When we launched back in June 2011, we knew that mattress and bulky furniture recycling would certainly pose their own particular challenges - mattresses, sofas and the like being notoriously difficult to process in a cost and time-efficient manner. But we were also aware of the enormous potential that introducing such a service could bring. With six million old mattresses needing to be disposed of each and every year, and two million new mattresses being manufactured annually, a sustainable solution was desperately needed, one which the rapid growth we’ve experienced since launching suggests we are able to provide.
Starting initially from our headquarters in Telford, Shropshire, with capacity to recycle around 150,000 mattresses a year, we now have three other facilities up and running in Milton Keynes, Bridgend, and Burton-upon-Trent. We also have another plant in Bristol due to open soon, enabling us to process more than 800,000 mattresses a year, diverting more than 20,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. In the last few months alone, we have secured contracts to recycle 5,000 used mattresses a year from Travelodge’s 500 nationwide hotels, a further 7,000 old mattresses a year for Silentnight, and up to 300 old mattresses and sofas a week for Argos. This is all on the back of an exclusive deal to handle 5,000 mattresses used in the athlete’s village at last summer’s London Olympics.
Due to the bulky nature of mattresses and the diverse range of materials used to manufacture them, many general recycling facilities can’t process them effectively, with recovery rates of just 50% common. However, after investing a significant amount of time and resources, we developed a bespoke fibre recovery system that achieves a 100% recycling or reuse rate by stripping, processing, and treating all of the mattresses’ individual components separately – from the outer fabric, cotton flock, and metal springs, through to the polyurethane foam (PU), plastic coverings, and black felt base. As well as being environmentally-sound – enabling such bulky waste streams to be processed efficiently – this system has also opened up a number of commercial opportunities linked to giving these materials ‘second lives’ as a variety of end products.
One area where we have had particular success is using PU foam to manufacture a quality underlay for carpet fitting. Recovered PU foam is baled and sent to our facility in Burton-upon-Trent where it is granulated, before a tri-laminate coat is added. This moulded ‘rebond’ is a perfect underlay and works out around 25% cheaper than using virgin foam – a sustainable and cost-effective outcome.
We currently recover around 2,000 tonnes of PU foam a month, with 600 tonnes given a second life as this carpet underlay product. We export to manufacturers in Malta, Spain, and Scandinavia due to the limited UK market, with the remaining foam used as equestrian bedding or sold to makers of sports and gym mats, cushions and similar products. On a similar theme, adding a polypropylene backing to the low-grade black felt base fibres recovered from each mattress provides the perfect material to make vehicle matting.
We also supply a number of pillow and duvet manufacturers with around 400 tonnes a month of recycled polyester we produce by stripping, washing and baling the outer fabric and secondary cotton flock material in each mattress. Any heavily soiled or unrecyclable fabric is sold as a Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) to generate energy from waste, while the mattress’s steel springs and frame are melted at temperatures up to 1700oF, with the cooled liquid metal used to manufacture staples, drinks cans and other steel or aluminium products.
As the business continues to develop and expand, we are also diversifying into processing sofas and other bulky furniture too, which will offer us greater opportunities to develop recycled products and materials. For instance, by extracting and recovering the wooden panels inside sofas to use as RDF, we can help reduce the demand for virgin timber.