Operations director John Neill explains how JBS Fibre Recovery Ltd is helping names such as Argos and Travelodge divert thousands of tonnes of mattress waste from landfill.
Published in the CIWM Journal May 2013
At first glance, carpet underlay, duvets, pillows, steel cans, and paper clips would appear to have very little in common. However, they are just some of the many products being made using materials recycled from old bed mattresses thanks to a bespoke fibre recovery process – which achieves a 100 percent re-use rate – developed by independent recycling firm JBS Fibre Recovery Ltd.
When we launched back in June 2011, we were fully aware of the particular challenges that trying to recycle mattresses and bulky furniture would pose. For years, these items have been notoriously difficult to recycle, not just due to their sheer physical size, which requires large-scale collection capabilities and storage space, but also because of the diverse range of materials used to manufacture them. Most general recycling facilities can’t process them effectively, with recovery rates often hovering below the 50 percent mark, meaning that the majority of waste still ends up in landfill. And when you take into account the fact that 6m used mattresses need to be disposed of each year, with 2m new mattresses being manufactured annually, not to mention the 50 000 tonnes of bulky furniture currently being sent to landfill – the equivalent of 3 000 double-decker buses – it’s clear to see that a more sustainable solution was desperately needed.
John Neill – “We currently process more than 800 000 used mattresses a year, diverting more than 20,000 tonnes of waste materials from landfill in the process”
Over a five-year period, we invested a significant amount of time and resources into developing our own bespoke fibre recovery system that achieves a 100 percent recycling or re-use rate by stripping, processing, and treating each individual component of a mattress separately – from the outer fabrics, cotton flock and metal springs, right the way through to the polyurethane foam (PU), plastic coverings and black felt base.
Tapping into this expertise, we currently process more than 800 000 used mattresses a year, diverting more than 20 000 tonnes of waste materials from landfill in the process, through our facilities in Telford, Milton Keynes, Bridgend, and Burton-upon-Trent, with another plant due to open soon in Bristol. These old mattresses come from a variety of clients, from local authorities such as Pembrokeshire Council and Bridgend Council, where we have contracts to recycle over 20 000 mattresses per year, right through to retailers including Silentnight, for which we process 7 000 old mattresses a year. We have also recently entered a partnership with Argos that will see us collect and process as many as 300 old sofas and mattresses a week during peak times, such as the launch of new catalogues. These contracts come on the back of a similar deal we secured to handle 5 000 mattresses from the athlete’s village at last summer’s London Olympics – unfortunately we couldn’t quite fathom out which ones belonged to Usain Bolt or Mo Farah!
Whilst being able to achieve a 100 percent recovery and re-use rate for old mattresses is first and foremost an environmentally-sustainable solution, such a process also has the added advantage of opening up a number of commercial opportunities linked to giving these recovered materials a “second life” in a surprisingly diverse variety of end uses and products.
Recover, Bale & Granulate
For instance, one of the final components of a mattress to be recycled is flexible foam made up of polyurethane. We recover this PU foam, bale it, and transport it to our Burton-upon-Trent site, where it is granulated before a tri-laminate coat is added. Amongst other things, this moulded “rebond” is ideal to use as an underlay for carpet fitting – not only is it a high-quality material, but it costs around 25 percent less than using virgin foam too, so it is both a practical and economical solution.
At the moment, we recover approximately 2 000 tonnes of PU foam a month, 600 tonnes of which is given a second life as our own in-house manufactured carpet underlay product. This is currently exported to manufacturers in Malta, Spain, and Scandinavia. The remaining recovered PU foam has a number of other uses too, either being sold to producers of gymnasium matting, cushions and the like, or used as equestrian bedding. On a similar theme, adding a polypropylene backing to the low-grade black felt base fibres recovered from each mattress provides the perfect material to make vehicle matting, and we currently supply this product to a number of leading names in the automotive sector.
We also supply a number of pillow and duvet manufacturers with around 400 tonnes a month of recycled polyester produced by stripping, washing and baling the outer fabric and secondary cotton flock material in each mattress. We also manufacture our own polyester product and are currently trialling extracting polyester from PET bottles. The mattress’s steel springs and frame are then furnace-blasted with oxygen and melted down at temperatures up to 1700˚F. Once the metal cools, the liquid is used to manufacture staples, drinks cans and other steel or aluminium-based products.
As we look to build on this success in turning old mattresses into valuable and viable new resources, there is obviously scope to try and achieve similar results with other items of bulky furniture, giving us even more opportunities to develop recycled products and materials. We have already diversified into processing used sofas and three-piece-suites, where in addition to recovering the outer fabrics and foam, as we do with mattresses, we are also able to extract the wooden panels and sofa frames. Again, just like the heavily-soiled mattress fabric, this can be used as a refuse derived fuel – not only does it divert waste from landfill, it also helps to reduce the demand for virgin timber. We currently process around 500 tonnes of this timber a month, but that volume will increase significantly as we expand that side of our operations in the months and years to come.