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A Legacy for the Care Sector: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Nick Oettinger, Managing Director at The Furniture Recycling Group, comments on

the need for a best practice framework to help care home managers make informed decisions on the manufacture, acquisition and disposal of the mattresses they use.

An estimated 5.9 million end of life (EoL) mattresses were disposed of in 2014, with a recycling rate of just 16%, which begs the question: how can it be that there is no regulatory framework in existence to encourage the manufacture of environmentally friendly mattresses and the acquisition of these mattresses by care institutions across the UK?

The situation is now at crisis point. UK retailers are running major advertising campaigns advising the UK public to ‘MOT’ their mattress after just seven years and to replace them after just eight, but the recycling rate hasn’t been able to grow in line with this increase in disposal rate, despite the rate having increased by an estimated 20% from 2012 to 2014.

In response, manufacturers must bring mattress production in line with waste hierarchy – reduce, reuse, recycle – and, to do so, they need to pay close attention to the end of life scenario when designing mattresses. Incorporating materials that will extend the average lifespan of mattresses (from eight years to a more viable 10-12 years) will reduce the need for such a high frequency of disposal and lessen the strain on landfill resources.

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With over 425,000 people currently living in UK care homes and managers being advised to replace mattresses so regularly, the burden on recyclers is mounting. This indicates that the need for a mattress recycling association to provide a best practice framework for manufacturers and care industry professionals is greater than ever.

We would want part of this association’s remit to provide thorough insight into the industry and facilitate the availability of much- needed data. For example, data on the environmental impact of different types of mattresses is not currently available, yet access to this data would allow manufacturers to build this knowledge into product design and prevent difficulties in recycling further down the line. Care home managers would also then be in a position to make informed choices when selecting mattresses for their rooms, hopefully opting for the most sustainable products and thereby facilitating the circular economy.

By setting out the use of reusable and recycled components from the UK market as best practice for the industry, a mattress recycling association would be the driver for

meaningful change and regulation in both the UK mattress sector and the care industry.

The Furniture Recycling Group (TFR Group) is a soft furnishing recycling company specialising in bed and mattress recycling. It works to divert this difficult waste stream away from landfill to ensure products are recovered through a recycling process and sanitised before being fully re-processed and used within UK manufacturing.

It recycles beds, mattresses, soft furnishings and furniture from retail consumer take-back, commercial disposal and local authority waste streams. They can be collected or received and are then deconstructed manually using specialist cutting tools to allow the materials to be segregated accurately for onward processing.

The aim is that end of life mattresses be turned back into the very products they started out as – increasing environmental sustainability, tackling the landfill problem and closing the loop on the circular economy.

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