Why retailers shouldn’t roll over on their recycling obligations

It can often be a difficult task for retailers to remove, transport and dispose of mattresses and figures show that in the UK, only a small percentage of mattresses are recycled responsibly, with 7.5 million discarded to landfill sites – usually the cheapest, quickest option.

From a policy point of view, end of life (EOL) mattresses have long been perceived as a problematic waste product, not least because of their size and cumbersome nature. Difficult to handle, mattresses fall under the category of bulky waste; awkward to manoeuvre, expensive to transport and breakdown. All in all, a chore to recycle and as a result, fewer than necessary are disposed of in this way.

Every year in the UK we throw out around 1,600,000 tonnes of what is defined as bulky waste. Approximately 19% of this falls into the textile category, largely made up of sofas and mattresses, with the majority of items being sent to landfill instead.

Despite landfill tax having pushed up the cost of putting rubbish in the ground in the last 10 years, it remains arguably the cheapest and most straightforward option for bulky waste. However, the UK is experiencing an over dependence on landfill. Due to the worrying impact this over dependence has on the environment, bans have already been imposed in many EU countries, with governments and policy makers realising that alternative, more environmentally-friendly solutions are required if countries are to meet their carbon footprint reduction obligations.


With regards to mattresses in particular, an ongoing European Union Waste Management Policy Review Process may soon affect UK government policy on mattress recycling, with the retail sector set to face – at some stage – a legislative requirement to dispose of EOL mattresses in an environmentally acceptable way.

Headway is already being made, with statistics showing that in the UK 450,000 mattresses were collected for recycling in 2012 and just a year later, this had increased by 30%, but despite the increase, this still only accounts for a small percentage of the total mattress disposal in the UK.

While on the surface, the reasons for this slow evolution and widespread acceptance of mattress recycling among retailers is largely cost associated, as there is no doubt that landfill remains the cheaper option, other barriers do exist. These include the lack of outlets and services that could help retailers dispose of mattresses, as well as the uncertainty around the design and composition of mattresses to recycle their components.

There is a social and business case for retailers to take notice of their responsibilities regarding mattress disposal. There are opportunities for groups to put in place a policy, ensuring they are best placed to respond to any new legislation that comes into force, or perhaps to be seen and credited as leaders and trailblazers in the industry – paving the way for responsible and sustainable business practice and advocates of the circular economy.

Nick Oettinger is the managing director at The Furniture Recycling Group. Nick has previously worked as the managing director of a specialist construction company before moving into the waste and recycling industry.


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