartford recognized the negative impacts of mattress disposal on taxpayers and on the environment,” recalled Segarra.
What eventually emerged  was “an approach that would lessen the burden on taxpayers, would help the environment and would create jobs in the process,” said the mayor a few days after the statewide program went
into effect.
Cruz-Aponte was well suited to spearhead the effort to solve the mattress dilemma. She had been interested in environmental issues since her days at New Britain High School and had helped write recyclying legislation in 1991 while working for Gov. William O’Neill. Subsequently, Aponte-Cruz worked on recycling projects during a 17-year career in New Britain where she had been her hometown’s assistant public works director.
Shortly after arriving in her Hartford job seven years ago , she helped launch a single-stream recycling pilot program in which the sorting of recyclables such as paper and glass is done after collection, not by the householders.
“This increased recyling by 110 percent,” Cruz-Aponte said.
The general focus of the case study that Cruz-Aponte assembled with the help of PSI student intern Lauryn Wendus four years ago was that municipalities should not have to incur the expense of disposing of some 400,000 mattresses that were discarded in Connecticut annually.
At the time of writing this study, the city had switched to using a private bulky waste hauler which reduced mattress disposal costs by up to 60 percent, but was still shelling out about $200,000 a year to get rid of mattresses.
The study gathered information about the size of the problem during a three-week observation of mattress collection in Hartford during the first part of August 2011. During this period, 950 mattresses were collected from
curbside pickup, with an additional 93 mattresses came  from residents drop-offs at the city’s transfer station.
The total of discarded mattresses that Hartford dealt with annually  was projected at 16,500 but it turned out August was a “slow period” and the actual number exceeded 19,000, Cruz-Aponte said.
In Hartford, there also was a problem with illegal dumping. The city’s population was highly transient and that landlords did not want to pay for mattress removal. The city only collected from single and multi-family homes but not from apartment complexes, so there was evidence that mattresses from the housing that did not qualify were showing up in parks and other sites.
Charging residents for picking up mattresses was as unworkable and creating more bureaucracy. Moreover, there was concern that residents would dump their used mattresses in other towns to avoid the fee.
Early on in the process, there was a recognition that something was needed that would be similar to the extended product responsibility legislation where the disposal costs for paint (2011) and electronics (2007) were assumed by the manufacturers for whom there was a financial advantage to recycling.
What was done for mattress recycling mirrors these programs and one the state has enacted for thermometers, according to Robert Klee, the Commissioner of Connecticut DEEP, who praised PSI and the city of Hartford “for their leadership in getting this law passed.”
Scott Cassel, chief executive officer of PSI said the Connecticut legislation will “be a model for mattress take-back programs across the country.” Already, Rhode Island and California passed similar laws and are developing their own mattress recycling