, ,

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. ‘


Also read – Plasticers in plastic slow down baby’s language development

The first Plastic Health Summit in the world

We eat, drink and breathe microplastics. Does it make us ill? This is the key question during the world’s first Plastic Health Summit. On October 3 2019, the Plastic Soup Foundation and ZonMw, in cooperation with the Plastic Health Coalition, are organizing conference around the effects of plastic on human health. The initial test results of no less than 15 ground-breaking Dutch scientific research projects will be presented.

New evidence will also be presented regarding the health effects on our day-to-day life of – for example – BPA, PFAS, phthalates and other chemical additives to plastic. We will bring the different players together – industry, politicians, scientists – as we search for shared solutions and strive to form concrete partnerships.

Admission to the conference in Amsterdam is on a “By Invite Only” basis. Do you think you should attend this prestigious event? Tell us why you should be there in a mail to rsvp@plasticsoupfoundation.org

 

, ,

We eat, drink and breathe more than 100,000 microplastics per year

Amsterdam, 27 June 2019 – The fact that each day we eat, drink and breathe microplastics has been known for some time; but the number of microplastics involved was still unclear. Researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada have now investigated how many microplastics an average American citizen intakes. An estimate was also made for American children.

Estimates

Based on previously published data on microplastics in food & beverage and in the air, the researchers made estimates of the minimum intake. An adult male in America intakes the most plastic particles: about 121,000 microplastics per year. For women the figure is 98,000 particles. The largest sources of microplastics turned out to be bottled water, fish and shellfish. Bottled water contains no less than 94 particles of microplastics per litre, compared to 4 particles per litre in tap water. It is estimated that children ingest between 74,000 and 81,000 plastic particles annually.

Gross underestimation

However, the available data is far from complete. For example, there is no data available on the amount of microplastics in chicken, beef, cereals and vegetables. The food & beverage groups included in this study therefore represent only 15% of the calorie intake of the average American. For this reason, according to the researchers, the figures presented are probably a gross underestimation of the actual exposure. They recommend research into other food groups in order to obtain a more complete picture.

WWF campaign

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently started a new campaign: we would ingest five grams of microplastics per week, comparable to the weight of a credit card. These five grams are based on an intake via food & drink of about 2,000 particles per week, of which 90% is through bottled water. The Canadian study also found around 2,000 particles per week, but that includes the particles we breathe. The WWF did not consider airborne intake.

Knowledge gap has health consequences

However, it does not seem appropriate to emphasise the weight of the intake. It is suspected that the most harmful particles weigh the least. This is also emphasised by the Canadian researchers. The smaller, and therefore lighter, particles may be able to pass through the intestinal and lung barriers and spread through the rest of our bodies. However, it is not known to what extent these particles are ingested, as they are so small that they cannot be detected with the current measurement methods.

Plastic Soup Foundation is concerned that so little research has been done into the health effects of micro- and nanoplastics and wants to know if we become sick from them. The aim of the Plastic Health Coalition, a partnership between scientists and environmental organisations initiated by the Plastic Soup Foundation, is to answer this question.


Read also – Plastic in your body: emphasis on size rather than weight
Read also – Health Council: “Prevent health risks caused by micro and nanoplastics”

, ,

Tyre wear and tear one of the most important sources of microplastics in the environment

Amsterdam, 18 June 2019 – Driving, especially accelerating and breaking, causes wear and tear of car tyres, which produces small plastic particles. These particles can become microplastics and end up in sewers, surface waters and air. In other words, car traffic contributes to particulate matter and environmental pollution. Recent research by the Dutch Open University, estimates that particulate matter of tyre wear and tear is responsible for 130,000 to 300,000 deaths worldwide. 

Researchers calculated this number by gathering data on car use and mileage from thirteen different countries: eight Western European countries, Australia, India, Brazil, China and the United States. This data represents about half of the world’s population and 60% of the vehicles worldwide. The researchers then calculated that the global average of emitted tyre dust per person equals an average of 0.8 kilograms per year. The average in the Netherlands is about half a kilogram of tyre particles per person per year.

Pathways into the environment

Particulate matter consists of 3% to 7% tyre dust. But these tyre dust particles are not only airborne; they also contribute to the plastic soup in rivers and oceans. An estimated 5% to 10% of the plastics found in the ocean can be attributed to tyre dust. This makes tyre dust, after discarded plastic waste, the second largest source of microplastics in the environment.

Next steps

There is currently no alternative material available for car tyres. However, the researchers suggest several mitigating policies. The wear and tear of tyres will decrease with the use of wear resistant tyres, open asphalt concrete for roads and self-driving cars. In addition, the researchers suggest an increased efficiency in capturing microplastics by waste water treatment plants should reduce the amount microplastics in rivers and oceans. 


Also read:

We eat drink and breathe more than 100000 microplastics per year

Tyre particles and microfibers from clothing are a major source of plastic soup