Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

SIDE STREETS: Recycling business leaves neighborhoods behind, flourishes

BILL VOGRIN Updated: February 8, 2013 at 12:00 am

Once Tim Keenan got his business out of his garage, to appease his homeowners association, and out of the Hillside neighborhood, to appease code enforcement officers, and relocated into a true warehouse, it really took off.

Now, six years later, Keenan’s business has a new location and new name: Colorado Mattress Recycling. And it’s enjoying a big bounce with about a dozen employees and plans to expand in other cities and, perhaps, even out of state.

While his focus is mattresses — he charges just $5 for dropoffs — Keenan recycles just about anything.

Sometimes, he recycles things beyond what anyone would expect.

He recycles “broken” televisions into working models that hang on his wall.

And the fluids he drains from machinery become diesel fuel he puts in his big pickup truck.

Then there’s the human recycling Keenan performs.

Of all the items Keenan recycles — the wire, cotton, polyester, quilt, polyurethane foam and even coconut husk — it’s the people that may be his biggest success.

Keenan hires men from halfway houses and shelters and gives them work in his warehouse, tearing down beds and mattresses, baling the materials and shipping them out.

“We take guys nobody else wants,” Keenan said. “They are some interesting guys. Everybody’s got a story.”

He also employs family, including his mother, Laura Keenan, who seems a little shocked at her son’s success.

“I remember when he came to us and told us what he was going to do,” she said. “Of course we wanted to encourage him. But we wondered how he’d make a living.”

Now, she’s a believer, working full-time with him at the warehouse. Her son has convinced her of the value of taking someone else’s trash and turning it into cash.

“It’s exciting work,” she said. “There’s always something to do. And I wouldn’t call it a ‘cause’ but we do believe in recycling.”

Keenan, who will be 28 in March, was attracted to the business when scrap metal hit $200 a ton.

But his HOA in Stetson Hills wasn’t thrilled when Peterson Air Force Base started dropping off old beds at his home and he began stripping them in his garage.

So he moved to a house in Hillside that happened to have a commercial warehouse in the back. He thought it was perfect until a neighbor complained and the city informed him recycling is only allowed in industrial zones.

That was in 2010. Keenan moved to a small warehouse, expanded and then moved again.

In August, he settled in a 14,000-square-foot warehouse at 410½ Fillmore St., behind a pawn shop. It didn’t take long before it was brimming with old mattresses, box springs and more.

His crews hustle in the cold warehouse, stripping out the springs, separating foams and cloth, even picking out tiny brass eyelets for recycling. A huge baler compresses the materials into 1,200-pound bundles that are shipped off. He sells materials across the country.

One company buys the steel springs to be melted into rebar. He has a foam buyer in Utah. He sells raw cotton to a couple ginning businesses. There is coconut husk, called “coir,” that he sells. Another material known as “shoddy” becomes carpet pad and automobile insulation. Foam salvaged from beds also gets reglued into carpet pad and into automobile upholstery.

Keenan keeps the names of his buyers private. They are a valuable trade secret and the key to success as a recycler. Same with the institutions that supply the bulk of his beds, like the Air Force Academy and retail bed stores.

“It’s hard to sell some of this stuff,” he said. “That’s the reason nobody else is doing this. The hardest part is finding buyers.”

It’s the hardest part now that he no longer has to worry about HOAs or code enforcers or upset neighbors

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