Started in 2012, Mother Earth Recycling (MER) was born out of a partnership between Neeginan Centre, Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development, and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg. Not only would MER be a place for recyclable materials to find new life, it would also provide new opportunities for Indigenous and Métis people to receive on-the-job training and experience.
Jessica Floresco, MER’s General Manager, explains: “We’re a for-profit organization, a Winnipeg-based Indigenous social enterprise. For us, our work isn’t just about recycling materials, it’s about giving Indigenous people a chance to train up and prepare for a career in a traditional workplace.”
MER participates in the circular economy by focusing on products that are not typically recycled. Jessica says, “We feel like we’re a small piece of the circular economy, but an important piece. There are a lot of products in Manitoba not being recycled. We try to pull the items out of the materials stream and give them a new life. We focus on working locally here in Winnipeg, so we’re not as subject to the problems that come with a national or international supply chain. But it is harder for us to find buyers for end-of-life products.”
MER started as an electronics recycling company, and then expanded into recycling mattresses, box springs, light bulbs, batteries and most recently infant car seats. The mattress recycling project began as a provincial government-backed pilot project. MER’s analysis determined it was a viable business opportunity and grew capacity from 6,000 units to 25,000 the next year, and now MER is diverting nearly 80,000 mattresses from the landfill.
Labour intensive, recycling mattresses require that they be manually pulled apart, separated into four components: fabric, foam, metal and wood. “Fabric makes up only 4% of the overall mattress and this is the only component that is tightly bundled and put into landfills,” saids Jessica. “The remaining 96% is reused; foam into plastics, metal ends up at the Selkirk foundry, and the wood becomes a biofuel source.”
“While most electronics are recycled, a select number are worth refurbishing,” explains Jessica. “We’re located in the second poorest neighbourhood in Canada, and for a lot of our community members the cost of new computers and electronics is out of reach. Living in today’s digital world, that’s a huge disadvantage. By refurbishing these electronics we can offer technology at a lower rate to community members and small business owners.”
For future plans, MER is looking for partners and profit. Their latest endeavour is the car seat recycling program which launched in 2022, on earth day. For this item MER will be processing the plastic in-house, producing plant pots, and are partnering with a local retailer to sell in stores.
“Growth is a huge part of our operational goals. We’re for-profit so we need to bring in profits! We don’t rely on grants or funding. We provide services and people pay for those services. Our goal for the future is to grow and develop existing programs, especially mattress recycling as we’re diverting only a small portion of what is possible at this point. We invite other Manitoba municipalities to participate in the mattress program,” says Jessica. Like many organizations engaged in the circular economy, MER is also looking for partners, “…we need to connect with manufacturers who could use affordable sources of plastics, metal, foam and fabric.”
Of equal importance to MER is their workforce circularity. Their staff is comprised of Indigenous youth and adults who experience multiple barriers, personal and systemic, from entry into the traditional workforce. Jessica explains: “All of our employees and trainers are Indigenous or Métis. Some of our people are coming out of correctional institutions or addiction treatment programs, and need a second chance. We also work with families who are working hard to get their kids out of CFS care. We’re supporting them as they take the courses they need, because we all want the same thing: to keep families together, healthy and happy.”
When it comes to doing good for the earth, for the community and for business, Mother Earth Recycling is doing it all. And they need partners who will hire their employees to make room for new trainees, and who are able to purchase and use their products to help them remain financially successful.
Learn more about Mother Earth Recycling: https://www.motherearthrecycling.ca/