Mattress recycling: exactly what does this entail and what is SABA’s role in this process?

Nowadays, most mattresses are thrown out after a period of approximately ten years. In the European Union, more than 30 million mattresses are thrown out every year. If they all were to be stacked up together, the stack would be 678 times as high as Mount Everest (Europur). Despite the fact that most mattress components can be reused, many mattresses are still thrown into an incinerator or they end up as landfill. This is unfortunate! The mattress industry is seeing an increased desire among manufacturers, as well as consumers to improve their sustainability performance on the road towards a circular economy. Part of this is that at the end of its lifespan a mattress is once again converted into raw materials that can be used to create new products. Recycling mattresses also is an important agenda item for SABA.


Chris Belterman
Author Chris Belterman Sustainability Specialist

Mattress recycling is accelerating

In contrast to furniture, mattresses are easier to collect and recycle because they have a rectangular, flat shape. In the Netherlands, old mattresses can be brought to a central collection facility after which they are transported to a recycling facility. But this is not quite the case everywhere in the world. Many countries are still in the process of creating the infrastructure needed to collect old mattresses. This process has recently accelerated because EPR has been brought to the attention of many governments in Europe. EPR, Extended Producer Responsibility, is a policy instrument that extends the producer’s responsibility for its own products to the post-consumer phase. For the mattress industry this means that mattress producers are responsible for recycling their own mattresses. EPR has already gone into effect in Belgium and France, and is in the final phase in the Netherlands. Other countries are talking about it, but have not yet gone that far.

Recycling mattresses in the US

Three states in the United States currently have mattress recycling programs under the label ‘Bye Bye Mattress’. The program is mandated by law and is managed by the Mattress Recycling Council (MRC). MRC is a not-for-profit organization that provides information about recycling laws and regulations to the mattress industry, and helps retailers and manufacturers with their registration and reporting requirements. MRC works in close cooperation with local governments and professionals in the waste management domain. A recycling contribution is requested for every mattress sold. This has made mattress recycling possible in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island. MRC is working hard to expand the program to other states as well. 

What is mattress recycling?

Mattresses can be recycled by means of mechanical or chemical recycling processes. In mechanical recycling most materials in the mattress are reused. The foam can be reprocessed into carpet underlays, noise insulation materials, floor mats for cars and can also be used for applications in sports halls and as a protective layer for transporting glass. The steel springs can, for example, be used for construction materials and the mattress cover can be used in industrial oil filters or for other textile applications. However, the problem is that adhesives tightly keep the components together as a result of which not all materials can be ‘cleanly’ separated from each other. Furthermore, it is a fact that if all countries decided to start recycling components from discarded mattresses the buyer’s market would not be able to make use of all available volumes of foam. Another drawback of mechanical mattress recycling is that the mattress components are downcycled, which impedes circularity. Downcycling means that, while the materials are being reused, they lose their quality and value making it impossible to close the chain and therefore the mattresses are not circular. With mechanical recycling it is therefore impossible to produce new mattresses, whereas this is possible with chemical recycling.

Chemical recycling

Because of the limitations of mechanical mattress recycling, chemical recycling is increasingly preferred or is used to supplement mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling is a better way of achieving upcycling and circularity. Upcycling is a form of recycling in which the mattress components are of better quality after recycling. The components can be used to make new, high-quality products that have the same or a higher value. During the chemical recycling process, substances are broken down into the original building blocks used to manufacture them originally: polymers and even monomers. The polymers obtained this way are of the same purity as the original synthetics. However, the polymers must sometimes be mixed with new raw materials, because the yield of chemical recycling often is below 100%. Still, this produces a significantly lower CO2 footprint, because far fewer fossil raw materials are used. Chemical recycling technologies are being increasingly further developed to be able to reuse polyurethane foam and other foams from discarded mattresses. But because a mattress consists of multiple materials, further development is required. A lot of effort is therefore being devoted to optimizing chemical recycling technologies. A number of chemical recycling technologies are explained below, without going into detail, in order to provide better insight into how chemical recycling works.


Glycolysis is a chemical recycling technique that is often used for recycling PET, but is now also used for breaking down mattresses. The process involves heating the foam to 240 degrees after which a catalyst is added. This causes the polyurethane to be broken down into an oil-like substance of polymers. This substance can be reused to produce foam; soft foam for new mattresses, as well as hard foam for use in the construction sector. 


Chemolysis is used to separate monomers. This technology focuses on breaking down polymer chains into smaller pieces: monomers. These monomers form new building blocks that can be used to manufacture new products. The advantage of this method of chemical recycling is that it takes relatively little energy and that it produces relatively pure building blocks that can be used to create high-quality products.


