Last year’s RWM-themed issue of MRW covered the first End of Life Report for Mattresses, produced by Oakdene Hollins for the National Bed Federation (NBF). It estimated that up to four million mattresses were landfilled or incinerated in 2013.
A year on and a second, more accurate, report covering data for 2014 has been released. It found that around 4.3 mattresses were
landfilled and nearly 650,000 went to energy-from-waste facilities. Although the number of mattresses being recycled has nearly doubled – from more than 450,000 in 2012 to just under 940,000 in 2014 – the increase in sales of new mattresses means the overall recycling rate increased from 10% to only 16% in the same period.
So while the problem is being more accurately described, solutions to increase recycling are thin on the ground. This is why the NBF has gone further than its initial call for extended producer responsibility (EPR) to cover mattress manufacturers and is now calling for an industry forum to promote a set of quality standards.
Tony Lisanti, chair of the NBF’s Recycling Group, says: “Among our aims is to work with the recycling industry to get in a position whereby the NBF will ultimately endorse a network of mattress recyclers that conforms to an audited code of practice.”
The report said such a forum could help to develop an independent audit processes for mattress recyclers, and encourage them to “adopt standard data reporting protocols (including weight) of the mattresses they process and their output materials”.
But to boost rates, capacity is key. Although the report’s authors conclude that an “upward trend” in mattress recycling was robust in 2014, since then around 10 recycling facilities that deal with mattresses have been closed as a result of low commodity prices.
The first dedicated commercial mattress recycler was Matt UK, set up in 2008. Nearly 10 years later, the report’s authors could only find 12 UK-based recyclers, but said there could be more local enterprises working in partnership with larger waste management firms. It was clear that councils and retailers struggle to find them. One retailer told Oakdene Hollins: “We would happily recycle if a source could be found that would take them.”
A local authority representative said: “We currently no longer recycle mattresses because all proposals cost more than landfill. We used to use a social enterprise but it went out of business and alternatives were no longer cost effective.” Another added: “The mattress recycler we used stopped accepting them in June 2015, so we haven’t been able to recycle mattresses [since].”
It is clear that some non-specialist recycling firms also struggle with health and safety standards and compliance issues when dealing with mattresses.
Most collected mattresses are left at household waste recycling centres. In all, 88% of mattresses are collected by councils, with the rest dealt with by take-back schemes run by retailers and manufacturers. It may be that extended producer compliance schemes in the UK, as part of EU circular economy (CE) legislation, will greatly increase the role of retailers and manufacturers – but it will depend on the UK’s Brexit negotiations.
Eunomia consultant Timothy Elliott says the European Commission document, Closing the Loop – an EU action plan for the circular economy, outlines plans for manufacturers to contribute to the collection and treatment costs of their products. The document says: “Member states and regions can also use these schemes for additional waste streams such as textiles or furniture.”
Elliot explains: “[This] may lead to schemes for mattresses in the future. If such a scheme included, for example, an advanced disposal fee, this would be likely to increase the recycling of mattresses and decrease instances of fly-tipping.”
Lisanti adds: “We are, of course, very aware of plans at EU level to require countries to adopt the concepts enshrined within the CE package protocols. We believe that simply disposing of end-of-life products in whatever way we choose will not be a viable option for the future. It is clear that the disposal of end-of-life mattresses via, for example, landfill, will not be tolerated indefinitely.”
Mattress recycling rate
Note: the 2014 figure was calculated using a different methodology
Source: End of Life Mattress Report, Oakdene Hollins