Eco Living

Tackling the UK’s mattress landfill problem

Scotland shouldn’t take the UK’s mattress landfill problem lying down, says recycling group founder

Have you ever wondered what happens to the millions of old and discarded mattresses thrown out by UK households every year?

Meet Nick Oettinger, founder of The Furniture Recycling (TFR) Group, who launched the business in 2012 to help tackle the UK’s mattress landfill problem. 

His journey into the recycling industry began while he was working as an improvement consultant. There was a poignant moment at a landfill site when a mattress became wrapped around the drive shaft of a delivery vehicle on site, which spurred Nick to think about how he could break down each component of the mattress to ensure as much of it was recycled and 100% diverted from landfill. 

With his passion for the environment – and with a great deal of determination – Nick decided he wanted to tackle difficult waste streams to generate a sustainable business, which achieves maximum recycling. 

It was only a matter of time before the UK’s businesses, local authorities and hotel chains became aware of this new, forward-thinking company, and mutually rewarding partnerships soon began to blossom, including a partnership with retail giants John Lewis. 

Last year, TFR Group was behind the build and launch of the world’s first automated mattress recycling machine. This innovation has cut the time taken to recycle mattresses from a day’s work to 2.5 minutes, meaning that more mattresses can be recycled than ever before. 

The company recycled 30% of all mattresses in the UK last year and has its sights set on recycling 50% of all mattresses in the UK by the end of the year. 

In 2014, TFR Group teamed up with the University of St Andrews to transform textile recycling processes in its student accommodation and introduce a circular economy system.

Since joining forces, more than 2,000 mattresses, duvets and pillows have been donated for recycling and reuse by the University of St Andrews’ student body. As a result, the University is steadily working towards the target of achieving zero waste to landfill by 2020. 

“It can often be a difficult task for universities, and its halls of residence, to remove, transport and dispose of mattresses,” says Nick.

“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.”

“With more than 1 million mattresses recycled so far, TFR Group has an average recycling rate of 96%, with the remainder going to energy from waste providing 100% landfill diversion.

For more information on recycling mattresses responsibly and efficiently, visit tfrgroup.co.uk.

Why Scotland needs to step up

Scotland is the worst offender when it comes to recycling, according to a recent report. Thanks, in part, to its low levels of recycling (just 42.8% of waste) the UK will fail to meet its overall target of 50% recycling by 2020, unless changes are made now.

The current focus on plastics has left a mounting crisis when it comes to other waste, with a lack of attention on bulky waste like mattresses, says TFR Group.

Mattresses are a particular landfill problem, as recyclers can struggle to find space to store mattresses with an ever-growing mountain of mattresses going their way.

More than 7 million mattresses go to landfill each year in the UK, according to TFR Group, which is enough to fill Wembley Stadium five times over. Despite the landfill tax increasing every year, landfill still remains a cheaper option than recycling.

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