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Environment | Recycling | Waste

What happens to your old mattress? There’s good and bad news!

We bet you have never thought about the fate of your mattress once you have got rid of it. Both the mattress industry and the Sleep Council strongly recommend that you replace a mattress every eight years, because by this time it will have lost much of its original comfort and support.

In the UK alone, an incredible 7.5 million mattresses are disposed of every year, that’s enough to fill Wembley Stadium 5 times over! The sad fact is that the majority of these mattresses are sent to landfill. This is an important thing to remember, as mattresses are mostly made up of non-biodegradable and wasted materials. It’s certainly not difficult to imagine the significant impact this has on our environment.

As most mattresses contain similar types of material let’s have a look at each one:

  • Foam – a soft, movement-absorbing material that helps with temperature regulation and pressure point relief. Some common types of foam include memory foam, gel memory foam, polyurethane foam, and viscoelastic foam also known as “rebounded foam.” Polyurethane foam (which most are made of) comes from petrochemicals, these materials take a very long time to break down and can cause serious harm to the environment, however if correctly recycled these material have a use in the insulation industry.
  • Wool – can be found in some mattresses for extra padding and temperature regulation.
  • Cotton – is used both inside and outside of the mattress.
  • Both wool and cotton can be recycled for all kinds of applications e.g padding for chairs and car seats, cleaning cloths and industrial blankets.
  • Adhesives – are used in mattresses to bond layers, materials and seams together for the perfect fit – not recyclable individually.
  • Flame Retardants – are found in all mattresses due to flammability laws for fire resistance. Regular spring mattresses are treated with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) as fire retardants. These compounds are extremely toxic to the environment, and they are not biodegradable. From landfill these compounds will eventually leach out into our rivers and down to the sea. Strikingly, it has been demonstrated that high levels of PBDEs can cause neurobehavioral issues and possibly cancer. Similarly, the presences of CFCs in treating regular spring mattresses are also responsible for having a negative effect on the environment, by depleting the ozone layer.
  • Steel coils – in the form of open coils or individually wrapped coils (also called pocketed coils), make up a key structural component, establishing firm support at the base of the mattress. The steel springs can be recycled, but are difficult to remove from the mattress, and many still end up in our landfill.
  • In addition, old mattresses can’t be reused. Once they’re used, they’re used and it’s pretty hard to find a market for a used and worn mattress.

However thankfully, there is a solution and several companies in UK now work in partnership with The Furniture Recycling Group (TFRG), one of the biggest recycling services in the country.

Currently, TFRG are able to recycle an impressive 7,000 mattresses every week – that’s over 350,000 every year! In fact, over the last four years, TFRG have managed to save a volume in landfill of 4,720 double decker buses – this would fill Big Ben’s tower over 114 times!

So how are mattresses recycled

Working to reduce the numbers of mattresses sent to landfill, the Furniture Recycling Group separates out individual mattress components. These are then distributed to industries that can benefit from these raw materials.

Remarkably, by choosing to recycle, 100% of your old mattress can avoid landfill!

As with all industries there is now a drive towards making mattresses out of safer materials, such as natural latex, bamboo and organic cotton and none contain harsh flame retardants or toxic chemicals.

Mattresses made from 100% Certified Organic Latex are great – natural latex is compostable and 100% biodegradable. Once your mattress has reached its use-by date, you can simply cut it up and place it in your compost heap.

As with all these things you may have to pay a little more but it is worth it in the long term for you and the environment.