Mike Murray, chief technology officer at The Vita Group, based in Manchester, gives his opinion on supporting sustainability in mattress manufacturing.
OPINION: In its most recent report on mattress recycling, the National Bed Federation (NBF) estimated that over seven million mattresses were disposed of by UK households, businesses, and service providers in 2017 at a cost of more than £20 million. And while mattress recycling was on the up, it still only accounted for 19 per cent of overall mattress numbers.
With the mattress market currently booming thanks to increased online sales and money-back guarantees, it is more important than ever that we tackle the number of mattresses ending up in landfills – and not just here in the UK. As a bulky item, the disposal of mattresses poses a headache environmentally for nations worldwide.
So, what can be done? The answer lies in driving the circular economy through developing end of life product recycling technologies – and then building renewable and sustainable materials into the mattress supply chain.
The Vita Group, with the desire to create a circular economy, have developed the Orbis range of foam. Orbis is one of Vita’s sustainable foam collections. The foam uses a raw material derived from recycled foam products. To obtain the recycled polyols, Vita partnered with a number of world-leading companies.
In early 2021 Vita announced their partnership with materials science company Dow working on their RENUVATM Mattress Recycling Program. This circular economy program converts end-of-life polyurethane (PU) mattresses back to their raw material on an industrial scale. Working with Dow, our team at The Vita Group takes this recycled raw material – polyols – and uses them to make high-quality PU foam. In turn, this foam can be turned back into mattresses or other foam applications, thereby creating a circular economy.
We perform precise tests on the RENUVA polyol process to ensure it can produce foams of high calibre, along with the required physical properties of density and hardness. Nothing is lost in terms of product quality, but much is gained in terms of sustainability. It’s a win-win situation, which has so far seen us garner substantial interest from the bedding sector, as well as technical and industrial customers for our recently launched Orbis range.
This project is currently being rolled out in France, where the government has introduced a €30 levy on new mattresses to ensure they are taken away and recycled at the end of their lifecycle. Currently there is capacity to recycle 200,000 mattresses each year through the Renuva project in France. We plan to explore how our RENUVA work can also be progressed in the UK.
To strengthen our journey to full circularity and our aim to be net-zero by 2050, we have recently announced our partnership with Evonik. As one of the world leaders in specialty chemicals, Evonik is developing an efficient chemical recycling process for converting flexible PU foams back to the original polyol raw material to achieve circularity.
The next phase of the development will see Evonik scale-up trials of its new and patented process, further strengthened by its partnership with The Vita Group. We have trialled the recycled polyols from Evonik’s hydrolysis process in several of our flexible foam formulations. With the potential to recycle the main primary component materials used in flexible PU foams and PU foam-based mattresses, Evonik’s recycled polyols will allow Vita to broaden our scope for raw materials, putting less pressure on traditional fossil fuels and reducing CO2 emissions. The relationship also means that Vita can produce even more products from recycled materials for future use.
By 2030, we anticipate that half of our product range will include a sustainably sourced option, and we hope others in the industry will follow our lead. Now, more than ever, there is a greater need for businesses to develop an ecosystem that reduces emissions and supports the wider, global bid to tackle climate change.
Manufacturers – in this instance, mattress manufacturers – have an opportunity to contribute to industry-wide sustainability efforts. The National Bed Federation has set an ambitious target of a 75 per cent diversion of mattresses from landfills by 2028.
On a national scale, the Government is looking at plans for a mandatory, industry-led Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for England by 2025, adding momentum to the case for rapid change. This would mean mattress producers being held responsible for the environmentally-sound disposal or management of their products once they have reached end of life.
At Vita, we believe flexible PU foam is a key enabler to achieving net-zero emissions. It is made from lightweight material, manufactured in a low energy process. It is resilient, durable and the material of choice for many applications. We need to ensure it is the ‘best material’ and that it can be recycled and recyclable into innovative sustainable products.
Bringing recycling technologies into operation now means Vita are at the forefront of driving a circular economy. More importantly, addressing the landfill crisis in manageable increments will help make a difference in climate change.
Call us on 020 7633 4500 letsrecycle.com Environment Media Group Ltd Suite 1.15, 1st Floor Millbank Tower 21-24 Millbank London SW1P 4QP
© Environment Media Group Ltd 2022. Company registration number 03959158. Registered office: 55 Station Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 1QL
We are using cookies to give you the best browsing experience on our website.
You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in settings .
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
Keeping these cookies enabled helps us to fund and improve our website which is free to visit and use. All such information remains confidential and we use only to determine which pages are popular with readers.
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!