How the mattress sector can sleep more easily

Written by: Nick Oettinger | Published:

Nick Oettinger, managing director of The Furniture Recycling Group, discusses current trends in the UK mattress recycling industry and what needs to be done by manufacturers, recyclers and consumers to improve standards across the board in order to cope with an increasing rate of disposal and turn crisis into opportunity

An estimated 5.9 million end of life (EoL) mattresses were disposed of in 2014, with a recycling rate of just 16% – which begs the question: Why is there no regulatory framework to encourage the ethical and environmentally friendly disposal of such a high-volume waste stream?

The situation is now at crisis point. UK retailers are running major advertising campaigns advising consumers to ‘MOT’ their mattress after just seven years and to replace them after just eight, but the recycling rate hasn’t been able to grow in line with this increase in disposal, despite the rate having increased by an estimated 20% from 2012 to 2014.

If the EoL issue is to be properly addressed, manufacturers need to take into account the origin of the materials used in creating new mattresses. While many manufacturers are already using recycled steel to create new mattress springs, if good quality mattress springs were to be reconditioned and reused on a wide scale for low-cost mattresses, they could further reduce the energy and costs required to manufacture the coils as the existing ones are already at the correct quality grade for reuse.

Not only would this create a circular economy, but it would also have a positive effect on manufacturers’ bottom line, a clear incentive for a shift in manufacturing process.

The use of recycled fabrics to create new mattress felt is already a positive step, but over 90% of these fabrics are imported, which significantly increases the carbon footprint of the entire process.

If manufacturers were to use reprocessed mattress fillings, this would significantly reduce the dependency on clothing stock from outside the UK. It would reduce the process’s carbon footprint and also create a perfect circular economy for the EoL of a mattress.

The 5.9 million mattresses disposed of in the UK represent a missed opportunity to use this quantity of available fibres in the production of new mattress fillings.

TFR Group is actively working with retailers, manufacturers and some textile reprocessors to create products using recycled mattress fillings, with the aim of increasing the circular economy in mattresses.

The need for a mattress recycling association to provide a best practice framework is greater than ever.

We would want part of this association’s remit to provide thorough insight into the industry and facilitate the availability of much-needed data. For example, data on the environmental impact of different types of mattresses is not currently available, yet access to this data would allow manufacturers to build this knowledge into product design.

Consumers would also then be in a position to make informed choices when selecting a new mattress, hopefully opting for the most sustainable products.

Fact file:

  • An estimated 63,339,000 mattresses are in use in the UK (household & commercial)
  • 167,000 tonnes of mattresses are sent to landfill each year in the UK
  • UK mattress manufacture generates 440,000 tCO2e in greenhouse gas emissions each year
  • If 50% of mattresses were made up of recycled material: CO2 emissions would be reduced by 34% and 85,000 tonnes of raw materials would be saved
  • Average lifespan of a household mattress is 8-10 years
  • Data indicates a 20% increase in recycling rates by local authorities; 27% by manufacturers and 10% by retailers from 2012-2014
  • 16% of est. 5.9m EoL mattresses recycled in 2014, 73% landfilled, and 11% incinerated

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