Mattresses are a hugely difficult waste stream to handle”, Antony Buchan, Head of Efficiency at the London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB), tells Resource. “They’re incredibly bulky and they don’t bulk up particularly well to be transported long distances.” It is for this reason that most local authorities find it difficult to recycle this niche stream, despite the positive environmental impact of diverting textile material from landfill.
“In London at the moment, there’s a lack of mattress recycling facilities, and the majority go to either landfill or incineration”, Buchan continues, explaining why LWARB has decided to back a mattress-recycling project as part of its £400,000 Textile Reuse and Recycling Fund. The funding has gone to London Reuse Limited (LRL), which coordinates reuse organisations around the capital, in partnership with The Furniture Recycling Company, a private company that specialises in bed and mattress recycling, and social enterprise Furnish, which will house the recycling facility at its depot in Greenford in West London.
Mattresses for recycling will be collected in a variety of ways – including from households via the London Re-use Network’s reuse hotline (predominantly from the four boroughs of the Western Riverside Waste Authority (WRWA) and LB Ealing), through household waste recycling centres or retailer take-back schemes.
All of the mattresses that come in will be recycled, Buchan says, but as mattresses come in many different forms, the exact deconstruction method will differ from mattress to mattress; the scheme will be entirely manual, with five operatives with hand tools tackling each mattress, as this, Buchan explains, “has been found to be the most efficient and cost-effective means of mattress deconstruction by The Furniture Recycling Company at their other facilities”.
“There’s no difference in terms of what you can recycle”, Buchan states, when asked if any mattresses are more difficult to recycle than others. “The cheapest mattresses are a sort of solid foam mattress, while the most expensive are these pocket-spring mattresses. Essentially, the deconstruction process involves removing the outside skin and then dealing with what’s in the middle. High-end pocket-spring mattresses create the greatest challenge because they’re constructed using dozens of separate but linked coil springs, with each containing its own fabric pocket or envelope, and therefore, they’re simply more difficult and time-consuming to deconstruct.”
Regardless of the difficulty, only material that is too soiled will not be recycled, and instead will be sent on to become refuse-derived fuel. LWARB estimates that 90 per cent will be recycled: cotton and polyester ticking will predominantly be used in new mattress padding and comfort layers; large blocks of foam will be used to make carpet underlay; polyester quilting and padding can be spun into new polyester fibre or made into ‘other raw polyester based materials’; and spring steel cores will be compressed and baled for metal recycling.
Buchan says that there will be “a gradual ramp up” of recycling activity. The facility is set to open in 2015 and should handle 17,520 mattresses in its first year; the following year, it will take in 36,800; and by year four, it is expected to recycle 62,400 mattresses (nearly 2,000 tonnes). This is only a small fraction of mattresses in London’s municipal waste stream, which LWARB estimates could be as high as 800,000 every year (and that doesn’t include the many mattresses that are produced through the hospitality sector).
However, Buchan states that “one of the attractions of this facility was the replicable nature of it”, adding: “If we can get this to be a proven model, then there is an opportunity for LRL to roll this out such that there can be a number of facilities servicing different parts of London.”
While LWARB has no plans to fund any more projects, Buchan hopes that, following a proof of concept, social enterprises or even the private sector could reap financial benefits from recycling mattresses – while also providing environmental and social benefits in the form of jobs and training.
The London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB) brings together all of London's waste stakeholders with the aim of transforming the management of waste in the capital.