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How Are Mattresses Recycled?

by | Oct 10, 2016 | Recycling | 0 comments

As the 21st Century ticks on by, innovations and technological advances in recycling are shaping what we do, how we do it and what we get back! So what’s the new shape of mattress recycling – and how are those mattresses bouncing back as recycled products?

More Mattresses Means More Rubbish

As well as our own need for domestic beds, the tourism, leisure, health and care sectors are some of the major sectors which all involve not only the need for a bed, but also the requirement to stick to stringent guidelines on health, hygiene and safety reasons. Because of this over 8 million mattresses are disposed of each year in the UK. The majority of these get sent to landfill but many don’t, ending up in a fly tip instead and taking up the equivalent space of five Wembley stadiums.

It’s no wonder that there’s a real focus in 2016 on diverting discarded mattresses towards recycling rather than landfill.


What’s In A Mattress?

The components of mattresses may vary across the different types, but generally, an average mattress is made up of the following parts, all of which can cause a massive environmental problem when left to languish in landfill:

  •   Steel – sprung mattresses invariably use steel for the springs as these are resilient. So resilient in fact, that steel does not biodegrade when in landfill. With an average sprung mattress having 300-600 steel coils, it’s easy to see how every sprung mattress in landfill contributes to rubbish mountains and environmental hazards.
  •   Polyurethane, latex foam, fabric and wood – the fire-retardant treatment of modern mattresses means that these parts of the bed can be full of chemicals which leach into the ground and cause wider environmental problems. These chemicals may even penetrate groundwater and find its way into water systems, particularly hazardous when you consider just how many beds are actually in each landfill site!

The 100% Challenge

Although current government targets are for 50% of all items to be recycled or reused, mattresses are in the unique position of not only being an often disposed of item, they are also a single item which can generally be 100% recycled – another reason for the emphasis on making the most of mattress materials, rather than dumping them.

The Recycling Process

Generally mattress recycling works by stripping each mattress into its constituent materials and then passing this along the recycling chain to be cleaned up and recycled into other products:

  •   Step 1: Mattresses are stripped of their cover – usually cotton or other fabric. This is sent away to a separate textile-specific recycling facility to be used in new products. At this stage, any buttons are also retrieved and recycled back into the textiles industry.
  •   Step 2: Mattresses are sorted into their main component type, generally foam or steel sprung.
  •   Step 3: A magnet is used to retrieve the steel from sprung mattresses. This steel can then be sent for melting down and re-use within the steel industry.
  •   Step 4: The remaining foam from sprung mattresses, along with those 100% foam mattresses are shredded, compressed and passed on to the relevant service for recycling.
  •   Step 5: Any wooden parts from divan beds are stripped, chipped and passed on to appropriate industries for re-use.

Although this sounds like a process which could itself seem non-environmentally friendly in terms of energy use, in practice mattress-stripping is energy-efficient as a mattress sent to a mattress recycling centre can be stripped down and its constituent materials retrieved and ready to be recycled on in approximately 4 minutes.

Recyclable Components

Once they have been passed on as recycled materials for new products, those mattress components which would have caused environmental headaches are fully usable as new products such as:

  •   Steel – steel can be just as strong in its recycled form, so can readily be used for metal components, such as car parts, industrial components and household utensils.
  •   Fabric – from wool to cotton, recycled fabrics from mattresses can be used effectively into new clothing and textile products, either on its own or mixed with recycled plastic from plastic bottles.
  •   Polyurethane and latex – can be recycled into carpet underlay, insulation, judo and yoga mats, car industry filler and upholstery stuffing.
  •   Wood – garden mulch, pet bedding and biomass fuel.

Recycling mattresses in this way is a big deal environmentally and is a focus for cleaning up the UK’s green credentials. So much so there are now dedicated recycling centres for mattresses only. However, this is only part of the solution – the other part is for households to be aware of what’s needed for ethical and responsible mattress disposal for recycling.

Responsible Mattress Recycling

The easiest route to recycled mattresses for households is to contact a professional waste management company, such as Collect Your Old Bed, who will not only collect 100% of mattresses but will also ensure that these are 100% recycled at the appropriate facility.

It helps to think that although a mattress may no longer be useful to you, it’s still useful (and much more environmentally-friendly) when it’s recycled!

Photo: “Mattress” by Dean Hochman is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / Cali filter added to the original image.


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