ISPA and MRC Address Mattress Recycling Issues on Global Stage

Mattress recycling is a growing issue worldwide.

This January, leaders of the International Sleep Products Association and the Mattress Recycling Council had an opportunity at IMM, an international interiors show, in Cologne, Germany, to connect and share best practices with representatives of recycling programs in other countries.

mattress recycling
(From left) Mike O’Donnell, Andrew Douglas, Nick Oettinger and Cécile des Abbayes. Credit: Leonie Lötsch

The German mattress industry association traditionally has hosted a “sleep lounge” at IMM in Hall 9 of the Koelnmesse Exhibit Complex. This year, show organizers also asked ISPA and MRC to host a similar sleep lounge in Hall 5.1 and focus on mattress recycling.

“ISPA and MRC were honored to be invited by IMM to host an education program focused on used mattress recycling,” said Ryan Trainer, president of ISPA and MRC. “We had informative discussions with our counterparts from around the world about common goals and challenges we each face.  We left the meeting with lots of new ideas.”

ISPA hosted an exhibit space that included videos about MRC’s U.S. activity, articles and publications ISPA and MRC have produced discussing mattress recycling, samples of recycled materials from discarded mattresses, and a classroom area where two panel discussions were held. (See list of participating panelists at right.)

The first panel involved experts from organizations in Australia, France, the U.K. and the U.S. that are involved in mattress recycling.  Although each group is focused on recycling mattresses efficiently, their approaches vary widely in terms of product scope (ranging from mattresses only to all furniture), funding (from consumer fees to industry funding to collector fees) and geographic coverage (from regional to national).

The second panel focused on equipment that can be used to dismantle used mattresses and process the materials into new products. A new machine from Australia uses high-pressure water to rip a mattress apart, while a system designed in Italy can process soft recycled mattress materials into nonwoven products for use as insulation and padding.

The experience “exceeded my expectations,” said Mike O’Donnell, MRC managing director.

“I oversee 11 different recyclers in the U.S. and know what they do well and where they can improve their operations. To be able to sit down and have a really open, honest conversation about recycling processes in France, the U.K. and Australia was fantastic. We are all concerned about end markets and commodities. … We’re all looking ahead to make sure our programs are sustainable in the long run.”

Andrew Douglas, national manager for Resource Recovery Australia, an Australian nonprofit that includes the mattress recycling social enterprise Soft Landing, agreed. In an email he wrote, “It was great to be able to discuss shared problems, learnings and assumptions with like minded people from around the world. … My organization values collaboration and we will be fully supportive of any moves to unify, share information and professionalize the sector.”

Some of those common challenges mattress-recycling operations face include getting mattresses to recyclers in the most efficient manner and developing new and better markets for the recycled material. 

“It was fascinating hearing the different approaches being taken in each country,” noted Nick Oettinger, with the U.K.’s Furniture Recycling Group.

Everyone seemed eager to share and collaborate on this industry issue, and ISPA looks forward to hosting similar sessions in the future, Trainer said.

“The connections that we made through this experience will benefit U.S. mattress producers, our recyclers and consumers,” he said. “I am excited about how the relationships we formed this year at IMM will help all of us improve mattress recycling in the future.” n

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