Mattress recycling | A study by QUT and Wanless Waste Management

An average of 1.6 to 1.8 million mattresses are disposed of annually in Australia ( Planet ArkRecycling, 2020 ), and only a small percentage are recycled. Why? It is a question QUT Centre for a Waste-Free World and Wanless Waste Management sought to answer in its Mattress Recycling Scoping Study , and in the process, come up with some answers to this environmental issue.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

The majority of end-of-life mattresses wind up in landfill. Each one amounts to .75m3 space and the leaching of flammable chemicals may precipitate fires on site. Collectively, this practice has contributed to a waste crisis that requires better solutions.

Mattress recycling reduces greenhouse gas  (GHG) emissions through diversion from landfill, and it allows repurposing rather than  needing as much virgin material for manufacturing. An enhanced recycling program could also save on landfill levies, whilst generating enhanced employment opportunities.

Refurbishing and repurposing the natural fibre, springs and residual waste can lessen emissions by 90 percent compared to sending mattresses to landfill.

Recycling mattresses right

Mattresses are known for having carcinogens and other hazardous components, particularly in the polyurethane foam, adhesives, and flame retardants that pose serious risks to people and biodiversity. Recycling procedures must be enacted according to legislative regulations to protect  the health and safety of workers as well as to  mitigate risks to the public.

Currently, Wanless operates a  number of waste management  facilities to fulfil commercial contracts in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, including a recycling plant for mattresses in New South Wales.

Potential resource streams

What is apparent from conducting this study is there is potential to scale value from the recovery of resources from unwanted mattresses, especially due to high turnover rates that come from commercial and industrial facilities such as hotels and aged care facilities.

QUT researchers are able to contribute their knowledge of biochemical conversions and thermochemical processes to develop new applications for the separated materials. One team has already trialled breakthrough processes for fibre through a patented process to separate polyester cotton fabrics into cotton powder and polyester pellets ready for production.

Some feasible composite and standalone product ideas include:

•  Foam insulation

• Pressed and moulded building panels

• Asphalt and road furniture

• Resin/filler additives

• Lignocellulosic biomass with other waste streams for infrastructure or carbon-neutral energy

• Investigate fabric as a feedstock to develop unique  carbon materials if it is sustainable.

Wanless Waste Management is committed to effecting change within the waste industry through engaging strategic initiatives. We currently achieve an almost 90% recycling rate, managing multiple waste streams through our Sydney Recycling Centre. Contact us to find out more.