What lies beneath – mattress waste in the hotel industry

In this feature for Green Hotelier, Christopher Hunter of Naturalmat delves into the world of the hotel mattress to find out what lies beneath.

Despite a growing trend towards sustainability in the hospitality industry, there is evidence to show that cheap, environmentally unfriendly mattresses with short life-spans continue to be a popular choice by hotels at both ends of the market. A standard hotel mattress is made from non-renewable resources, produces a large amount of waste, and has a significant carbon cost associated with its production and delivery.

Hoteliers, unsurprisingly, point to price as a key driver in their product selection. Yet in an environmentally-conscious industry that is supposed to be selling sleep above all else, the investment in the bed and its green credentials should be priorities. After all, given their limited lives, cheap options are not only impractical and wasteful, but they usually also represent poor value for money versus longer-lasting eco-friendly alternatives.

Mattresses, like most consumer goods, vary enormously in quality and price and this range is reflected in the divergent choices made by hoteliers. Overall though, there is little evidence to show that mattresses are normally an item of high priority when it comes to a hotel’s environmental planning or when allocating bedroom investment.

To put it into context, £7,000-£12,000 represents the cost of FFE refurbishment per key in the majority of 3-5* hotels. Within that, £200-£700 is the normal spending range per mattress, with a large concentration of top hotels spending at the lower end of this spectrum. For an increased investment equivalent to roughly one night’s room stay, hotels could instead get something greener and better.

According to Jessica Alexander of The Sleep Council:

What hotel guests seem to want most of all from their hotel stay is to have a good night’s sleep and a decent bed is key. Beds should be the star of the bedroom, not the also ran. Selling the bed, its features and its quality is a potentially potent message for guests. Most hoteliers don’t get further than a ‘double or king size’ message.

Quality in sales terms is linked to comfort but in the eyes of environmentalists and hoteliers, it is also linked to a less subjective factor: longevity. There are two key factors that determine the useful life of a hotel mattress: durability and hygiene.

The durability of a mattress depends on what it is made from and how well it is made. The most common constituents are foam (polyurethane is less expensive and hence more common then latex; memory foam is a new technology growing in popularity) and springs (open coil is likewise cheaper and more prevalent than pocket sprung) but air, water and a variety of natural substances are used as well. The combination of these elements dictates the quality of the end product but overall cheaper mattresses tend to equal quicker wear.

Hygiene is a major concern for hotels and their guests and once below a certain level of cleanliness, a mattress must be replaced. The bed can quickly become an environment popular with dust-mites and bed-bugs. However, there are an increasing number of ways to counter these problems with pre-treatments, encasements, mattress protectors and external sanitisers. Therefore, simply replacing the mattress for hygiene reasons alone is no longer creditable.

Environmental Impact

With over 700,000 rooms in the UK serviced accommodation sector usually replacing mattresses every 2-7 years, many millions of tonnes of carbon emissions and waste are created. According to FIRA, a double mattress has on average a carbon footprint of 79 kilograms of CO2 and this is far higher when its delivery and packaging are taken into consideration. In addition, a mattress typically requires over 20 cubic feet of landfill space and will take over 10 years to decompose.

Encouragingly, the recyclability of mattresses has improved significantly in recent times to the point that no waste should end up in a landfill, although currently a significant amount still does. The Nottingham-based Furniture Recycling Company, part of the Keen and Toms Group, which also owns the successful Hypnos brand, is a market sector leader and it now recycles 2000 tonnes of waste every year.

Positive steps

The concept of a natural mattress is hardly a new one. Before the market became dominated by synthetic foam and sprung products, you would have found coir, latex and lamb’s wool in a mattress. Mattresses made with these constituents often last for longer whilst having a smaller carbon footprint than their modern counterparts.

There are a few sustainable mattress manufacturers in the market that make a truly green product. Two of the leaders in the UK market are Naturalmat and Hypnos. As the hospitality industry increasingly embraces the environmental agenda, these companies have a strategic opportunity to grow and develop this area of business.

Another differentiator of green mattress brands are natural treatments such as eucalyptus, geraniol, lavender and lemon that have anti-dust mite, anti-moth, anti-mosquito and anti bed-bug qualities. Their pest-prevention ability has been verified by independent laboratory test results and currently Naturalmat is one of the only companies in the UK to use these treatments on its products.

Stuart Harrison, managing director of the Profitable Hotel Company and an ambassador for Naturalmat says:

Hotels are constantly searching for that differential to make them stand out from the run of the mill. An ethical, green mattress, with the added benefit of its ability to defeat bed bugs and bed mites is such a story. As a hotel marketer I would want to promote this on my web site. Similarly if you are attempting to differentiate room types within a hotel then again this works in terms of the product offering.

Final thoughts

A recent IBISworld report on mattress manufacturing in the UK tabled 2011 sales at £495m across 112 businesses, of which approximately 10% was the hospitality industry. The volume of mattresses purchased, used and thrown away by the industry is substantial and if longer lasting environmentally friendly mattresses became the industry standard it would make a significant positive environmental impact. Despite the higher initial investment, the eco-friendly mattress promises to offer an equal, if not better ROI (return on investment) than cheaper alternatives. In any case, as the hotel industry strives to become ever more sustainable, surely its main commodity should be high on its list of things to make green?


One Response to What lies beneath – mattress waste in the hotel industry

  1. Pingback: What Lies Beneath | Organic Baby Mattresses

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