Talking Point – Is there an environmentally friendly alternative to fire retardants?

What natural alternatives are there for fire retardant furniture?

What natural alternatives are there for fire retardant furniture?

Mark Dowen Managing Director of Cottonsafe Natural Mattress is an expert on fire retardants in furniture and is passionate about producing safe and chemical free products. Here he asks whether hotels can find a more environmentally friendly solution to fire retardant furniture.

It is the responsibility for UK hotels to ensure that furniture and mattresses meet the UK Fire Regulations up to contract standard otherwise known as Crib 5. Whereas a retailer who sells to a customer is responsible for meeting the Fire Regulations, it is solely the hoteliers’ responsibility to make sure that the product they are buying meets the higher Contract regulations.

Furniture and mattress covering fabrics, such as cotton and polyester, must be back-coated with Fire Retardant (FR) chemicals to meet the UK Fire Regulations. Fillings such as foam also must be chemically treated with FR’s and amazingly up to 15% of the foam’s weight is in fact FR chemicals!

First introduced to the UK from the US in 1988, many of these chemicals are now banned or restricted in Europe, the US and Canada due to a myriad of health and environmental concerns. The UK is the only country continuing to use these chemicals in vast amounts in domestic and even more in contract furniture.

Health and Environmental issues

Many of the FR chemicals commonly used in furniture are associated with adverse health impacts including hyperactivity, poorer neurodevelopment and lower IQ, hormone disruption, fertility problems and cancer (including thyroid and breast cancer). Many FRs are also endocrine disruptors and low-dose exposures can lead to significant and irreversible health effects, including neurobehavioral and cognitive changes.

These chemicals migrate out of products over time into air, dust and waterways. A mattress or sofa is basically just a giant bellows blowing the FR dust into the environment, where it can be breathed in or under certain conditions absorbed through the skin.

How does this affect the UK hotel industry?

A most pressing problem for the hotel industry will be the disposal of FR treated furniture. As a signatory to the Stockholm Agreement, many of these FRs will not be able to be disposed of in UK landfill sites as they are classified as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Furniture and mattresses containing these chemicals will have to be disposed by high temperature incinerators of which the governments admit, they have very few. This will incur an additional charge and also tends to produce unwanted chemicals.

Although recycling is possible if furniture retains its fire safety sticker, this doesn’t alleviate the health issue, merely passes it on. Furniture without a sticker does often end up in landfill but the chemicals will then leach out into surrounding soil and water table in an uncontrolled fashion.

Some organisations are calling for governments to introduce EPRs – Extended Producer Responsibility – orders or programmes which would oblige furniture manufacturers and chemicals producers to take responsibility in collecting and safely disposing or re-using unwanted fire retardant furniture.

Looking to the future, hotels should seek out more naturally retardant materials. Wool is naturally flame retardant as well as mould, mildew and dust mite resistant. Soy and other plant-based fillings are increasingly used in the manufacture of various products, including some fabrics.

I was passionate about finding a natural solution, so developed a world’s first, completely unique, natural alternative to the FR chemicals using only organic cotton and wool (method patent pending). Whilst wool-only mattresses are available they tend to be very expensive and produce a prickly surface. Cottonsafe Natural Mattress® is the only completely natural luxury mattress with a cotton ticking which passes all the regulations right up to contract level without any chemicals at all. Cottonsafe fire protection also lasts for the life of the fabric and has none of the disposal, health or environmental problems.

What should hotels do?

Whilst the cost of replacing hotel furniture is already high, the additional cost of disposal will need to be factored in. Although there are many mattresses using natural fillings, most use FR chemicals to meet the safety standards. Green hoteliers must be diligent in ensuring that the mattresses and sofas they purchase are not only safe, but that they are free from FR chemicals and recyclable. By asking for fire certificates (which should be openly available from reputable manufacturers), hoteliers can be assured.

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