Pyrolysis is a method of recycling whereby the materials are heated to a high temperature without adding oxygen. The materials do not combust, but disintegrate at a molecular level. This way new foams can be developed. This method of chemical mattress recycling has many benefits. First, the materials do not need to be separated first. Different materials can be input into the pyrolysis process at the same time. Second, different types of materials can be extracted using this technique. The higher the temperature, the smaller the molecules. Third, the gases released during this process, such as CO and methane, can be used as an energy source for the process, which makes it circular. 

The role of adhesives

Adhesives play a crucial role in the recyclability of mattresses and in the quality, lifespan and comfort of a mattress. The adhesives incorporated into a mattress cannot be recycled as such. The chemical reaction that occurs when the adhesive is applied is irreversible. When, for example, two different foams are bonded, the adhesive can impede the mechanical recycling process because it is not possible to ‘cleanly’ separate the products from each other. This is why a great deal of research is being conducted into any negative effects of adhesives on chemical recycling. Various studies show that SABA adhesives do not have any negative effect on the composition of the end-product, the recovered oil, in chemical recycling. Our adhesives therefore do not impede the chemical recycling process. We know this because we were involved in a number of pilot chemical recycling processes in Europe.

Who is responsible for creating a circular mattress design?

It is impossible to appoint a single responsible party for creating a circular mattress design. The entire supply chain will have to cooperate to achieve circularity. The mattress design must take the ease of taking the mattress apart into account. The parties supplying materials must ensure that these materials are sustainable and can be broken down easily. That leaves the companies that take the mattresses apart and the retailers that sell the mattresses. In other words, there are many parties, including NGOs and government organizations that must work together to bring about a circular mattress design. Of course, the consumer also has a responsibility and must be prepared to acquire the mattress.

Sleeping on a used mattress

One pitfall is the stigma associated with a recycled mattress. Consumers may be repelled by a previously used mattress. Consumers want a clean mattress that is 100% safe. In addition, consumers demand transparency from manufacturers. Where do the materials come from? Are the reused materials clean? What percentage of my bed is reused? As long as this transparency exists, it is expected that consumers will consider it less of a problem to sleep on a recycled mattress. After all, there is a new generation that demands products to be circular. We are also seeing that the generations that today have purchasing power are increasingly considering circularity and sustainability to be more important. The expectation is that due to this changing mindset combined with clear communication concerning mattress design and certification, the circular movement will gain acceptance. 

The road towards a circular mattress design

Are we there yet? Not yet. But we can see that developments are proceeding at a rapid pace. What has been achieved in recent years is nothing short of amazing. In 2015, chemically recycling polyurethane foam by the mattress industry still seemed impossible. When we see everything that is possible today, this is very promising for the future. Of course there are various challenges that play a key role at the present time, such as: 

1)    The infrastructure required for collecting and bringing in mattresses
2)    Access to sustainable materials
3)    Ease of taking the mattresses apart
4)    Creating a sales market for the recovered materials from chemical, as well as mechanical recycling
5)    The development of technologies that enable all mattress materials to be recycled
6)    Selling mattresses made from recycled raw materials to consumers

There are still other challenges on the road towards a circular mattress design in the United States. At the present time it is still difficult to reprocess used materials into mattresses here. In some states this is in fact prohibited. In addition, products with recycled materials must be sold as ‘used products’, which carries a stigma of its own. This is why much greater use is made of downcycling in the United States. This means that while the steel, fabric and foam in a mattress are reused, they also lose their initial value.

SABA’s role in mattress recycling

SABA is a globally leading producer of adhesives for the mattress and furniture industry. This is why we consider it our duty to help build a sustainable world and create a truly circular mattress market. Without compromising on comfort, we are aiming for a holistic approach that combines sustainability and circularity in a comprehensive design. We now know that our adhesives do not have any negative effect on the composition of the end-product in chemical recycling. By contrast the use of fossil fuels in our adhesive and production process is one of the points that impedes the circular economy. This is why we are constantly on the lookout for ways of replacing the fossil fuels in our products and during the production process. This is where the challenge lies for SABA: preventing customers from having to compromise on comfort and quality in their search for circularity. Our development of solutions for the complete circular processing of raw materials is still in full swing.

Eliminating virgin fossil sources

It is SABA’s goal to comply with the circularity objectives and to support the goals of our customers. This means that we must eliminate and replace the fossil fuels in our adhesives. But not only that, we also try to learn all we can about circularity and to implement what we have learned in the processes of our customers. We help our customers realize their sustainability goals, while imposing high demands on comfort, quality and sustainability. By taking small steps we try to discover what is possible within our supply chain and where the needs of our customers lie. At the present time the focus is on eliminating fossil fuels in our products and in the production process. We are proud of the fact that we are cooperating with the entire supply chain so as to jointly complete the search for a circular mattress design.

A sustainable bond

Together with our customers we are working on a sustainable bond. We work together to support them in designing products that contribute to a circular economy. We are doing all this without comprising on product comfort and quality. We are certain that comfort, quality and circularity can and will be able to coexist. Contact us without obligation to discuss what SABA can do to help you achieve a circular design.

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