‘We’re the original recyclers on the island’

Informed by his Traveller heritage, Martin Ward’s mission is to offer recycling service that gives back to circular economy

We’d be able to fill Croke Park more than seven times over on an All-Ireland final day with the number of mattresses we dispose of annually in Ireland. On average, about 600,000 mattresses are disposed of in Ireland every year, according to a report conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That equates to 15,000 tonnes of waste. A lot of people don’t actually realise the scale of the problem.

I’m a 39-year-old Traveller from Galway city, and the manager of Bounce Back Recycling, a social enterprise that deconstructs old mattresses and furniture by hand to allow for a better separation of materials and recycling into the circular economy.

Growing up, my family was always involved in the Traveller economy – market trading – and I had a real interest in enterprise and work. Then an opportunity came to work at Galway Traveller Movement and establish work opportunities for members of the Traveller community. That led us then to look at the social enterprise model and we established Bounce Back Recycling in January 2017.

When a mattress goes into landfill or incineration, none of the materials are extracted, so we lose all of the resources. The components can take up to 100 years to decompose in a landfill and each mattress takes up 23 cubic feet of landfill. It’s a major issue. If it goes into general waste, then it’s contaminated. You can’t then divert any of its resources into the circular economy.


In extending the lifeline of a product, the best thing for the circular economy is to keep it in the market for as long as possible before we start to deconstruct it into component parts. All of the metals from a mattress, such as the springs, go back into the circular economy, and Galway Metal near Oranmore take it from ourselves. Some of the foam is reused for water tank insulation in your attic, and the wood gets recycled into mulch.

People are interested in what happens with the mattress, how it gets deconstructed – they’re well clued into the environmental issue

There are lots of waste companies that offer mattress disposals, but not too many offer a recycling service like us. In 2017 we started on a pilot phase and did 3,000 mattresses that year, and it’s grown year on year. We initially started in Galway and now collect from households in 11 counties in Ireland. The hope is, in the next three years, regardless of where you are in the country, that you’ll be able to book a collection from Bounce Back Recycling right from your front door.

We’ve done 50,000-60,000 mattresses last year and hope to increase that to 100,000 per annum within the next three years. Earlier this month we launched in Dublin for the first time. At the moment we might not service your county to collect from a household door, but we do offer a nationwide commercial client service.

To be fair to the public, we found that householders want to do the right thing but haven’t had access to a service. There’s a real appetite now. People are interested in what happens with the mattress, how it gets deconstructed – they’re well clued into the environmental issue.

We have 20 staff in total, and 17 of those are from the Traveller community. To be honest we have been denied opportunity from mainstream employment and a lot of the time it’s because of racism and discrimination experienced by the community. More than 80 per cent of Travellers were recorded as unemployed in the 2016 census.

We’ve been asked if this is new to our community – but it’s not. We’re actually the original recyclers on the island. At the time we weren’t really thinking of it, but this circular economy piece lends to the tradition of the Traveller community when we link it back to the tinsmiths more than 100 years ago.

Travellers delivered on the circular economy long before it became a buzzword. There weren’t many communities turning old metal into buckets or extending its life by mending it. And the non-Traveller community, to be fair, played their part in holding those items until the tinsmith rolled into town.

The factory bucket did away with the tinsmiths, and now we’re trying to do away with the factory bucket and we don’t have tinsmiths. It’s such a pity because all the plastic really did away with the need for tinsmiths. I know of only two tinsmiths left in the country now.

We have another social enterprise that employs many Traveller women, Bounce Back Upcycling – it’s like a sister company. If furniture comes in that doesn’t need to be deconstructed and is good for upcycling, they will do some work and it’s resold from our showroom in Galway. If we’ve got too many items we donate them to charity shops, so other communities will see the social impact.

If we make any profits, we reinvest it back into community initiatives. In 2018 and 2019 we reinvested some of the profits into Traveller education and we ran a diploma course with the University of Galway and Community Action Network in Dublin, which saw 24 Travellers graduate with a level 7 diploma in community work. - In conversation with Conor Capplis

Conor Capplis

Conor Capplis

Conor Capplis is a journalist with the Irish Times Group