How Sustainable is the UK Mattress Industry? (2023 Study)

Over 7 million mattresses are thrown away in the UK every year. To put this into perspective, this is the equivalent to fill the Wembley Stadium five times over [1].

However, just around 24% of these were sent for recycling, according to a 2021 report by the National Bed Federation (NBF) [2]. The remaining 76% of mattresses end up in a landfill, which is a staggering number. Looking at the statistics, a lot more needs to be done in order to ensure that the rate of mattress recycling goes up. 

How to dispose of a mattress:

When a mattress reaches its end of life and is ready to be thrown away, there are several things a person can do:

recycling old mattress

1. They can contact their local council and arrange for the collection and disposal of bulky waste, which includes mattresses. However, there is little information on what happens to the collected mattresses, with local authorities simply saying that they will recycle some or all of the waste where possible.

2. They can contact the company that delivers their new mattress (if they’re planning on buying a new one) and see if they offer old mattress collection and recycling. 

3. Use a company specialised in mattress removal and recycling in their area.

4. If the mattress is in good condition and has its fire label attached, it can be donated to a local charity.

5. A person can take the mattress to a tip, however this means that it will end up in a landfill. 

Perhaps the most convenient way to have an old mattress recycled (if the person is planning on replacing it), is to order old mattress recycling from a mattress retailer. 

After conducting a study, we found that 78% of online mattress retailers offer “old mattress collection and recycling” to customers who buy a new mattress [3]. All they have to do is add the “mattress recycling” service at the check out page, when they buy their new mattress. There is a fee for this service, usually around £30-£45 per item, depending on the retailer. 

Despite the fact that the majority of mattress retailers already offer this service (usually by partnering with a third party recycling facility), more can be done to make this an industry wide practice, making it a requirement for all mattress retailers to offer this service to customers.

The retailers that currently don’t offer a recycling service, will need to partner with a third party recycling facility, and arrange the logistics of booking and collection. This will close the recycling gap, when a mattress reaches its end of life and is ready to be replaced by a new one.

Can an old mattress be recycled?

Yes, it’s entirely possible to recycle an old mattress. Most or all of the materials inside can be stripped and used to make other products. 

There are dozens of mattress and furniture recycling facilities operating in the UK. In these facilities an old mattress will be stripped layer by layer, in order to separate the materials. 

steel pocket springs

The springs can be melted down and remade into new metal products. The synthetic layers such as foam are sanitised and used to make new products such as: carpet underlay, children’s playmats, yoga mats, etc. The comfort filings (cotton, polyester, etc.) can be repurposed into protective clothing. 

The material that is considered below grade and not fit for recycling, will be sent to energy from waste plants. 

In the UK residents have access to services, specialised in recycling old mattresses. However, awareness is low amongst people, about what sustainable options are available to them. According to a survey by the North London Waste Authority over 1 in 3 respondents (36%) think it’s not yet possible to recycle a mattress [4]. This means that more can be done to raise public awareness.

Why is this important?

mattress in landfill

There are over 7 million mattresses thrown away in the UK every year. What’s more, according to the same survey conducted by the North London Waste Authority, 22 million people discard their mattresses in less than seven years, and nearly 1 in 4 people do so in less than four years [5]. 

This means that people are disposing of their old mattresses faster, even though the recommended lifetime of a mattress is seven years. 

Another problem is raised by the fact that mattresses take up too much space in a landfill and they can take decades before they fully decompose. During that time harmful gasses and toxins are released into the atmosphere. 

Landfill sites release methane, which is a greenhouse gas that’s between 28 and 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide [6]. Additionally, landfill sites account for 22% of methane emissions in the UK. [7] 

If people use and discard mattresses too quickly, it results in unnecessary carbon emissions that are bad for the environment. Keeping a mattress longer and recycling it at the end of it useful live are two positive things consumers can do for the environment.

Some companies in the mattress industry have taken steps to minimise their carbon footprint, by adopting different sustainability initiatives and practices.

