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Towards a circularity in recycling of mattresses

After an average of ten years most mattresses today are thrown away, thus squandering resources and creating high quantities of waste. At the same time, valuable raw materials are needed to manufacture new soft foam mattresses - above all crude oil. A circular economy solution for mattresses can therefore both reduce waste and save fossil resources. 

At BASF, we are continuously looking at ways to reuse and re-enter waste into product lifecycles and to foster circular economy solutions. With the circular economy concept BASF aims to decouple economic growth from the use of finite resources and is accelerating the adoption of these principles into our day-to-day operations. BASF offers a solution to finally closing the loop for polyurethane soft foam with the chemical recycling of mattresses.

Laboratory tests have successfully started at the Schwarzheide site in Brandenburg, Germany for this purpose. By taking this step, BASF is breaking new ground and responding to the raised expectations of the foam and mattress industry as well as those of consumers. At the same time, it underlines its own efforts to increase sustainability. “We want to take further steps toward a circular economy,” comments Shankara Keelapandal, Business Management Isocyanates Europe.

BASF’s process breaks down the flexible polyurethane and delivers the initially used polyol. From there BASF can produce new foam with a significantly lower carbon footprint, because fewer fossil resources are used. “It makes projects of that nature quite attractive because, while mattresses are easy to collect and to sort out, at the end of their lifecycle they currently end up being either incinerated or in a landfill", explains technical project manager Arno Volkmann. First volumes of the recycled material will be delivered to project partners later this year to develop pilot projects together. “The project is technically complex, but the potential to reduce waste volumes and save resources makes it all worth it” comments Keelapandal.

Benefits of mattress recycling

  • Mattresses are easy to collect and to sort out

  • Post-consumer material which has so far been landfilled or incinerated is recovered 

  • The recycled materials can be used for the production of new mattresses

  • Production of new foam with a significantly lower carbon footprint because in total less fossil resources are used 

  • Quality comparable to that of non-recycled raw materials

The circular economy (CE) concept aims to decouple economic growth from the use of finite resources. New recycling technologies will be required that can recover those materials which are not being recycled today. We look at solutions for customers along the value chain to re-enter waste back into product lifecycles. BASF is investing in cutting-edge technologies and already applying the circular economy concept in a number of ways to speed up the transition.

We are taking a fresh look at chemical recycling where fossil feedstock for chemical production can be replaced with recycled material broken down from plastic waste e.g. in a pyrolysis process or by wet-chemical recycling.