Parents for the planet: Paul Kelly springs into action to help the environment

Paul Kelly, project manager, Boomerang Enterprises in conversation with Ellie O'Byrne

Parents for the planet: Paul Kelly springs into action to help the environment

Paul Kelly, project manager, Boomerang Enterprises in conversation with Ellie O'Byrne

“Before I started the business, I never even thought about mattresses: I climbed into a bed every night and I never thought about what happens to them when they become waste.

“Boomerang Enterprises is a social enterprise that offers long-term unemployed and people with social issues the opportunity to get work-ready and to help them empower themselves.

“We offer a mattress recycling service. It came about through a Global Action Plan meeting held in Farranree in 2012 so the local community have as much of an input into the project as anybody. There was very high unemployment in the area, and we wanted to do something on an environmental basis and litter was a big issue, and bulky waste a particular issue.

“I’ve a degree in business management and an environmental degree as well, with 25 years in waste management.

I wanted to give back, I suppose. I started in March 2014, in a building supported by Cork City Council. We got our first mattress on May 23, 2014. Since then, we’ve done close to 50,000 mattresses.

“In and around 70% of the people who come to work with us move on to full-time employment. I’ve had people directly from Cork Prison and it works out really well; one of those guys is actually the poster-boy for what we do because he still works with us to this day. When he came to us it was direct from prison, and he said he thought no-one would ever give him a chance again, and now he’s turned his life around.

“It’s a dual objective; the idea is to help vulnerable people in our society but it’s also to help our society to reduce its environmental impact.

“We dismantle the mattresses; the springs go to Cork Metals. There are three main types of textiles: Outer material, polyester padding, and then a flock material made of cottons, bits of polyester, and the like. It’s been shredded and rolled into a pad that goes on top of the springs. The outer material goes to waste-to- energy. We did a lot of work with CIT and DIT and proved that the materials have acoustic and thermal properties, so we support a cottage industry where someone makes cold water-tank jackets for the attic. Then there’s a company called Ventec makes sound barriers for the automobile industry.

“Recycling is only a part of the solution, composting is a part of the solution, I’m sorry to have to say this but incineration and waste-to-energy is a part of the solution; There is no single solution. The people who are manufacturing mattresses don’t want to switch over to a circular economy because they want to sell more and more. It’s all about the bottom line; look at cars, and the number of cars whose life could be extended but they’re scrapped because the owner wants a new number plate.

We have become a disposable, throw-away culture, the human race. If I can fix something, I’ll fix it. The younger people, although they’re more aware in a lot of ways, they can’t fix things.

“Danielle and Megan still live at home: Paul keeps coming back for dinner. Education is coming from the youngest up rather than the eldest down: they are far more conscious than we would be. My kids would have my life if I put something in the mixed waste that could go in the recycling. We get the compostable starch bin-liners. It’s all being driven by the kids.

“Megan is in fifth year. She’s well aware of all the extra environmental consciousness. It’s the younger generation telling the rest of us, ‘hey guys, this is serious’. I think everyone needs to be a part of the solution: There are a number of things we all need to do. It’s everything from composting your food waste to reducing your packaging wherever you can, to being aware of your water usage and clean energy.

“We do have two cars but we don’t use the second all that often; if we can all go in the same car we do. I drop Diane on my way to work and pick her up again on my way home, but to be very honest with you, that’s a financial thing too.

“Megan uses public transport wherever possible and Danielle is working in Dublin; she gets the train. We’d be conscious, but we wouldn’t exactly be the leaders in that area. There are people going around on bikes and things. Because of our busy schedules, we do go for convenience more than anything else when it comes to food, I’d have to say. My mother-in-law has a big garden, though, and we get apples, potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes from her; there’s never any waste. I wouldn’t have the time, even though I am starting to get into gardening now.

“I think we’re survivors by our very nature and I live in hope that the changes we need to make will become more apparent to more people. I think they already are to a lot of people.”

Paul Kelly used to work as a regional operations manager for Greenstar recycling, but now he heads up Boomerang Enterprises, a mattress recycling company that’s also a social enterprise, helping the long-term unemployed or marginalised back to work. His wife Diane is a business owner whose company manufactures mattresses and beds. They live in Cork and have three children: 27-year-old Paul, Danielle, 22, and Megan, 16.

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