Mattresses and Fabrics

16 May 2017

Did you know…..?

In Australia around 1.25 million mattresses are dumped in landfill every year. They are the most common item disposed of in household collections and are also widely illegally dumped, and are not readily recycled.

Yet, the average mattress contains some 12.5kg of steel, 2kg of wood and 1.5kg of foam. Dismantling mattresses to recover the metal for steel recycling and the foam as a resource for the production of carpet underlay, leaves other waste behind, including synthetic, plant and animal fibre-based textiles, polypropylene, plastic films, hard plastics, coconut fibre, un-treated timber, jute and latex.

This residual mix of materials is the subject of the SMaRT Centre’s collaborative research with Resource Recovery Australia. Resource Recovery Australia (RRA) is a national not-for-profit social enterprise providing consulting, training and operational waste services. Among its activities, RRA runs the major Australian mattress recycler, Softlandings, a social enterprise based in the Illawarra district south of Sydney.

Softlandings dismantles waste mattresses and recovers the steel and foam fraction for recycling, but has long had a problem with the residual waste. Preliminary work with RRA has demonstrated that the various materials in the residual mattress waste can be used to produce two different types of useful panels; construction panels and insulating (thermal and acoustic) panels/layers. Using various mixes such as synthetic fabrics (polyesters) as binders and natural fabric (wool and cotton) as fillers, test construction panels have been successfully produced entirely from waste. Other panels/layers made of latex, for example, are proving promising for acoustic and thermal insulation.

We are working with RRA to develop and refine a range of panels and to produce them onsite at Softlandings using a commercial scale hot press. Onsite production will be enabled by a micro-factory model developed at the SMaRT Centre which brings the solution to the waste stockpile. We believe these waste-derived, multi-purpose panels would be the first such products on the building materials market.    

What about all those old clothes and fabrics?

Australians are the world's second largest consumers of textiles, buying on average 27 kilograms of new clothing and other textiles each year – and about 23kgs of this ends up in landfill. This is just below North America's consumption levels, and twice the global average of 13 kilograms of textiles per person per year. About two-thirds of the clothes and textiles bought are made of synthetic fibres derived from petroleum, so are not bio-degradable. The SMaRT Centre is finding innovative used for fabrics in ‘made from waste’ building materials.