Europe’s flexible polyurethane foam industry could find itself having to produce more sustainable mattresses in the future. Visitors to the EuroPUR meeting in Lisbon heard from the experts whether they should consider it a threat – or an opportunity
Sustainability means more than merely including a few percent of biopolyol in a flexi- ble polyurethane formulation. Increasingly, it means that products should be designed at the outset for disassembly, with formulations kept simple to facilitate recycling. Perhaps the most important issue facing European mattress makers is to be ready for extended producer responsibility (EPR) in the EU.
Changing market demands and EU time limits for sustainability improvements will hit the mattress industry, according to Frederik Lauwaert, managing director of the European Bedding Industry Association (EBIA). ‘It will change the world for the bed- ding industry quite significantly,’ he said. ‘The EU is imposing increased recycling rates, and landfill will fall.’
There is enormous political pressure in the current e-waste legislation. ‘The EC has put a lot of focus on EPR schemes,’ he said. While only one country, France, is has such a scheme up and running already, discussions are ongoing in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium, he added. ‘Like it or not, political pressure is rising, and industry will not be able to delay discussions.’
Tempur Sealy, for one, welcomes the changes. ‘They force us to rethink the way we use raw materials,’ claimed Tom Mikkelsen, the company’s global senior category manager for chemicals. ‘We want to promote PU as a sustainable material.
But, he warned, there are no easy answers. ‘We also see that the movement, particularly on thermoplastics, forces politicians to find solutions which may not be fully sustainable,’ he said. ‘Is it really the best way to ship our trim waste across the ocean? If there is a combined in effort in the industry with foam, as mattress produc-ers and material suppliers, we will be able to adapt and prevail.’
France has set up a mattress and furniture collection and recycling process in place, called Eco-Mobilier. Remi Beulque, the programme’s advisor for development of innovative sectors, told the meeting: ‘It is important for industry to say that our products are well managed at the end of their life.’
He explained that France has set up about 5,000 collection points, which feed materials to dismantling centres. They then had to develop the markets. ‘They were small, and they still are small, but we anticipate that through R&D with the foam makers they will enable us to achieve our regulatory goals,’ Beulque said. ‘The French system relies on an organiser to link together a value chain, from collection to separators and companies who can create new materials and applications and find new markets.’
Ingrid Hontis, advisor environment and energy, Fedustria, said that it was clear that the industry cannot handle extended producer responsibility on its own. ‘As mattress producers, we need the entire value chain to help us,’ she said. ‘We need our suppliers and the waste operators. We want to bring them together in a working group on designing for circularity. This is a very important way to approach the value chain.’
This view was reflected by Eco-Mobilier’s Beulque, as he believes regulations and substances are always changing. ‘It would help if industry could collaborate with others over substances, and it will be helpful to have an approach which anticipated changes,’ he said. ‘The answer lies in production processes.’
He stressed that clarity of design for disassembly will be key. ‘It’s not just the mattress producers: the value chain needs to cooperate. We believe that EPR schemes and criteria can help guide companies and the materials they choose to use.’
Antonio Vasconeselos, managing partner at recyclability consultant New Next, reiterated that products must be made for easy disassembly. Furthermore, action to find processes that can cope with traditionally designed mattresses must run in parallel with simplifying the number of elements and materials used to make them. ‘We have to work on both all the market will impose change,’ he said.
Look out for snowballs
Tempur Sealy’s Mikkelsen added that there has been a real push towards renewables among customers for many products. ‘They expect a certain level of renewable or recyclables but, at the moment, it is not so much the case in the bedding industry,’ he said. ‘The tipping point is not close.’
However, be believes that the demand for renewables in mattresses, when it comes, will be a snowball effect. ‘It will be right in our face,’ he said. ‘This is why we need to start looking for solutions yesterday.
> Certainly, the mindset needs to change. I believe the end of life is going to be very beneficial, and allow us to take those mattresses back and turn them into something useful.’
It is clear that, at the moment, consumers are not prepared to pay more for mattresses made with more expensive products that are more environmentally friendly. ‘Several years ago, all raw material companies had natural oil polyols, that cost a little bit more,’ Mikkelsen said. ‘They are acceptable for manufacturing, but consumers were not willing to pay.’
EBIA’s Lauweart said that while some people are prepared to pay, others are not. ‘It is important to explain to consumers why there is an increase in price,’ he explained.
‘There is no room today for higher prices but, in the future, consumers could be ready to pay more for products.
Across the pond
Lee Salamone, senior director at the Centre for the Polyurethane Industry in the US, said that the country does not have extended producer responsibility schemes. There are formal programmes in some states, notably the Bye Bye Mattress scheme in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where a fee is imposed to facilitate the collection, processing and disassembly of mattresses.
‘It’s not mandatory,’ Salamone said. ‘There are 50 or so mattress recyclers, who have collected and recycled 4.5m mattress- es, about 3m of them in California. The fee is mandatory, but the recycling is not: it’s a take-back promotional opportunity. EPR is generally considered to be a code for tax in the US.’
Dutch drive to promote recycling
While the final shape of the programme has not yet been formally decided in the Netherlands, the government is driving mattress-makers and the value chain to find a solution to mattress recycling.
‘There are discussions in the Netherlands, and for the time being the result is unclear,’ EBIA managing director Frederik Lauwaert said. ‘What is certain is that the government wants a recycling solution for mattresses. It has more or less said that if the industry does not have a recycling solution, the government will come up with a mandatory EPR scheme. It is important for the industry to be active.’
Faced with this, producers and the distribution sector have developed a roadmap that will be presented to the authorities. It includes a timeline for pro-gress, whose first point is 2020-25, with a small fee of €2–3 fee for each bedding unit sold.
‘During those five years, they want to increase recycling rates,’ Lauwaert said. This would be quite a substantial increase – potentially as much as 75%. ‘But currently the capacity is not there, and neither is the market for recycled material.’
In the subsequent five-year period, industry is proposing that a mattress tax should be introduced, and this should pay for the entire cost of dismantling and transport. ‘By then, a scheme to reward producers who care about recycling issues will also have been developed,’ he said.