What the Latest NBF Report Tells Us About the State of Mattress Recycling

After their insightful 2016 End of Life Mattress Report, the National Bed Federation (NBF) continue to closely research the state of mattress recycling in the UK, with their recent update report revealing the latest situation for end of life mattresses.


Reduced recycling rates

The NBF’s latest report reveals that the overall UK recycling rate for mattresses dropped to 13% in 2015 compared to 16% in 2014. This 13% accounts for fewer than 900,000 mattresses out of the estimated 6.8 million new mattresses sold during the same period, so indicates a significant (and growing difference) between manufacture and disposal via recycling.

However, it’s also significant that although over this period of time (2014 – 2015), the number of new mattresses produced rose from 5.9 million to 6.8 million, when recycling rates are broken down, it’s actually been this commercial sector which has been responsible for maintaining, and even increasing their own rates of recycling end of life mattresses. This commercial sector, which includes retailers, manufacturers and prisons, jointly recycled 39% more mattresses in 2015 than in 2014, with a pro-active process of removing old mattresses at the point of delivery of new items. Such action demonstrates both recognition of and a taking of responsibility for ethical recycling of end of life mattresses by this sector.

Unfortunately though, according to the NBF report, it’s local councils and their removal of mattresses, either as bulky waste or during fly-tipping removal, which accounts for the largest number of mattresses, a massive 81%, which could and should be recycled. It’s the lack of recycling from this sector which has significantly contributed to the reduction in overall rates of mattress recycling.

Slowing the statistics 

The report outlines possibilities as to why it’s the local authority end of recycling which is slowing previous success, noting several contributory factors:

  • Cost to councils

The NBF’s report includes figures from local councils and recognises that the actions of cash-strapped local authorities has a considerable bearing on whether mattresses end up languishing in landfill or are responsibly recycled. With many local councils struggling to keep council tax and bulky item collection costs affordable for families, and with reduced funding for recycling and few incentives from the government, local authorities struggling with reduced resources find themselves under increasing pressure to take the lowest cost disposal option. For councils which do not already have access to fully functional, funded and cost-efficient recycling centres, ‘affordable’ usually means disposing of mattresses in the local tip – even if this means costing the earth literally in clogging up landfill and damaging the environment, with non-biodegradable aspects of mattresses, such as steel springs.

Cost of compliance

Even where private or council-run recycling centres are available, the costs of making these fully compliant with environmental, health and insurance regulations often means that, coupled with less money, running recycling plants may not be an affordable option for councils or private companies.

Cost of commodities

Successfully getting mattresses to recycling centres is only one part of the problem. Once mattresses are stripped to their component parts, ready to be recycled, it’s then a case of finding buyers to take these component materials at a price which makes the recycling cost-effective. The NBF report adds that the recycling market overall has been affected by low commodity rates, so much so that many recycling firms, including in the West Midlands, East Midlands, North East and Northern Ireland, have either stopped accepting mattresses or have closed down entirely.

Add to this the fact that even when recycled into component parts mattress waste still constitutes a bulky item, the costs of transporting retrieved textiles, for example, also contributes to the overall problem of commodities cost.

Moving on with mattress recycling

Although retailers and manufacturers are stepping up to help improve recycling rates for mattresses, it’s clear that success in this area has been diminished by lack of progress from councils. This puts an increasing onus on households to consider responsible recycling of their own mattresses.

Although many households might initially dismiss arranging for the recycling of their own mattresses as a potentially costly-option, considered in the context of significant council bulky item collection charges, such as £57.50 for a single furnishing item (for instance a bed or mattress) in the London Borough of Barnet, arranging mattress collection and recycling through a private company can be more affordable than council collection. Comparing costs with local council collection is made easy by a handy UK map of council collection costs, on the Collect Your Old Bed website.