Blog: October 2015

Mattresses On The Re-bound
Alex Murray says we must stop sending mattresses to landfill

Did you know....20 million mattresses make their way to landfill in this country every year? This is ludicous and we need to find ways to re-use them.

The main reason most of us need to get rid of a mattress is because we’ve got ourselves a lovely new one. But while some companies remove the old within the delivery agreement for your new purchase, plenty won’t.
So, we're left with the problem of how to get rid of the old one..and in some areas this disposal is solved by the careless, non-eco method of discarding it in the neighbourhood, in other words 'fly-tipping'
In others, effort is made to take the offending old mattress to the local landfill, where it fulfils a dubious destiny as one of some 20 million thrown into landfill each year, where it may or may not biodegrade depending on the materials it’s made of. Although this effort smacks of trying to do the right thing for disposal, there’s a better option – recycling.
Mattresses Moving On
There are several ways to recycle a mattress, all of which have the advantage of being the good thing to do environmentally - although several methods have distinct disadvantages:
Freegle / Freecycle: a local method for passing on unwanted items to those who may be able to use them, Freegle has a growing momentum in the UK. It'd be great to assume that the popularity of this pass-it-on method is due to a greater collective social and eco-consciousness, but sadly it’s mostly influenced by the economic climate – Freegle is a way to get a potentially useful item for nothing. However, the problem with using it for mattresses is that it can take a while to find someone who needs and wants it (strangely enough not everyone loves a pre-loved mattress: micro-dust mites, dead skin cells, stains and all), so this method is not necessarily a quick one.
Local council pick-up methods: Many town and city councils do now offer bulky item collection services, partly to help with recycling but for many in response to fly-tipping, preventing mattresses, old fridges and other unmentionables cluttering up the streets. Although this sounds like a viable option, for those places where the service is free particularly, the wait time for collection can be up to eight weeks (in Leeds, for example). Although an increasing number of councils offer this free collection service, in other areas collection comes at a cost, often on a sliding scale depending on how many items are to be collected. So, it might cost you £18 in Sheffield, £21 in Rotherham or £22 in Cambridge.
Private collection companies: Alternatively, there are a growing number of private companies that run collection services and have direct links with reputable recycling depots. Such companies - and they usually offer a local service within a certain radius of the depots - will not only pick up mattresses at a lower cost than the council, but also arrange more prompt collection. One of the cheapest at the time of writing is Collect Your Old Bed which operates nationwide and has prices from £9.99. This means that you, the customer, benefit from getting rid of the mattress cheaply and quickly, but with the reassurance that the mattress will be appropriately recycled. Just make sure you ask them for their waste carrier license before you contract their services, so you’re sure they are doing everything by the book. The Environment Agency also provides a search facility so you can find a registered waste carrier in your area.
Mattresses Coming Apart
The recycling process for a mattress largely depends on its material construction, but most recycling centres follow the same broad process of:
Separating types of mattress by material type.
Depending on the type of material, mattresses are then either mechanically shredded or manually stripped using specialist tools.
The by-products and materials extracted from the mattresses, such as polyester, foam, cotton and steel, are then bundled and passed on to other recycling outlets or manufacturers to re-start their future as another product …
Mattress on the Rebound
The fabrics and fibres salvaged from your old mattress could bounce back to you in new form:
*Cotton and foam could be recycled into pillow stuffing; furniture upholstery; carpet foam or underlay padding.
*Other textiles such as rayon and sisal might be recycled into new mattresses.
*Steel from sprung mattresses can be melted down for use in many other products.
*Wood from box springs is often chipped and recycled as garden mulch, animal bedding or used to for biomass fuel.
So, finally, if you’re environmentally-conscious, it’s worth enjoying a certain karma which comes from arranging for your old mattress to be properly recycled. Many more eco-friendly mattress brands are made including recycled textiles, so by recycling your mattress responsibly and buying eco-brands, you’re helping that next new mattress be more eco-friendly too.
eco friendly, recycling, upcycling
Designing a re-use revolution
By Lucy Chamberlin of The Royal Society of Arts
