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Better recycling of synthetic mattresses is half-baked solution

Amsterdam, 21 August 2019 – In the Netherlands, 1.2 million mattresses per year are placed at the side of the road as large household waste. Two thirds of these, a few hundred million kilos, are burned. Nearly all those mattresses consist of synthetic materials. If by mid-2019 no meaningful steps have been taken by the sector to reduce this mountain of waste, the government will take legal measures in the form of a mandatory manufacturer responsibility. The majority of the sector opt for recycling. This, however, is a half-baked solution. The real solution is the plastic-free mattress. 

Recycling initiatives

Presently, about 15% of the mattresses are now disassembled and processed, the rest are burned. The mattress industry has the objective to increase the percentage of processed mattresses. Various recycling initiatives have already come into being. Auping and DSM-Niaga have developed a circular mattress. Elements of that mattress are easy to separate and can then be used in new mattresses. In collaboration with waste processor Renewi, IKEA has been investing in the recycling of mattresses. RetourMatras recycles mattresses and reuses more than 90% of the materials. Mattress Recycling Europe collects discarded mattresses in municipalities. These are first placed on collecting carts and are then brought to a processing line.

Harmful substances

Synthetic mattresses contain harmful substances that cannot be removed during the recycling process. Substances such as flame retardants and softening agents are held responsible for a range of diseases. For this reason, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018 pointed to the health risks of the circular economy. In the national plan for endocrine disruptors in a circular economy presented last year, the Dutch foundation Wemos pleaded for a clean circular economy. The urgent advice is to avoid harmful substances at the design stage. For synthetic mattresses, however, this solution is an illusion. For instance, flame retardants are added intentionally, as plastics are particularly flammable.

Implementation programme

The government wants the use of raw materials to be halved in 2030 to eventually realise a waste-free economy. One of the ‘icon projects’ in the framework of the Implementation Programme Circular Economy entails improved reuse and design of mattresses. This project focuses on the recycling of discarded mattresses (95% in 2025) and a more durable design, so that in 2025 75% of new mattresses are easier to disassemble to reuse the materials. But circular mattress design should take into account the harmful substances. And the project is silent on precisely that issue.

The true circular mattress has already been in existence for a long time

The cabinet strives to burn significantly fewer mattresses, to recycle a much larger proportion of discarded mattresses, and to more mattresses being designed circularly. However, circular design is not defined. It mainly indicates modular design, so that a discarded mattress can easily be disassembled for usable parts. However, the icon project does not mention the truly circular mattress at all. That mattress simply exists already, is plastic-free and therefore free from harmful substances. This circular mattress consists exclusively of perfectly recyclable organic materials.

Baby mattresses

Especially the demand for organic baby mattresses has increased in recent years. Babies and small children are extra vulnerable to the harmful substances in synthetic mattresses. They sleep a lot and lie with their face directly on the mattress. The artisan company Lavital produces mattresses for adults that consist entirely of natural raw materials, and now also makes mattresses for cots.

Lavital has become a business angel of the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF). The company donates part of the proceeds of sold children’s mattresses to the PSF (fill in code ‘ PSF ‘ when ordering the baby mattress).

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: ‘It is very important that companies like Lavital show that you do not have to sleep on plastic with harmful additives. Paricularly babies deserve to make a good start. We are super proud that Lavital has become one of our business angels. ‘


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