WHY MATTRESS RECYCLING MATTERS

The new bed’s in place and the old bedstead and mattress have been dumped outside “for the time being.” But for many, that “time being” is an endless timeline of gradual decay as well as environmental eyesore and shocking stamp of a carbon footprint on the local environment. With over £495 million (and counting) being spent on beds in the UK each year, for domestic as well as industry uses such as the hotel and hospital / health care service industries, there are plenty of beds being sold in the UK each year but with approximately less than 15% of the old ones being recycled. Of the difference, a small percentage are passed on to others who might need them, some fly-tipped and abandoned and the rest, approximately 169,000 tonnes of mattresses, end up in landfill each year where their non-biodegradable parts fester, including approximately 84,500 tonnes of steel which might have been recycled and used to provide energy. What’s more, it’s not just domestic beds which can be kept from landfill and used to create a more sustainable industry. The hotel industry spends millions each year on mattresses which can have anything from a 2 to 7 year life span, depending on the type and quality of mattress, class of hotel (and visitors), the rigour with which the hotel may adhere to health and hygiene regulations and the hotel’s (independent or chain) own attitude to sustainability, which can range from spending more on greener, high quality mattresses less often to buying cheaply, with a view to disposing and replacing mattresses more frequently. Don’t change the mattress, change the habits Changing habits lie at the heart of mattress issues, and include considerations such as:
  • Greener mattresses which are not only recyclable in their own composition, but also manufactured from sustainable, recycled materials.
  • Growth in the improved technology for separating and recycling materials from disposed of mattresses.
  • Adherence to EU targets for the UK’s reduction of mattresses into landfill.
  • Easier and cost effective methods for general householders (as well as industries) to dispose of unwanted mattresses.
With a varied composition which may include steel elements from coiled springs, textiles and plastics, the average mattress occupies over 20 cubic feet of space in a landfill site in the 10 years or more it will take to decompose. As such, and with EU directives to reduce the number of mattresses bouncing into UK landfill sites each year, many councils are now keen to support recycling and offer sustainable alternatives for the disposal of bulky waste. Despite the majority of local councils now charging their residents for the removal of bulky waste, including mattresses, London Borough of Lewisham became the UK’s first local authority to offer a free mattress recycling scheme to its residents and as a result has, since 2010 to 2014, saved over 33,500 unwanted mattresses from adding to their landfill’s carbon footprint and instead step into a new phase of life. So where can these mattresses go if not into landfill? The five stage extraction and recycling process demonstrates that it is possible to dispose of mattresses in a sustainable way which recycles every element of the mattress. The stages involved include:
  1. Removal, washing and baling of the outer fabric, which is then in turn passed on for shredding and recycling as fibre or (in the case of heavily soiled fabrics) passed along for fuel use.
  2. White cotton flock, or wool from inside the mattress is also cleaned and recycled as yarn or hemp.
  3. Low-grade fabric elements from the mattress base are stripped, processed and sold on to the automobile industry, for vehicle matting and interiors.
  4. All foam and plastics (largely Polyurethane) is stripped, washed and shredded and can be recycled as carpet underlay.
  5. All steel spring aspects of a base are processed in an industrial furnace to melt it ready for recycling into alternative products.
Using technology which can recycle 100% of the materials from disposed of mattresses goes a long way to reducing not only the large carbon footprint left by those non-biodegradable mattresses in landfill but also that of other forms of manufacture. By increasing the clean, green methods used to produce the next generation of mattresses and other products which use the recycled materials, modern technology is leading the way towards recycling through sustainable means.