Everyone has a story about bulky waste. The sofa in the garden, the mattress at the bus stop, the fridge in the parking lot.
A quick survey of researchers and staff here at the RSA uncovered a plethora of anecdotes, mostly told with enthusiastic exasperation. Matthew P suffered from a large sofa blocking his hallway that the landlord had promised but apparently 'forgotten' to remove. Jonathan R was plagued by guilt in having to take a child's mattress to the dump which was almost-new, apart from a small stain which meant that the local charity wouldn't accept it.
And these problems are not new, it seems. In a 1968 lecture given at the RSA, FLD Flintoff noted that ‘bulky refuse is a fairly new problem, but it is growing fast.' And grow fast it has. In the UK we now produce around 1.6million tonnes of this large-item waste stream every year, and most of it still ends up buried in landfill or burnt in an incinerator.
The RSA Great Recovery’s latest report, 'Rearranging the Furniture', is about our design residency project run in partnership with SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK and focused on furniture waste. The brief was to conduct an exploratory, observation-based 'residency' with four designers over ten days, gathering insights and learning from experts whilst at the same time providing ideas on how product or indeed system redesign could enable more furniture to be reused rather than scrapped. It enabled the designers to learn valuable lessons about the end-of-life destinations of some of the products they were creating, and to provide some valuable design thinking and ideation to the processes of waste disposal that they witnessed.
Re-use is better than recycling
Over the 10 days we visited a community recycling centre in Leatherhead, various sorting and retail outlets of the Surrey Reuse Network and went behind the scenes at IKEA. We spoke to experts from the national Furniture Re-use Network, the SKA rating programme for commercial interiors, and the pioneering waste team at Warwickshire County Council. And we also conducted a 'tear-down' exercise on a high street brand sofa that we fished out of the landfill skip (in great condition but missing its fire label and therefore not re-sellable by the reuse charities).
Finally, we convened a roundtable discussion between designers, waste managers and other stakeholders at Fab Lab London – closing the loop at least conversationally on our furniture waste.
And the project didn't stop at the 10-day residency. It was picked up by Camira, a UK-based textile manufacturer that wanted to develop some new fabric for our ex-landfill sofa using waste offcuts from their own suppliers. Next stop was Clerkenwell Design Week, where we got members of the public making buttons for the sofa and talked to them about the challenges of designing furniture for a more circular economy. The sofa is now on display at RSA House formed part of our display at Fab Lab London during London Design Festival, before being loaned to Camira for an exhibition in the run-up to Christmas. Meanwhile our sofa story film was picked up by the Community Channel and has been re-edited for release on national TV.
One of the report’s main messages is to stress the importance of re-use as opposed to mere recycling. According to Craig Anderson OBE, CEO of the Furniture Re-use Network, the FRN brought in over 78,000 furniture and electrical items last year, saving families on low incomes £12 million on essential goods. This is on top of the 3 million items supplied by FRN’s members across the UK that have saved 380,000 tonnes of CO2 and helped nearly one million households save £340 million on essential goods. Says Anderson: ‘If the various sectors have the audacity and scope to make the circular economy vision a reality then let’s start with re-use, and get the retailers, manufacturers and consumers involved and on-side.’
If the design model that most fits with a circular economy is one of design for longevity, then re-use is the means of extending a product’s longevity. And for a revolution in re-use to take place, designers, waste managers, retailers, citizens and authorities must all recognize the critical difference between recycling and re-use. Designers and manufacturers must create items that can be passed on, with fire labels that can’t be cut off and materials that endure.
Residents must be aware of the re-use alternatives to bringing their sofas to the dump. There must be incentives for staff at waste sites to separate re-usable goods from recyclable (downcyclable). Local authorities must ensure that re-use is specified in their contracts with waste managers. And waste managers must begin to consider their role as resource stewards, providing a platform and a service for the re-allocation of valuable items.
Ultimately all of these actors must have a view to the life time of the product itself, looking outside the narrow remit of their job description to see the chain reaction that their decisions will have.  
The RSA Great Recovery’s report, Rearranging the Furniture, can be downloaded from
eco friendly, recycling