2016 has seen many things come to pass in the UK, including the summer deadline for the EU target for the UK to be recycling 50% of all waste. Although some areas of the UK, such as Wales, are well ahead of this target, the majority of the UK has fallen well short in recycling 50% of its waste – and particularly those larger items such as beds and mattresses which still mainly end up being lobbed into landfill.
Partly with this in mind, the National Bed Federation’s latest report was released in 2016, with key findings which identify that within the UK and Irish bed industry there is still much to be done in mattress recycling.
Onwards and upwards
The NBF’s latest report does indicate that, since the last report in 2014, there has been an upward trend in the recycling of end-of-life mattresses, with a rise of approximately 20% in recycling by local authorities and of up to 27% by bed manufacturers and 10% by bed retailers.
What goes up…
However, the report does also indicate that this upturn is likely to be short-lived as the UK moves into 2017 and the stresses for recycling within the industry continue to mount, as markets need to be found for recycled materials and as greater responsibility for recycling mattresses increases, so does the demand for adequately resourced recycling centres. Indeed, 2016’s report indicates current problems of:
● Capacity for recycling –many local authorities are struggling with the fact that there are not enough good quality local recyclers to facilitate recycling at a rate which meets demand. This demand is greatly increased by the requirement for some sectors (such as health, hospitality and care) to be compliant with health and hygiene regulations by replacing mattresses regularly.
● Cost-effective recycling – with many local authorities remaining unable to offer or make use of a cost-effective mattress recycling service. At the moment, despite the government having increased landfill levies in hope of reducing dumped waste, it still remains cheaper for many local authorities to pay the levies and dump mattresses into landfill than to recycle them.
The NBF is not alone in raising such concerns. Autumn 2016’s Textile Recycling Conference held in London also identified that mattresses, along with carpet, are proving to be the most difficult items to actually keep out of landfill. Again, this is considered to be largely due to the problems associated with finding relevant markets for the recycled materials and in separating the components – particularly in terms of creating practical, cost-effective systems.
Cutting costs, not corners, when it comes to mattress waste
The current bottom line is that recycling 1 tonne of mattresses costs some local authorities around £150 – £200, in comparison to the lower costs of dumping into landfill. Although this is an issue affecting UK-wide authorities, the Welsh Government, already taking the lead of UK countries in creating recycling solutions, are currently being proactive in seeking to ensure that recycling becomes the cost-effective option – in the contexts of both finance and cost to the environment.
As such, 2016 saw the Welsh Government giving Rhondda Cynon Taf £227,500 to support a new initiative which aims to use waste heat from a Food Waste Treatment Plant in the sterilisation and preparation of mattress textiles for recycling. Rhondda Cynon Taf is already one of the few places worldwide which has a machine, successfully installed as part of a previous initiative, which can strip down a whole mattress. These components can then be sterilized as part of the latest project, with the government’s latest funding for this helping to meet the direct challenge of ensuring that mattresses can be 100% recycled.
The development and impact of large-scale projects such as at Rhondda Cynon Taf is certainly something that the NBF, textile recycling and general recycling associations will be looking at with interest, particularly as improving the cleanliness and quality of textiles recycled from mattresses should help boost their potential for remarketing, directly challenging the problem of components having only a limited market for re-use after stripping.
Process, as well as parts
Whilst ways to clean and use parts of mattresses could improve if the Welsh initiative is successful, the recycling process for pocket spring mattresses is also bouncing back. The latter part of 2016 saw the introduction of the world’s first automated pocket spring recycling machine, which it is hoped will help to streamline and automate the costly process of mattress recycling and thus encourage local authorities to recycle rather than send the majority of the 6 million mattresses disposed of each year into landfill.
At the moment, more than 70% are likely to end up in landfill and when it comes to pocket springs, this is a particular environmental issue as steel components do not biodegrade. A machine which can successfully strip and separate springs from fabric components can significantly reduce costs through the time taken and the new machine, capable of stripping each full pocket spring in under 3 minutes, compares very favourably to the half a day (minimum) taken to remove each full pocket spring using traditional, manual spring stripping methods. Of course, along with time-saving methods come vital cost savings, to help make recycling processes a more viable option than landfill for cash-strapped local authorities.
So, although the surge indicated by the NBF report has the potential to drop off, the inspiration offered by the Welsh Government of pro-active solution-seeking in mattress recycling, coupled with the innovations of practical, mechanical ways to improve processes, could mean that 2017 sees mattress recycling bounce back, so long as householders, retailers, manufacturers and local authorities all take on the challenge, as well as the responsibility, of mattress recycling. This content has been provided by Collect Your Old Bed (see link below) – a nationwide mattress and bed pick-up and recycle service committed to the complete recycling of the items they collect.