Furniture manufacturers urged to solve circular economy conundrum

Britain's mattress manufacturers must become advocates of the circular economy by taking the lead on producer responsibility schemes which could significantly reduce the sector's vast waste-to-landfill rates.

That’s the view of Nick Oettinger, managing director of The Furniture Recycling Group (TFR), a company that partners with businesses to provide a recycling service for used mattresses.

An estimated 167,000 tonnes of mattresses are sent to landfill each year in the UK, and Oettinger believes a streamlined mattress production process would improve the situation.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Oettinger said: “I think it’s got to be done in a way that is led from the manufacturers of the products, initially under some sort of producer responsibility scheme.

“That can either be done with them putting their hand in their pocket and paying for every mattress made, or it can be done more sensibly in the design of mattresses that are currently being manufactured.”

Recycling barrier

In an attempt to alleviate the current situation, TFR Group recently designed and developed the world’s first automated pocket-spring recycling machine. The machine separates the plastic surrounding pocket springs and the springs themselves to leave two products that have a value and can be sold on, re-used as scrap or recycled.

The new process will improve effieciency on the previous manual method, which has helped the Group recycle 700,000 mattresses and achieve an average recycling rate of 96% with 100% landfill diversion.

This technological breakthrough enables the firm to automatically separate components within just two and a half minutes, but for companies that still dismantle pocket springs manually, the recycling process can be as long as half a day for a single mattress. Many other recycling companies have recently gone out of business for this reason, says Oettinger, who is calling upon manufacturers to consider end-of-life scenarios and stop the production of pocket springs in mattresses.

He said: “The one thing that stops people opening mattress recycling facilities is that they cannot get rid of materials. If the manufacturers of the products were going to be a lot more open in taking those materials into the design of their new mattresses and giving an outlet for those materials, then the barrier for mattress recycling is taken away. The reason a lot of mattress recyclers fail is because they don’t have an outlet for the materials.

“Legislation needs to come in the form of producer responsibility imposed on the manufacturers and hopefully led by them, but also led by the retailers to say “listen, we’re more than happy for this post-consumer waste, as long as it reaches the correct standards needed to go back into the mattress.”

Responsible retail

TFR Group works with businesses from a range of sectors; from major hotel companies to high street retail chains. Last summer, for example, the firm partnered with the University of St Andrews in Scotland to transform textile recycling process in the University’s student accommodation. More than 2000 mattresses, duvets and pillows have been donated for recycling and re-use by the University’s student body. The circular economy initiative has been a “great success”, according to Oettinger, who insists the firm are always looking for ways to partner with new industries and institutions.

Oettinger also reserved praise for TFR Group’s high street retail partners, many of which have incorporated take-back systems into their own sustainability plans. Swedish retailer IKEA has trialled a closed-loop re-use initiative on hard-to-dispose-of products including sofas, mattresses and kitchen appliances. Following discussions with other retailers earlier this year, Oettinger is convinced that customers are becoming increasingly aware and vocal when it comes to mattress recycling, and that retailers should act accordingly by making take-back offers available at point-of-sale in store and online.

“The customers are asking for it and retailers are starting to realise they would lose the sale if they don’t provide the service,” he concluded. “There is a need out there, people want to recycle, and retailers are reacting.

“We’re working with retailers to say come on the problem is being made, and could be the answer to the problems here. Let’s get around the table and start giving some answers out that help us recycling more mattresses in the country.”

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie