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Interview with Laure Bisson on the future of mattress recycling

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Interview with Laure Bisson on the future of mattress recycling

Mattress recycling has come a long way in the last ten years, thanks to the efforts of Ecomaison and its partners and members. New sorting possibilities, future dismantling technologies... Laure Bisson, Materials and Substances Innovation Manager, gives us her vision of future advances in the field.

By 2022, 35,000 tonnes of used mattresses had been recycled and recycled by the seven dismantling plants in France. Is this a volume that promises to increase even further?

Yes, this flow of mattresses should increase for several reasons:

  • On the one hand, collection at waste collection centers is improving, with better sorting instructions for users and the introduction of mattress bags to ensure the preservation of recovered products, a prerequisite for subsequent recycling.
  • On the other hand, on the distributor side, the take-back obligation that has been in place since 2022 is also a very important lever, since it reinforces a circuit that could be 100% mattresses, particularly in the case of take-back on delivery. In terms of logistics, it's important to be able to concentrate the volumes recovered through specific, dedicated collection flows, guaranteeing good storage and transport practices. We're working to ensure that these favorable conditions develop everywhere, and this new obligation naturally increases the volume of mattresses in good condition that can be recycled.
  • For example, we're focusing on optimizing mattress collection to increase the volume of mattresses collected and their recycling and recovery performance.

Does this mean that other dismantling units will be opening in the next few years?

The number of dismantling plants installed in a given region depends on two factors: the volumes collected for recycling and recovery, and a coherent territorial network to minimize waste transport distances. Existing plants still have processing capacity, which we will first exploit with a view to optimization. Once this first stage has been completed, we will add to these existing units where necessary.

Are they getting equipped to recycle more mattresses?

Not only to increase their output, but also to improve the quality of the materials recovered and the working conditions of operators. For example, new equipment has been installed to mechanize mattress shifting, automate detection between innerspring and foam mattresses, cut envelopes and foam, and extract the mattress core.

In the near future, with new machines such as slitters, which some dismantling centers are planning to equip, it will be possible to cut these foams along the horizontal plane to gain access to the core foam. This will also help remove textile or glue residues, which can interfere with recycling.

These innovations, which will be deployed on existing sites, will also have a positive impact on the volume destined for recycling.

Foam sorting solutions, for example via an appropriate optical detection system, will also make it possible to distinguish between different qualities with a view to a particular type of recycling. Finally, the Ecomaison Innovation team is working on the recovery of soiled and damp mattresses, which were previously considered non-recyclable. Recent tests have shown that the cores of these mattresses are in fact quite well preserved, enabling us to recover the metal and foams.

Since 2022, mattress collection has been stepped up thanks to the Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy (AGEC) law, which requires distributors to organize the take-back of end-of-life products. Does this legislation have any further impact in the years to come?

This law imposes a number of new provisions and requirements. I'm thinking, for example, of consumer information obligations on the environmental qualities and characteristics of products, which require manufacturers to indicate whether a product is recyclable or not, whether it contains substances of concern, or recycled materials...

Similarly, in a few years' time, the French Climate and Resilience Act will impose environmental labelling on furniture manufacturers, with a score similar to that used for other products such as electrical and electronic appliances. These new practices will strongly encourage manufacturers to limit the use of potentially hazardous additives, and to turn to eco-design, in particular by improving recyclability and incorporating recycled materials.

Source : FCBA Technological Institute

So what does an eco-designed mattress from France look like?

An eco-designed mattress is a more streamlined mattress, i.e. made from fewer different materials, particularly for the envelope part (known as the ticking). The use of a succession of layers of mixed synthetic and natural fibers, as well as foams in these tickings, which are usually glued or sewn together, is currently an obstacle to the complete recycling of mattresses. An eco-designed mattress also incorporates more recycled and/or renewable materials to minimize consumption of fossil raw materials.

And if the assembly of materials remains essential for questions of durability or strength, then the eco-designed mattress must integrate as early as possible the best way of cleanly disassembling what has been assembled. For example, Ecomaiosn is working with Belgian start-up Resortecs and two major bedding groups, Adova and Cofel, to replace the sewing threads on mattress tops with new threads that would facilitate recycling by making it easier to separate materials.

What about mosses?

We want the foams used in the mattresses of the future to be free of problematic substances. We also want to limit the assembly of different types of foam and the use of adhesives between these layers. In fact, these designs interfere with recycling.

The eco-designed mattress is composed mainly of foam from old mattresses. With the aim of optimizing the closed loop, we are already working on chemical recycling of the foams, which are depolymerized to return to a liquid state that can be used by manufacturers of new mattress foams without disrupting their production methods. The new frontier is to increase the percentage of reincorporated foams. Some manufacturers are already announcing that they could reach high percentages, 50 or even 100%. All these new techniques need to be tested, and that takes time, but these are innovation projects that we support.

Progress is encouraging. How do you measure the enthusiasm for mattress recycling over the next few years?

Yes, progress is very interesting and the sector is very dynamic. We can see this quite simply from the proposals received in response to our calls for projects: the number of projects proposed, as well as their diversity and maturity, are encouraging.

Recently, we've had both very exploratory and very mature projects on the textile fiber side, as with foams (polyurethane or latex). We also see this in the diversity of the players involved. When you have small labs, start-ups, medium-sized and large companies, it's clear that something is happening, and that's motivating!