Is memory foam recyclable?
Memory foam is a type of polyurethane, a fully recyclable polymer, providing it isn’t bonded with other polymers to form composites.
The most common method of memory foam recycling is reuse rather than chemical breakdown. The foam is shredded and pressed into thick sheets for use as carpet underlay, padding for helmets, and other applications that require soft foam.
In the correct facilities, memory foam is also fully recyclable using mechanical action, heat, and chemical recovery –the foam is shredded into pellets, which are melted. The slurry is then chemically treated to extract valuable chemicals.
These chemicals can be reused to make fresh foam, plastics, and co-polymers, creating a closed-loop manufacturing process.
Suppose it is not recyclable (either due to engineering challenges or contamination). In that case, the preferred option for memory foam is energy recovery, where it is incinerated to generate electricity (it is almost as energy-dense as coal in this respect).
How memory foam is reused and recycled
While all materials, including memory foam, perish, there is usually lots more life left in memory foam after a mattress reaches the end of its life.
The old memory foam can be collected and pressed with heat into long sheets when the materials are separated. These are then rolled up with the foam used in cars, trains, planes, and sofas. Another way to reuse old memory foam is by shredding it – shredded memory foam is used as a synthetic down alternative for duvets and pillows.
When memory foam is not reusable, it can be melted to break down the chemical bonds, and those individual chemicals are extractable for use in other products.
In countries that lack specialist recycling facilities, memory foam is incinerated or sent to landfill. Despite the emissions from burning polyurethane, it is almost as energy-dense as coal, which is excellent for producing electricity. Waste-to-energy plants burn municipal solid waste (MSW), producing steam to generate electricity.
The mattress landfill crisis
Despite memory foam, metal springs, and most textiles being fully recyclable and reusable, more mattresses end up in a landfill than anywhere else.
Simply put, mattress recycling is wholly inadequate. The worst is that even if you take your old mattress to the local council tip, there is no guarantee the council will recycle it – it is more than likely to end up in a landfill.
Councils are savvy about contracting private companies who take old mattresses and bulky waste off their hands. However, unless the company has specialist facilities, the mattress is only stripped of valuable parts (springs, basically), and the rest enters a landfill – leaving 80% of the mattress polluting the earth.
How to dispose of an old mattress, responsibly.
If you’ve made it this far, you know that most mattresses go to the landfill, despite memory foam and other recyclable materials. Thus, the problem is simple – mattresses are not being sent to the proper facilities for recycling.
This is a case of insufficient facilities (which complicates logistics) and some local councils sending bulky waste overseas.
The only way to responsibly dispose of an old mattress – i.e., ensuring it doesn’t go to a landfill – is to ensure the next stage of its life.
Our favourite thing is sending old mattresses to mattress recycling centres, which refurbish, clean, and re-sell mattresses for a fraction of the price of new ones. Even beat-up old mattresses can last a few more years with refurbishment!
Otherwise, ask your local council about their mattress recycling policy, and if in doubt, get a private specialist company to take it off your hands.
If you buy a new mattress with us, we will remove and recycle your old mattress for £39 and deliver it to a specialist recycling facility.
You can find more mattress disposal ideas in our disposal guide.