CHICAGO — Ryan Drobel is putting an end to the mattress-to-landfill pipeline.
Mattress are notoriously difficult to get rid of: People won’t take them for free, wary of bed bugs; but it can also be difficult to take them to be recycled. Many end up in alleys, where trash collectors haul them away.
Drobel, a 38-year-old Portage Park resident, is offering an alternative: He’ll help you recycle them.
“I found out that there’s a pretty big problem with mattresses as far as being in alleys all the time … like people just take them and dump them there,“ he said. “The thing I’m most surprised by is just how much nobody knows what to do with their mattresses. It seems like the majority of people are not aware that there are so many reusable materials in them.”
Drobel moved to Chicago from Arizona in December 2019 to pursue sketch comedy and web development.
“And then the pandemic happened,” Drobel said. His sketch comedy and web development prospects dried up, he went through a breakup, and had to return to his old job in window and blind installation to make ends meet.
“I was just absolutely miserable — I didn’t want to it anymore,” he said. “I applied to probably  or 700 other jobs and couldn’t get anything in web development. I’m still applying to this day.”
Just after Drobel lost his job, he went scrolling through TikTok for ideas on side gigs. He found an account about junk removal where a man said all you need to get started is a pickup truck.
Drobel already had the pickup truck, so he started posting three times a day on Craigslist advertising a trash removal service. Junk Robbers was born.
“I started getting jobs right away,” he said. “I immediately replaced my income. I was making more money than I was doing my installation job.”
Then, Drobel got a call from a nationwide mattress company, which wanted to arrange for him to do mattress removal and recycling for them.
“But they didn’t care where the mattresses went,” Drobel said. “Like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re selling mattress recycling, but we don’t care where they go. Take them wherever.’”
Many of the mattresses that get picked up end up just sitting in landfills, Drobel said. This didn’t sit right with him.
Drobel wanted to ensure the companies he would be doing removal for were actually recycling the mattresses, so he researched them himself.
Mattress springs can be melted down and used as metal, and padding can be washed and used as padding under carpet. Drobel said some springs can actually be gutted, washed and reused for new mattresses, too.
Drobel ensures the mattresses are transported and then broken down so they can be reused in these ways. He’s gotten support from customers and community members — most of his business is now from people who want to get rid of their mattress but make sure it’s recycled instead of being dumped.
Going forward, Drobel has his sights on expanding his business and ensuring more junk gets ethically recycled.
“It’s amazing how big of a market there is for junk removal and mattress removal, as well. I want to open up my own recycling company one day — I’m not there yet, because I’ve only been doing this for about four and a half months now,” Drobel said.
For now, Drobel is working with companies he knows will properly reuse materials from mattresses and other junk. The highlight of his work is the people he gets to meet day in and day out, he said.
“The people I get to meet and come in contact with is what makes it more of a valuable thing,” Drobel said. “If I have a good cause, there’s gonna be a lot of good people that want to be a part of it. People rally around that.”
Need some junk hauled away? Text 312-521-0935 for a quote.
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