‘Bad bed habits’ contribute to 2.9m UK mattresses thrown out each year

New research suggests we could reduce the 7 million mattresses we throw away in the UK each year if we cut out our ‘bad bed habits’ and take better care of our mattresses.

A quarter (25%) of UK residents regularly allow a pet to sleep in their bed according to the research commissioned by North London Waste Authority (NLWA). The survey of over 2,000 adults also revealed 13% regularly smoke in their bed, 1 in 5 regularly eat in their bed (8% every day), and over a quarter regularly consume drinks other than water in their beds. One in 10 even brush their teeth in bed!

It’s not just the bacteria-attracting and smelly habits that are sending our mattresses to an early grave. Spending more time lying on a mattress also reduces its life –14% of people surveyed said they regularly work in bed and over a third (36%) regularly watch TV in bed.

Mattresses can and should be recycled and more services are becoming available in the UK, but awareness is still low – the survey showed over 1 in 3 respondents (36%) think it’s not yet possible to recycle a mattress.

Mattresses are also one of the most frequently fly-tipped items, so we’d suggest avoiding paying someone to take your mattress away unless you’re confident they are disposing of it responsibly.

What’s more many mattresses become a fly-tipped eyesore, causing problems for authorities across the country. In June 2021 NLWA launched a pioneering mattress recycling service which saw 51,000 mattresses saved from going to waste across seven north London boroughs in the first 8 months.

This is forecast to hit 75,000 by June 2022. Inner springs are melted down and remade into new metal products, while synthetic layers such as foam are used to make items such as carpet underlay.

The survey data suggests 22 million people throw away their mattress in under seven years while almost 1 in 4 threw it away after less than 4 years’ use. If all mattresses lived for seven years (the point to consider getting a new one according to the bed industry) we’d save 2.9 million mattresses a year from going to waste.

In addition to avoiding buying cheap, poorly made mattresses in the first place, how we look after our mattresses is also key. The survey suggests much room for improvement here with 23% of people admitting they’ve never rotated their mattress, 24% have never flipped it over, over a quarter (27%) have never aired their mattress and just under a third (30%) have never vacuumed it – all actions we can take to keep our beds in good shape.

Environmental impact

The production of mattresses uses lots of energy and materials – in fact the carbon footprint of a double mattress is 79kg CO2e.6 If we use and throw them away too quickly, that means avoidable carbon emissions which harm the environment. One of the best things we can do for the environment is to keep things for longer and recycle at the end of life.

Chair of North London Waste Authority, Cllr Clyde Loakes, said: “In the UK we throw away over 7 million mattresses a year and we estimate 2.9 million of these come to an early end. We can help reduce this significant environmental impact if we all make better choices when it comes to buying, caring for and disposing of our beds.

“A mattress can and should be recycled at the end of its life and this service should be available nationwide. Mattresses are also one of the most frequently fly-tipped items, so we’d suggest avoiding paying someone to take your mattress away unless you’re confident they are disposing of it responsibly. Most councils will also collect large items from your home, either for free or for a small fee.”

Almost one in five (19%) respondents had their last mattress taken by the company that delivered their new mattress – half of these didn’t know how it was then disposed of.

Loakes adds: “We feel strongly that all mattress manufacturers should recycle their own products and offer take-back services and that this should happen without delay.”

#LoveYourMattress tips from NLWA

  • Buying a mattress:
  • If you can, invest in a good quality mattress that will last longer, saving you money in the long-run
  • Three things to look out for:
  • Material–natural latex is most durable
  • Thicker coils = more durable
  • Higher foam density will last longer

Caring for your mattress

  • Rotate, flip and air your mattress regularly
  • Use a mattress protector
  • Gently vacuum your mattress from time to time
  • Avoid eating in your bed, letting pets sleep on your bed, smoking in bed

Responsibly disposing of your mattress

  • Mattresses can be recycled. Find out more here nlwa.gov.uk/love-your-mattress
  • Mattresses are one of the most fly-tipped items so avoid paying someone to take it away unless you’re confident they are disposing of it responsibly
  • Some brands will charge a fee to take away your old mattress when delivering a new one but it’s not always clear where it will end up. Ask them how it will be disposed of and if it’s not going to be recycled, look into your local recycling service.
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