Of the seven million mattresses that were disposed of in the UK in 2017, 40% were sent to landfill and a similar proportion were incinerated. The industry faces a significant challenge when it comes to managing waste as well as demand for new virgin textile materials. Just 19% of all mattresses are being recycled into new products – a figure which the National Bed Federation (NBF) has pledged to increase to 75% by 2025.
Across the sector, businesses are looking for new solutions to mitigate the environmental impact of used mattresses.
“Products are often sent for disposal when a single component has failed, meaning that valuable textile materials and working components go to waste,” says James Appleyard, Sales Director at Deluxe Beds in Huddersfield.
“The structure of a mattress means it is difficult to replace individual components. We thought we could make a real impact if we went back to the design phase.”
Working with researchers at the University of Huddersfield, James and the team at Deluxe Beds led a project to develop a new approach to mattress design that enabled individual components to be replaced over time.
A modular design composed of different blocks that could be arranged, removed and added separately, could add years to the life of the product and retain valuable materials, as well as offering some unique benefits for consumers.
“Individual components are much easier to transport, lift and carry than a complete mattress. They can also be configured to provide a completely personalised product, with the added health and comfort benefits that this offers consumers,” explains Dr Sohel Rana, Lecturer at the Technical Textiles Research Centre, University of Huddersfield.
Deluxe Beds had already started work on a three-layer mattress that was recognised as a finalist in the ‘Innovation of the Year’ category at the 2019 NBF Awards. The new project took a different approach, building on this work and exploring whether the product could be sectioned vertically as well as horizontally, creating smaller sections that allowed greater flexibility in design.
At the same time, an adhesive material had to be developed that would hold each component firmly in place while making it easy for individual consumers to remove and replace blocks themselves. Keeping sustainability at the heart of the project, this adhesive also needed to be biodegradable or recyclable, as did the other fibres and fabrics used in the entire construction.
Working across the University’s labs and the Deluxe Beds site, Sohel, Dr Jim Bamford and Research Technician Dr Kay Burrows succeeded in developing an adhesive polymer that holds the sections together.
Early testing on fabric samples show that the new polymer works well, applied as an adhesive layer that can itself be replaced and recycled at the end of its life. For Sohel, this opens up a wealth of new opportunities for future research.
“A polymer like this has never been used before in this industry,” he explains. “With further development to optimise it, there is great potential for Deluxe Beds to protect this technology as a world leader in innovative design.”
Testing the polymer in different situations helped to steer the direction of the materials and design development: blocks in some shapes may need less adhesive to hold them together than others, while some materials may work better than others. To truly minimise the volume of mattress waste in landfill, using natural rather than synthetic textile materials was a key concern throughout the project.
Although many existing mattresses use natural fibres such as wool, and recycled textile fibre in combination with steel springs or other materials, polyester is commonly used as a protective barrier between the different layers. The new modular mattress design eliminates polyester completely – replacing an oil-based, non-biodegradable synthetic material with eco-friendly alternatives that will either biodegrade or can be recycled.
Early feedback from the textile industry and consumers has been extremely positive. Deluxe Beds exhibited their layered mattress construction at Future Fashion Factory’s Year 1 Showcase in October 2019 and spoke to visitors about their plans for a modular design.
James also shared insights from the project as part of Future Fashion Factory’s panel, ‘Reducing waste through design and manufacturing’, at Make It British Live in September 2020.
The company is now well positioned to take forward modular products, which can be completely personalised to each consumer while reducing the amount of waste created during end-of-life disposal.
By using entirely natural and renewable materials, the design will also cut global demand for synthetic polyester and ensure that the remaining waste is either recyclable or biodegradable.
“This project really helped to fast-track our product development,” says James. “By closing down dead ends, identifying leads and giving us a clear direction of travel, collaborating with Future Fashion Factory has helped speed us toward a solution capable of driving major global change.”