Recycle plastic bottles, re-use bags for shopping, don’t litter, use public transport – they’re all great ways to help the environment, and are topics we see every day. But a quieter topic that’s just as important to help our planet is the issue of mattress disposal and recycling. After a long day, we look forward to laying our heads on a fluffy pillow and snuggling down under a warm duvet. But, when our mattress has lived its last day, we throw them out without another thought. However, the way we treat our mattresses when we no longer need them can be changed to help us reach a sustainable future.
Why Are Mattresses Building Up?
Mattress mountains are becoming a familiar sight on the UK’s landscape, with around 167,000 tonnes being sent to landfill each year. Of an estimated 5.9 million mattresses disposed of in 2014, just 16% were recycled, 11% were incinerated, and 73% were sent to landfill.1
Despite the government increasing the cost of sending waste to landfill as a deterrent, this form of disposal is still cheaper than recycling. This can be countered from manufacturers and retailers, as well as increased innovation within the recycling industry.
Making this issue even worse is the trend of replacing mattresses more frequently. Mattresses are being treated as a throw-away item, with people wanting to replace their mattress only a few years. This increase in replacing mattresses will mean that more mattresses are disposed of each year, especially as retailers are advising consumers that they should buy a new mattress after eight years. However, the life of a mattress varies wildly, depending on how you take care of it, how you sleep on it, and how often you rotate it. The best way to know if you need to change your mattress is to think of how you feel when you wake up; if you feel sore, groggy, or like you just haven’t had a comfortable sleep, then it might be time to think about replacing your mattress.
A Tricky Time
Pocket-spring-based mattresses present specific challenges to recyclers, as they consist of between 1,000 – 10,000 single springs. Each spring is wrapped inside a textile-based polypropylene pocket. Traditionally, the only way to recycle pocket springs is to manually separate each spring from the pocket with a knife. This method takes up a lot of time and is commercially unviable. Therefore, these mattresses are usually sent to landfill as this is the cheapest and fastest way of disposing of them.
Plus, there’s also the issue of storing mattresses to be recycled. With the increased frequency of mattresses being replaced, mattress recyclers can often struggle to store the ever-growing mountain of mattresses. With the traditional recycling process taking a lot of time, more mattresses are pouring in faster than they can be cleared.
Is There A Solution?
The Furniture Recycling Group (TFRG) has designed and produced the world’s first automated pocket-spring recycling machine. This has been created to streamline the mattress recycling process significantly, reducing the number of mattresses sent to landfill each year. Designed by TFRG engineers, this machinery is already being used to dismantle and separate the components for pocket-springs within mattresses. This reduces the recycling process from taking over half a day per full pocket spring, to 2.5 minutes.
The components of pocket spring mattresses are automatically separated into steel and polypropylene waste streams, leaving recyclable components that have a value and can be sold on, re-used as scrap, or recycled. Polypropylene is one of the 19 different textile fibres that TFRG segregate from the mattresses. This can then be used to produce new products, such as mattress pods, automotive felt, and carpet underlay. Over six years, TFRG has diverted more than one million mattresses and 3,500 tonnes of components from landfill.2
This machine could significantly reduce the amount of bulky mattress waste that we send to landfill in the UK, and across the world, too. However, TFRG’s Managing Director, Nick Oettinger, believes that more still needs to be done by manufacturers and retailers to make the recycling process even more efficient. He believes that “the need for a mattress recycling association to provide a best practice framework for them to adhere to is, therefore, now greater than ever”.