Social enterprise helps refugees removes barriers to employment

Soft Landing Smithfield employees Etuate Saukuru, Will Mitchell and Steve Connell.
Soft Landing Smithfield employees Etuate Saukuru, Will Mitchell and Steve Connell.

The Smithfield arm of a mattress recycling social enterprise is kicking major goals in diverting waste from landfill.

National organisation Soft Landing recycled almost half a million mattresses across Australia in 2019-20 and provided jobs for more than 200 people experiencing barriers to employment - including 90 people at their largest site in Smithfield.

This included provided employment opportunities to 46 former refugees with a move to manual processing at the site in 2019 meaning they could employ more people with barriers to employment.

NSW state manager Joe Rasmussen said: "Refugees are people who have taken a huge risk. They have initiative, they know it's going to be tough and they've got to grab hold of any opportunity they are given. They're prepared to put their heads down and work hard."

This week the company released data on how much material it has kept out of landfill for National Recycling Week, which runs from November 9-15.

General manager Chris Richards said Soft Landing had diverted 7300 tonnes of waste from landfill, recycled 5000 tonnes of steel, 1000 tonnes of timber and 1300 tonnes of foam.

"We don't send materials overseas for disposal; we keep our by-products in Australia, support local companies, reduce transport mileage and maximise re-use of materials," Mr Richards said.

"We send foam to Australian carpet-underlay manufacturers, steel to Australian scrap steel merchants, and timber bed bases to local industry for mulch."

Mr Richards said they target former refugees as one of the three groups, along with young people and Aboriginal people, most likely to experience barriers to employment. Of the 220 people they provided employment opportunities to in the last financial year, 77 per cent have faced some sort of challenge in entering the workforce.

"Working in local communities and providing employment opportunities in those communities is just as important for us as recycling mattresses," he said.

"For every 35 mattresses that we collect and recycle each day, we can create a job for someone who really needs one."