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17 July 2019
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WAKE UP TO RECYCLING 

In the UK, 7.5 million mattresses are sent to landfill sites, but FMs should dispose of them more sustainably, says Nick Oettinger.

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©shutterstock

04 February 2019 | Nick Oettinger


Mattresses are categorised as bulky waste; they’re awkward to move, expensive to transport and time-consuming to break down. As a result, fewer than necessary are disposed of sustainably, holding back the UK’s circular economy.


Every year, the UK throws out 1,6 million tonnes of bulky waste and about 19 per cent of this falls into the textile category – largely comprising sofas and mattresses.


Despite the landfill tax having increased the cost in the past 10 years of putting rubbish in the ground, sending mattresses to landfill remains the cheapest disposal option for bulky waste. 


But the UK is overly dependent on landfill, which is a worry for the environment. Bans have already been imposed in many EU countries and beyond, with policymakers realising that alternative, more environmentally friendly solutions are needed to achieve a circular economy and reduce their carbon footprint. 


In France the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) holds all businesses that make, import or sell products accountable for dealing with the waste they generate. 


Japan takes the EPR law further, demanding that some manufacturers use recycled materials in new products. 

 

Policies and laws 

The UK government has announced its 25-year environment plan, proposed an environment bill and the Resources and Waste Strategy is imminent – yet more needs to be done.


However, ERP schemes are working effectively across industries in the UK, with packaging, electronic goods, batteries and cars all being subject to EU legal requirements. 


Another effective strategy would be a recycling levy that forces payment for responsible recycling on all non-biodegradable products.


It is to be hoped that we will soon see government introduce legislation for mattress recycling, demanding the bed industry and those connected with it, such as FMs, to dispose of end-of-life mattresses in a sustainable way.

 

How FMs can lead change

While there’s no legislation on the horizon for dealing with mattresses specifically, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and triple bottom line (TBL) accounting should form a significant part of the FM business model. 


TBL accounting incorporates profit, people and the planet (the ‘three Ps’), and encourages businesses to consider the social and environmental impact of their activities while pursuing profit. And there is reputational advantage to be won by conducting business 

in this way.


A good example of this type of behaviour is when coffee shops in February 2018 reacted to the ‘latte levy’ by either setting their own charges on top of drink prices or offering discounts for customers who bring in their own reusable cups. 

 

Dismantling mattresses 

An effective means of disposal is to dismantle mattresses into 19 component parts. These are segregated, sanitised and processed, and parts are sent elsewhere for new ‘lives’. 


Steel springs are put through our pocket spring recycling machine in a process that takes just 2.5 minutes. This means difficult mattress components that would historically end up in landfill are separated into steel and polypropylene waste streams, leaving the recyclable components. 


The springs are balled up to pass on to scrap metal merchants. 


Textiles are sanitised, blended and baled ready for transferring to industry as raw products for further processing, often into mattress pads, automotive felt and carpet underlay. 


Foams are sanitised and repurposed into new products, such as yoga mats and sun loungers. 


FMs wanting to make a difference should procure mattresses from sustainable manufacturers as this will simplify recycling when the time comes.  


Nick Oettinger is managing director at The Furniture Recycling Group