What We Can Learn from the National Bed Federation’s 2016 Recycling Report

The second Mattress Recycling Report has now been released by the UK’s National Bed Federation (NBF). Offering an insightful overview of the issues surrounding mattress recycling in the UK in 2016, this new report includes the latest statistical data and trend information but also highlights which issues, as raised in the previous 2014 report, are still on the rebound.

Discussing the data

The latest report quantifies the current situation with regards to end of life mattresses in the UK and Ireland, and based on figures from 2014, the report estimates that:

  • Approximately 5.9 million mattresses, weighing around 148,000 tonnes reached the end of their lives in 2014.
  • 16% of these 5.9 million mattresses were recycled – almost double the amount recycled in the previous year, which is good overall progress.
  • Of the remaining 84%, 11% were incinerated for energy recovery. However, the 73% majority of discarded mattresses still ended up going into landfill.
  • 88% of these mattresses were discarded into landfill via local authority collection, with the remainder coming via retailer disposal and take-back schemes.

Positive but still problematic

Although improvement in recycling data is a positive, NBF experts express concern that the next round of data for 2015 and 2016 will demonstrate that 2014’s improvement has not been sustainable, citing several possible reasons:

  • Responsible recycling remains more expensive that discarding into landfill.
  • Health, safety and hygiene compliances in other sectors (such as the NHS and hospitality industries) put a capacity squeeze on recycling services, as mattresses are required to be replaced regularly for health and hygiene reasons.
  • Some major recycling facilities, including regional centres in the East and West Midlands, have already closed, whilst the closure of smaller, as well as these larger regional centres, has created the major barrier of a lack of local facilities for many areas of the UK.
  • The falling value of recycled materials, such as steel, may pose a threat to mattress recycling in the future. Many mattresses are made up of around 50% steel springs, so the drop in steel prices has had a considerable impact on the viability of recycling, whilst the cost of insurance for mattress recycling has risen.

As such, the NBF identify that the primary barriers to continued responsible recycling of mattresses is cost, followed by the reduced availability of reliable and good quality recycling facilities. With the falling value of component materials, the report also acknowledges that finding markets for recycled components is an additional threat to the mattress recycling industry and may be indicated in the closure of some mattress recycling facilities.

Recycled Issues

There are several predictions made within the 2014 report which have proved correct over the last two years, including the increase in recycling overall. The percentage of mattresses being recycled has improved by approximately 20% since 2014, an increase contributed to by a shift towards recycling by the majority of disposers:

  • Local authorities increased their own mattress recycling rates by 20%;
  • Manufacturers increased their rates by 27%;
  • Retailers similarly improved their rates by 10%.

Looking ahead

However, whilst the report shows evidence of improvements, this seems likely to be an interim phase, rather than a continued progression in mattress recycling in the UK. Looking ahead, the 2016 report indicates several issues which need to be addressed in order to maintain and build upon the improvements of 2014. These recommendations include:

  • The development of industry-relevant forums and trade associations involving stakeholders, to promote and lead on matters of good practice and awareness in mattress recycling.
  • Standard reporting protocols for mattress reuse and recycling.
  • A call for the UK mattress industry to recognise the role of Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes (as run in France and the USA) and the positive impact these can have on mattress recycling practices.
  • Consideration of a ban of disposal of mattresses into landfill.

Mr. Lisante, Chair of the NBF Recycling Group acknowledges the role of the NBF in bringing all aspects of mattress recycling together, in order to move mattress recycling forwards at a national level, stating “amongst our aims is to work with the recycling industry to ultimately be in a position whereby the NBF will endorse a network of mattress recyclers that conforms to an audited code of practice.”

Meanwhile, at a local level, despite the closures of larger regional centres, households can still recycle mattresses responsibly through using reputable mattress recycling services such as Collect Your Old Bed. Their fully licensed services include collecting the bed, with a full guarantee of delivery at a recycling centre where 100% of the bed will be recycled. Even where there is no local recycling centre, the nationwide service offers access to UK-wide recycling facilities. By using a UK-wide range of recycling facilities, Collect Your Old Bed also hope to support recycling centres to expand and to contribute to further increases in mattress recycling by the time the next NBF report is due.

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