Hypnos is first bedmaker to be recognised as carbon neutral over 10 years ago. The company has a PAS 2060 Carbon Neutrality standard since 2011.

plant a tree initiative

Harrison Spinks has received Carbon Neutral + accreditation in 2019. The company has even opened their own recycling plant and will recycle any old Harrison Spinks mattress containing Cortec™ pocket springs free of charge.

Nectar Sleep sells climate neutral mattresses and has a certification with ClimatePartner. They calculate the CO2 emissions generated from each mattress they sell. The company then offsets these emissions by supporting different projects such as Forest Protection in Santa Maria Brazil and Para Brazil [8].

A number of mattress retailers participate in a Plant a Tree initiative, where a tree is planted for every order. 

Eco-friendly mattresses

It takes a lot of energy and materials to make new mattresses; in fact, a double size mattress has a carbon footprint of 79 kg CO2 emissions [9]. 

Mattresses are made using different types of materials, usually they include: memory foam, latex, pocket springs, or coil springs (also known as innerspring). In addition to this, there could be a layer of cotton, polyester, wool, mohair, silk, cashmere, coir, or flax used as a filling to make the mattress more comfortable.

In most cases, only new materials are being used in the manufacturing process. However, in recent years, companies have started to use recycled materials in the production of new products. 

recycling plastic bottles to make mattress

Perhaps the most well known example is the Silentnight Eco Comfort mattress range. The company recycles plastic bottles, grounds them into flakes, which are then washed, dried and melted. From this process they create new polyester micro flakes, which are used in the production of new mattresses, duvets and mattress toppers. 

As a result of their efforts, every year the company uses the equivalent of 105 million recycled plastic bottles in manufacturing new sleep products with their proprietary Eco Comfort fibres.

That’s the equivalent of 150 plastic bottles going into each Silentnight Eco Comfort Breathe mattress. These bottles would have otherwise gone to landfill sites or entered our oceans. 

Another notable example are Hypnos mattresses. Some of them have a layer of eOlus™ fibres, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. The company estimates that they has used over 235 million plastic bottles into eOlus™ fibres for some of their mattresses, since they first introduced this material [10].

The Slumberland Natural Solutions Mattress range, sold exclusively by Bensons for Beds, has a layer of truECOmfort, composed of 75% recycled PET plastic. That is the equivalent of over 100 plastic bottles per double size mattress.

recycling old clothes

A number of M&S mattresses have a layer of recycled polyester or a layer of recycled clothes that were donated to the M&S Schwopping scheme. 

The Fogarty mattress brand, owned and sold by Dunelm, also uses eco materials. Several of them have a layer of Eco-Flex material made from recycled textile and clothing fibres.

Harrison Spinks uses only natural or sustainable fibres in its mattresses. They source their polyester from GRS (Global Recycle Standard) accredited suppliers, which is made from recycled fibres. 

Buying an eco-friendly mattress

In recent years mattress retailers have started to offer eco-friendly mattresses to their product range. Customers can compare and choose between different brands and models, and buy an environmentally conscious product for their home.

What’s more, prices of eco-friendly mattresses are quite reasonable, ranging between £199-£569 for a double size. 

When comparing different models, people need to read the description carefully. First, they need to check the depth of the mattress, usually 25cm depth is considered sufficient, offering proper support and comfort.

Secondly, they need to take into account that every mattress is made up of different layers of materials. The product description and product images should clearly explain what’s inside.

For example, there could be a layer of recycled polyester or cotton, or EcoComfort or eOlus™ fibres (made from recycled plastic). Below that there is usually a layer of pocket springs. 

Using eco-friendly materials in the production of new mattresses is a good start. Alongside that, the industry can also work on introducing strandardised product labels, so that there is more transparency and clarity.

Each year customers are becoming more environmentally conscious when making different purchasing decisions and the industry needs to take this into consideration. Selling more mattresses that been made in an environmentally-friendly way and recycling old mattresses, are two steps towards making the mattress industry more sustainable and will ultimately have a positive impact on our environment.