Talking Point: Hotels shouldn’t roll over on mattress recycling

What are hotels' responsibilities for mattress recycling?

What are hotels' responsibilities for mattress recycling?

In today's Talking Point, Nick Oettinger of The Furniture Recycling Group says hotels have an obligation to re-use or recycle bulky waste and the circular economy model offers an alternative to landfill.

It can often be a difficult task for hotels to remove, transport and dispose of mattresses, and figures in the UK show that only a small percentage of mattresses are recycled responsibly, with 7.5 million discarded to landfill sites – usually the cheapest, quickest option.

From a sustainability policy point of view, end of life (EOL) mattresses are a problematic waste product, not least because of their size and cumbersome nature. Difficult to handle, mattresses fall under the category of bulky waste; awkward to manoeuvre, expensive to transport and breakdown. All in all, a chore to recycle and as a result, fewer than necessary are disposed of in this way within the hotel and hospitality industry.

In the UK we throw out around 1,600,000 tonnes of bulky waste every year. Approximately 19 percent of this falls into the textile category; largely made up of sofas and mattresses, with the majority of items being sent to landfill.

Despite landfill tax pushing up the cost of putting rubbish in the ground in the last 10 years, it remains arguably the cheapest and most straightforward option for bulky waste. However, the UK is experiencing an over dependence on landfill. Due to the worrying impact this over dependence has on the environment, bans have already been imposed in many EU countries, with governments and policy makers realising that alternative, more environmentally friendly solutions are required if countries are to meet their carbon footprint reduction obligations.

With regards to mattresses in particular, an on-going European Union Waste Management Policy Review Process may soon affect UK Government policy on mattress recycling, with the bed industry and those connected with it - including hotels and hospitality - set to face at some stage a legislative requirement to dispose of EOL mattresses in an environmentally acceptable way.

Headway is already being made, with statistics showing that in the UK 450,000 mattresses were collected for recycling in 2012 and just a year later, this had increased by 30 per cent, but despite the increase, this still only accounts for a small percentage of the total mattress disposal in the UK.

While on the surface the reasons for this slow evolution and widespread acceptance of mattress recycling among hoteliers is largely cost associated whilst landfill remains the cheaper option, other barriers do exist. These include the lack of outlets and services that could help hotel owners, managers and their teams dispose of mattresses, as well as the uncertainty around the design and composition of mattresses to recycle their components.

Some hotel groups have already committed to mattress recycling. Others may work with the local community to find worthy recipients of mattresses which still have a lot of life in them; for example homeless shelters, hostels, or projects which supply reduced cost furniture for housing schemes.

Founder of women’s travel website Maiden Voyage, Carolyn Pearson, brought her business sense and a passion for helping the homeless together to encourage hotels to make a difference.

To many charities’ dismay, hotels often dispose of otherwise usable consumables and furnishings when they're ready to be replaced. Hotels have an opportunity to support their local communities by donating their old supplies instead of adding to overflowing landfills.

Pearson said, “I thought I would test the idea of having hotels donate unwanted items to organisations by introducing Oulton Hall to Calderdale SmartMove, a local charity that provides a high quality, client-centred service assisting homeless and vulnerably housed people.”

Oulton Hall, Leeds, one of Maiden Voyage’s certified ‘female friendly’ hotels, jumped at the opportunity to get involved by donating items such as duvet’s, pillows and furniture from bedrooms that were undergoing refurbishment. By donating their old duvets and pillows, not only did Oulton Hall help the environment by recycling, they also helped those who are most vulnerable.

Giving away bedding and other things like furniture, spare toiletries etc. is not always at the forefront of hotelier’s minds but for the likes of Oulton hotel, it was a natural way to help those in need. To learn more about their donation click here.

With a clear environmental demand for a solution to avoiding mattresses to landfill, The Furniture Recycling Group perfected a dismantling process, which separates the 14 different material types. Using specially designed tools, the ticking, comfort layers and insulator pads are removed separately ensuring no cross contamination of fibres. Stitching and staples are also removed. This process is manual as currently no machine in the world can accurately separate the cotton polyester mix from denim polyester mix. Their highly trained staff work across two material handling points to ensure that contamination is minimised. The processes ensure accuracy of segregation of recyclate. The company also needed to source sustainable outlets for all of the materials generated.

Having recycled 700,000 mattresses since launch, The Furniture Recycling Group has identified a social and business case for partner industries in the hotel sector to take notice of their responsibilities regarding mattress disposal. Hotels now have the chance to put in place a policy which ensures they are best placed to respond to any new legislation that comes into force, or to be seen and credited as leaders and trailblazers in the industry – paving the way for responsible business practice and advocates of the circular economy.

It’s an opportunity for partners in the hotel and hospitality sector to draw on the principles of a circular economy – where resources are recovered and recycled back into new resources – to educate and inform on the benefits of making good on old mattresses.

The UK’s – and the world’s - end of life mattresses can be turned back into the very products they were – increasing environmental sustainability and tackling the landfill problem.

For more information on recycling mattresses responsibly and efficiently, visit And here's a handy guide to dealing with mattresses responsibly in the US.

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